From Pittsburgh's noise to Boston's party, an October to remember

The Red Sox overcame one of the most unusual calls in postseason history. (USATSI)
The Red Sox overcame one of the most unusual calls in postseason history. (USATSI)

BOSTON -- The first game was in Pittsburgh, where the loudest of crowds screamed all night to celebrate the end of the longest of droughts with the chant that will live on for years.

"Cue-to! Cue-to!"

The last game was at Fenway, where a sort-of drought ended, a city partied and a very different chant rang through the Boston night.

"Lac-key! Lac-key!"

It was a month, apparently, to chant names, either as taunting sing-song ("My-errs! My-errs!") or as appreciative staccato ("Pa-pi! Pa-pi!).

From the noise of PNC to the party at Fenway, baseball's postseason show ran for 30 days and reminded us that pitching really does rule this time of year. We saw familiar stars and new ones, familiar endings and new, creative ones.

We learned about Mickey Mouse ears and the obstruction rule. We saw Carlos Beltran leave the hospital and reenter the St. Louis Cardinals lineup, and we saw Miguel Cabrera play through a sports hernia until there were no more games to play.

We discovered Gerrit Cole and Sonny Gray and Michael Wacha , and we rediscovered David Ortiz and Jon Lester and John Lackey .

We said goodbye to one great manager, then watched a World Series that featured two relatively new ones.

We saw no series sweeps, but no real upsets, either.

The Boston Red Sox were the best team going in, and the Red Sox were the best team at the end.

And they highlight's sixth annual look back at baseball's greatest month:

Best game: Wow, tough call. In a postseason where Wacha came within five outs of no-hitting the Pittsburgh Pirates and five Tiger pitchers came within two outs of no-hitting the Red Sox, how do you choose? Game 1 between the Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers went 13 great innings. Game 4 between the Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays featured eight Joe Maddon pitching changes (and it almost worked!). But none of them could top the Obstruction Game, the game that had such a unique and confusing ending that the Cardinals couldn't figure out how they had won, and the Red Sox didn't understand how they had lost. Everyone in attendance went home that night understanding they had seen something crazy, at the end of a World Series Game 3 that provided twists and turns and opportunities to blame a manager (John Farrell of the Red Sox, who deserved some of the criticism) and the umpires (who got the call right, and deserved none of the blame). It was a game that will last forever in our memories, but like some other classic World Series games (Game 6 of 1975), it didn't change the Series the way we thought it would. Looking back, the Obstruction Game was the last one the Cardinals won.

Best moment: It was the eighth inning of Game 2 against the Detroit Tigers , and the Red Sox were in trouble. Then, with one swing of Ortiz's bat, they weren't. Torii Hunter tumbled into the bullpen, his feet in the air. Boston cop Steve Horgan shot his arms in the air. A series changed. A season changed. And for years in New England, the moment will live on.

Best series: They were all good. They really were. But no series was as good as Red Sox-Tigers, the one that had players, umpires and even writers saying over and over, "What a great series!" Every game was close enough to have a game-changing moment. There were big hits, and even bigger pitching performances. There were two teams loaded with stars, and with huge respect for each other.

Best player: Easiest call of all. In a postseason defined mostly by great pitching, one hitter dominated. Ortiz had the biggest hit in the ALCS. It seemed like he had all the hits in the World Series. Early in the series, when someone tried to compare him to Barry Bonds in 2002, teammate John Lackey dismissed the comparison. By the end, Lackey wasn't nearly so dismissive. Ortiz was that good.

Best crowd: The Fenway fans were great, and the story of the Red Sox finally clinching a World Series at home for the first time in 95 years had some traction. But the real drought that ended this month was the one in Pittsburgh, where 21 years between winning seasons felt like 95. The noise was incredible. The passion was genuine. It was, as one Pittsburgh native explained to me, a combination of a Steelers crowd and a Penguins crowd, transplanted into a beautiful ballpark that fully came to life.

Best exit: In a perfect world, Jim Leyland would have gone out on top, winning a World Series in the final season of an outstanding managerial career. But the way it played out wasn't bad. Leyland led the Tigers to the ALCS for the third straight year, and the fourth time in his eight years with the team. Then he made an emotional goodbye speech to his team, kept quiet publicly while the Red Sox celebrated, and two days later held a perfect press conference to announce his retirement.

Best prediction: I finally got one right! Red Sox in 6. Here's the link to prove it. And here are the links to prove that I got nearly everything else wrong. I shouldn't have. The Red Sox were the best team when the month began, and they were the best team when it ended. In fact, my actual best prediction was when I said I knew I would be wrong, picking against the Red Sox.

Five who helped themselves: 1. John Farrell. He upset all of Toronto when he called Boston "the epicenter of baseball," but then he made it come true. He left Toronto with his managerial skills still an open question, but he proved to be exactly the right guy at exactly the right time with the Red Sox.

2. Carlos Beltran. He did nothing to hurt his reputation as an October star, and nothing to hurt his case as a free agent this winter.

3. John Lackey. His hat-tip as he left the mound in the seventh inning Wednesday night was a contender for the postseason's best moment. His transformation from hated symbol of collapse to celebrated symbol of success was complete, and he earned a distinction all his own: The first pitcher to start and win a World Series clincher for two different teams.

4. Jacoby Ellsbury . His postseason numbers were good rather than spectacular. But a player who has sometimes drawn criticism for how much time he misses played (and played hard) in every game, despite a foot injury that cost him much of September and a hand injury that he kept quiet (but was reported Thursday morning by Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal). It's hard to know how much this month helped his free-agent case, but it certainly didn't hurt it.

5. David Ortiz. His teammates call him "Cooperstown." What he did this month should help him get there (although it could also help delay it, by prolonging his career).

Five who hurt themselves: 1. Prince Fielder . The numbers didn't help (zero RBI in 11 postseason games). The comments didn't help ("It's not really tough for me ... it's over, bro"). And now the contract ($24 million a year through 2020) looks so bad that the Tigers would love to dump it, but understand that they can't.

2. Fredi Gonzalez. Postseasons can be tough on managers. The games are close, and the games are crucial, and whichever team loses, someone has to get the blame. Too often, it's the manager. Farrell heard it during the World Series, and Mike Matheny did, too. But Gonzalez's decision to leave Craig Kimbrel in the bullpen as his Atlanta Braves were losing the clinching Division Series game to the Dodgers was the hardest to defend this month.

3. Don Mattingly. He got another year with the Dodgers, but he never seemed to win true respect from all his bosses.

4. Joaquin Benoit . He was mostly a success as the Tigers' fill-in closer this year, but the Ortiz grand slam will hurt if he wants to market himself as a top closer this winter.

5. Dusty Baker. He's 64 years old but he wants to keep managing. A disappointing September, and a quick October exit, ended his six-year stay with the Cincinnati Reds . And despite a pretty good track record (five division titles, seven playoff appearances), teams don't seem to be lining up to hire him.

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