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Grip on Sports: Baseball season comes down to the final game and nothing is better

A sea of blue-clad Kansas City Royals fans can only watch as Giants catcher Buster Posey and pitcher Madison Bumgarner celebrate after the final out of Game 7. (Associated Press)
A sea of blue-clad Kansas City Royals fans can only watch as Giants catcher Buster Posey and pitcher Madison Bumgarner celebrate after the final out of Game 7. (Associated Press)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • With apologies to every other event in sports, there is nothing better than a Game Seven in the World Series. The most grueling test in professional sports comes to an end with a one-game, winner-take-all drama-filled event. And we get a Game Seven tonight between the two teams that have gone the longest without a title. That’s special. Read on.

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• How do I know this? Experience. There have been way too many seventh games since I was born – during game five of the seven-game 1956 World Series. I remember most of them. Pretty vividly. Here’s my top five (plus a few more) in descending order …

5 (tie): 1985 and 1991. The former was an awful game, an 11-0 Royals win over St. Louis. But the reason this game mattered to me was Todd Worrell, a guy I was catching just a half-dozen years earlier, was the Cardinals’ closer. And involved in the worst call in World Series history. Jorge Orta is still out and St. Louis should have won the series in six games. The latter included one of the best clutch pitching performances I’ve ever seen, Jack Morris’ 10-inning shutout against the Braves. Quite possibly the most exciting 1-0 game in baseball history.

4: 2014. Madison Bumgarner. Two days rest. Five innings of relief. Another world title for the hated Giants. That’s enough.

3: 2001: The greatest relief pitcher in baseball history, Mariano Rivera, lost the seventh game of the World Series when Luis Gonzalez muscled a cutter into short left field. The Yankees, who had knocked baseball’s best team out of the playoffs – in case you didn’t know, that year it was the Mariners – were denied another title.

2. (tie) 1967, 1975 and 1986: The Boston Red Sox were still suffering under the Curse of the Bambino. In ’67, they were cursed by having to face Bob Gibson in the deciding game. In ’75, the Big Red Machine would rally from a three-run deficit, win its first title since 1940 and keep all of Boston in tears. And ’86? The Buckner Year, though that gaffe happened in Game Six. Still, the Red Sox have lost more Game Sevens in my lifetime than any other franchise except the Yankees.

1. 1968: I was 12. I played on the Tigers in Little League. Bill Freehan (No. 11) was my catching hero. (OK, he was No. 2 behind Johnny Bench, just ahead of Thurmon Munson, but still, he was the Tigers catcher.) Before the Series started my dad made a bold pronouncement. He said the key pitcher for Detroit wasn’t going to be 31-game winner Denny McLain. It would be overweight left-hander Mickey Lolich. I laughed. He was right. Again. Lolich outpitched Gibson in Game Seven, the last out was a pop-up that nestled in Freehan’s glove and this 12-year-old loved baseball even more.

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• WSU: There is football news, basketball news and volleyball news from Pullman. Jacob Thorpe takes care of the first two sports, including the news Washington State is 25th in the first college playoff rankings and Luke Falk is one of five finalists for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. … Jacob also has his weekly Pac-12 power rankings as well as video of post-practice interviews with Mike Leach and Alex Grinch. … Jacob will hold a live chat at 10 this morning. … Ernie Kent received a commitment yesterday from a highly sought-after junior college center. Jacob has that story as well. … On the volleyball front, Jim Meehan has his college notebook that focus on the Cougars trying to regain a winning mindset. … Back to football, we would love to pass along a story about Arizona football, but the Wildcats held their basketball exhibition yesterday and that overpowered any football talk in Tucson.

Elsewhere in Pac-12 football, Washington was in the top four … wait, what? The Huskies were fifth in the first playoff rankings? Who was fourth? One-loss Texas A&M? Are you kidding me? The only team in America with as a bad a non-conference slate as UW? The team that had to go to overtime to defeat UCLA at home? You say the Aggies are in the SEC? OK, now I get it. … Colorado and the Bruins open Pac-12 play for the week tomorrow night. … The best game is probably Oregon traveling to USC in a matchup that five years ago would have been on the national radar. … Washington, which owes a lot to Steve Sarkisian and to Pat Haden, faces a California offense that clicks at home. … Oregon State and Stanford are a contrast in styles. … Arizona State and Utah have byes.

• Gonzaga: Is this the year the Zags make the Final Four? If it is, then they truly are the best team from a non-Power 5 conference.

• EWU: The Eagles’ defense is improved this season, though the statistics might not show it. But as Jim Allen writes, the only stat the defense cares about is the won/loss record. … Thanks to a bunch of recent rain and a flooded Idaho soccer field, the Big Sky soccer tournament will be held at Eastern. Jim has that story. … Around the Big Sky in football, Northern Arizona lost another starter due to injury. … Cal Poly knows how good Eastern Washington is. … Montana has to win out to ensure a postseason berth. … Switching to hoops, the Griz will host Whitworth in an exhibition game tonight.

• Indians: If you had told the average Spokane baseball fan five years ago he would be watching the Chicago Cubs’ Game Seven starter pitch for the Indians, Kyle Hendricks probably wouldn’t have been the guy the fan would have pointed out.

• Preps: There was plenty of playoff action last night as well as the release yesterday of the weekly Washington state volleyball rankings.

• Seahawks: The NFL trade deadline is as boring as baseball’s is exciting. The day came and went and the Hawks didn’t make a move. Nobody did really. … Seattle did make a minor roster change yesterday. … Marshawn Lynch visited the Hawks’ locker room yesterday just to say howdy. Or “smooth.” … Percy Harvin signs with the Bills. Don't laugh.

• Sounders: There are a few Sounders up for MLS awards.

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• A couple of things about my list above. The 1965 Series, in which Sandy Koufax won in another iron-man performance, didn’t make the list because I really don’t remember it. Besides, back then, this nine-year-old kid figured the Dodgers would win and win and win. Hah. I wonder if there are nine-year-olds in Chicago or Cleveland today who feel the same way. And will remember tonight's game. Until later …

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