Monthly Archives: October 2011
The St. Louis Cardinals battled the Texas Rangers from the brink of elimination to the apex of jubilation to force Game 7 of the 2011 World Series. This improbable journey that started way back in August finally culminates in Major League Baseball’s ultimate clash Friday night at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
And yours truly will be there.
What can you day about the 2011 Cardinals? They started off slow, looked ugly at times, found ways to hang around, and at the end muscled up to show the world that not only were they still alive; they were well and able to kick the ass of the best teams in the league. And this description covers the entirety of the 2011 season as much as it covers Game 6 on Thursday night. Microcosm? You bet, brother. But once again, the Cardinals came out on top when, by all accounts, they probably shouldn’t have.
It’s hard to put into words how I feel about what will go down over the next 24 hours. Through sheer luck of the draw, I have been able to see three potential “final games” at Busch this season: the last home game of the regular season vs. the Chicago Cubs; Game 4 of the NLDS vs. the Philadelphia Phillies; and Game 5 of the NLCS vs. the Milwaukee Brewers. And I sat on tickets for Game 7 of the World Series for a week and a half knowing the odds weren’t necessarily in my favor. There hasn’t been a Game 7 in the World Series since 2002. The Cardinals were not favored by most of the so-called experts. And I’ve never been very lucky at anything at all. It almost doesn’t quite register that this World Series is happening the way it is.
But this Cardinals team is not one to lay down in front of a challenge. They’ve had their backs against the wall since sometime in late August; every game has felt like a must-win. So why on earth would anyone ever doubt this team? How can even the most seasoned and numbers-conscious tactician look at the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals over the last two months and say “There’s no way these guys can pull this off?”
It’s a ridiculous notion, now. Down to the last strike? Pfft. No problem for this team. How about two 2-run comebacks? Where does that fit in on your Sabermetric spreadsheet?
This is what baseball is truly all about. It’s about impossible comebacks and stellar series and two teams pushing each other to the brink. It’s baseball’s version of Mecca, and it all goes down at Busch Stadium. Remarkable.
If the Cardinals lose Game 7 it will be disappointing. But the season will not be a failure. The Texas Rangers should feel the same way. These teams have given baseball something special to this point, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Friday night.
For a number of reasons, the St. Louis Cardinals dropped Game 2 after taking a 1-0 lead into the 9th inning. The Texas Rangers were opportunistic in their base running and their hitting, the Cards were less than crisp on defense, and Tony LaRussa made a questionable but fateful decision in pulling Jason Motte from the game before he’d given up the lead. A series tied at 1-1 looks immensely different than one sitting at 2-0. And LaRussa may have some even bigger decisions ahead.
Now it appears we’re headed for a barn-burner of a World Series, which is not unlike what most thought this series would be from the beginning. Yes, the Cards lost in disappointing fashion last night. But, technically, the Rangers did the same thing in Game 1. And with the way these two teams played their respective LCS, No one could have predicted scores of 3-2 and 2-1 to start this series. So even though conditions will be vastly different in Arlington for the next three days and the offenses could really come alive, the old adage of “pitching wins championships” will probably still hold true. The question for the Cards is, do they have enough?
Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia are clearly the Cardinals’ best two starters, and the team split their starts. But both pitched masterfully compared to what they gave the team in the LCS. Whether they figured something out, or just fooled the Rangers’ hitters enough, or benefitted from the weather, or ANYTHING out of just them pitching well contributed will never be known. So now the Cards are relying on Kyle Lohse and Edwin Jackson to contain the Rangers’ lineup in Arlington and keep the Redbirds in this World Series. If they cannot do so and the Rangers go up 3-1, the Cards have their stopper ready in Carpenter, who will be on regular rest. In that situation, there’s no one we’d rather see on the mound. He’s the best candidate to stave off elimination and get the series back to St. Louis where Jaime Garcia would have the job of forcing Game 7. And the Cardinals would rest their Game 7 hopes on…who?
This is where things get hairy for the Cards. I’ve been agonizing over this ever since I found out I have tickets for Game 7: Who will be the starter for that game, if it’s played? Conventional wisdom states it would be whomever starts Game 3, which at this point looks like Lohse. Theoretically, the Cards could go with whoever pitches better between Lohse and Jackson. It’s tough to imagine the Cardinals having their entire unexpectedly magical season come down to Game 7 of the World Series at Busch Stadium and one of the top two starters aren’t on the mound. The only other guy who could make the start is Jake Westbrook. And he would probably be the least desirable option of the five considering he hasn’t started a game since September 27, a start where he gave up five earned runs to the Houston Astros. This is not a guy you want to pin your World Series Game 7 hopes on.
