|On a perfect July 9 in the Bronx, Jeter went 5-for-5, crushing a HR for his 3,000th hit. (Getty Images)|
The day after Game 6 of the World Series, Bud Selig was flying high.
Standing on the sidewalk outside a St. Louis restaurant, the commissioner couldn't stop talking about the game so many were calling the best in World Series history. None of us could.
Later at Busch Stadium, Selig called a press conference to answer questions, but also to gloat.
"I'm really proud to be commissioner of a sport that can produce what just happened," he said, recalling a conversation from the incredible night before.
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It was, for the most part, that kind of year in baseball, a year where we all kept talking about "what just happened."
So often this year, it was something good, sometimes something great.
That same afternoon after Game 6, I was talking to a longtime friend who works in baseball. I called about something else, but we ended up talking about what we'd seen.
"We get in this business to have the chance to see and to write about nights like that," I told him.
"You should write that," my friend said. "Players should hear that."
Here it is. I'm writing it, because there's no way to look back on the baseball year that just passed without talking about the moments that made all of us say, "Wow!"
Not every big story in baseball this year was a positive one (Ryan Braun), and not everyone will look back fondly (Red Sox fans, Braves fans), but for the game as a whole, this was one incredible year.
And Game 6, as good as it was, doesn't even top the list.
Here's what did, as CBSSports.com looks back at the (mostly) good and (few) bad top stories of Baseball 2011:
1. Game 162. The Red Sox survive. .. for another day. .. oh no, they don't! The Braves survive for another day. .. oh no, they don't! The Cardinals win. .. and now they're in! The Rays are finally done. .. no, they're not. .. no, they're in! Dan Johnson homers! Evan Longoria homers! Did all that really happen on the final night of the regular season? Amazingly, yes, it did.
2. Game 6. One strike away. Twice. A fly-ball-to-right-field-that-should-have-been-caught away. No team had ever survived a World Series game like this. No team had ever come thisclose to winning a World Series without actually winning it. The Cardinals will never forget it. The Rangers can't forget it. The rest of us are just happy to say we got to see it.
3. Mr. 3,000. It wasn't enough that Derek Jeter was the first Yankee with 3,000 hits. It wasn't enough that his 3,000th hit was a home run. It wasn't enough that he went 5-for-5 on that incredible, beautiful afternoon at Yankee Stadium. It was that all of it happened, so perfectly, so Jeterly perfect.
4. Win and go home. The Cardinals were Tony La Russa. Or they were Albert Pujols. With La Russa in charge and Pujols as the star, they had perhaps the most improbable, most thrilling run to a World Series title ever. They won it all, for the second time in the last six years. Two days later, La Russa announced his retirement. Five weeks later, Pujols bolted for the Angels. Will Busch Stadium ever be the same?
5. Curses, it's Theo. Never before had there been a front-office move like this. There may never be one like this again. Theo Epstein, the general manager who broke the curse with the Red Sox, leaves to go and try to break the curse for the Cubs? Two huge cities, and two huge fan bases, were on edge for days. And then, suddenly, it was true. Suddenly, Theo was a Cub.
6. It's 15-15, with no strikes. Remember back when baseball was ultra-resistant to new ideas, but the players were always threatening to go on strike? Now we have the players and owners concluding a new collective bargaining agreement with no threats, and we have baseball embracing the Astros switching leagues, 15 teams in each league, interleague play every night of the season, (slightly) expanded replay, more drug testing and two more teams in the playoffs.
7. Manny's gone (for a while), but steroids aren't. A week into the season, Manny Ramirez retired, rather than face a 100-game drug suspension. Less than a month after he was named the National League MVP, Ryan Braun faced an apparent failed drug test. Braun vowed to fight a 50-game suspension, and his appeal will be one of the big early stories of early 2012. Ramirez now says he wants to return, but it's unclear whether anyone wants him back. We all wish these steroid stories would go away, but the fact that they don't shows baseball may finally have effective testing.
8. A second no-hitter, and a first MVP. In May, the Blue Jays became the second team Justin Verlander has no-hit. I predicted then, and still believe, it won't be his last. In November, Verlander became the first starting pitcher in 25 years from either league to be named the league's MVP. It would be too much to suggest that he'll win another one. Right?
9. Ding, dong, the Wicked Witch is (almost) dead. The Dodgers had the Cy Young winner in Clayton Kershaw, the almost-MVP in Matt Kemp and the owner who sadly dominated the attention and depressed (and chased away) all their fans. The Dodgers' season began with the awful beating of Giants fan Bryan Stow, but it ended with the good news that Frank McCourt had finally agreed to sell the team. The sale likely won't be complete until at least next April, and there are (of course) plenty of court hearings to come, but an unfortunate era in Dodger baseball is thankfully nearing an end.
10. Buster's bad break. It's easy to forget now how big a story the Buster Posey injury was when it happened in May. The 2010 rookie of the year was badly injured in an ugly home-plate collision with Florida's Scott Cousins, ending his season and severely damaging the Giants' chances at a World Series repeat. For the next week, there was non-stop talk about whether Cousins' play was dirty (it wasn't) and whether the rules on home-plate collisions should be changed (they weren't). The best news is that Posey's rehab has gone well, and that he should be back in the middle of the Giants' lineup in 2012. Still, his injury was one of the few bad-news stories in what was for the most part a great 2011 baseball year.