But what about your Game 5 hopes?
What if the Cardinals find themselves 2-2 going into Game 5? That would guarantee at least one game back at Busch Stadium no matter who won the last game in Texas. It seems like a no-brainer that Carpenter get that Game 5 start, because he gives the Cards their best chance to go up 3-2. But what happens if he loses the game? Or what if the bullpen loses it, or if Carp give up one run but the Cards don’t score any? Then the Cardinals are bound to the Garcia/question mark to try to nail down the team’s 11th World Championship. The only other option would be to have Westbrook start Game 5. Scary? Yes. But if Game 5 is not an elimination game, they’re guaranteed at least one more game in St. Louis. And in the absence of Adam Wainwright, there’s no more formidable task for the Rangers to have to undertake than needing to beat Carpenter and/or Garcia in St. Louis. They haven’t done it so far.
A lot has to happen before this situation even comes up. But I honestly would be surprised if this series doesn’t go at least six games. And I’m not sure if this Westbrook theory works with the Cards up 3-1. Maybe it makes it easier? I don’t know. I really cannot get this idea out of my head. Is it the worst idea in the world?
So my Tuesday was interesting.
The illustrious Justin Boyd of InsideSTL forwarded me an e-mail that asked if I would be available for a short radio interview on The Balance/Gary Snyder Show to talk about the World Series! After lengthy negotiations and making sure all my demands were met, I agreed to do the interview Wednesday at 4:30 CDT. The show covers a little bit of everything and is based in Indiana. It can be heard on AM 1400 WBAT and 860 WMRI if you’re local in Indy; otherwise the best way to listen anywhere else in the world is their free internet streaming site http://www.blogtalkradio.com/the-balance. Tune in to hear me wax poetic about the Cardinals and the 2011 World Series!
Thanks for reading…and for listening!
The following comes from an email exchange I had with Scott the Cubs Fan yesterday. We were discussing baseball, of course, and the NLCS. He said he’s really trying to root for the Cardinals, but it’s tough (obviously). Here was my reply to him; maybe more Cubs fans living in Cardinal country can take something from it as well:
I would expect this is a tough spot for a lot of Cubs fans. Unless you don’t share most NL fans’ general disdain for the AL, you have to choose between rooting for your oldest rival or your newest. There is the novelty of rooting for a Brewers-Rangers World Series in order to guarantee a first-time winner, I suppose. Detroit is one of those places that really needs some good news, so they’re probably the heartstrings’ favorite. Admittedly, the Cardinals are the closest thing to an “Evil Empire”-type team left in this postseason. For all these reasons, I wouldn’t at all blame you for rooting against them.
But then again, you’re completely surrounded by Cardinal Red. It’s on TV, radio, in the newspaper, on the street, and in your home. 99% of the people you love and care about the most are hoping more than anything the Cardinals will win the World Series, and if they don’t you’ll be on an island with one or two others as the only people smiling on the day they’re eliminated. And, as a lover of the game itself, you know that historically the St. Louis Cardinals winning the World Series is never a bad thing. Even you can’t turn away when Stan Musial appears on the field in that bright red blazer, flanked by Red Schoendienst and Lou Brock (well, maybe not him) and Bob Gibson and Ozzie Smith.
I get it. Do what you feel you have to do. Go Cards.
I’m not sure what Scott the Cubs fan will choose to do. I know he’ll watch, because he loves baseball and completely geeks out on it during the playoffs regardless of who is playing. I do the same thing. No matter who you root for, that part is pretty universal. And I don’t expect him to walk around in the colors of either team. That would be a little much.
But I do know one thing: he really hates the Rally Squirrel.
The Cardinals didn’t have quite enough to beat the Phillies Tuesday night, and now they face a do-or-die elimination game on Wednesday.
Of course, this is not unfamiliar territory for the Cards. They battled back from 10 1/2 games out to secure a playoff spot on the last day of the regular season. They lost Game 1 to the Phillies after squandering a lead, and after falling behind 4-0 in Game 2 they battled back again to win the game and even the NLDS. And Tuesday, they were down 3-0 but again fought back and nearly tied the game in the 9th inning. Wednesday, they win or they go home. It’s really that simple.
I have the good fortune of being able to attend Game 4 at Busch Stadium. A couple years ago, I also got to go to Game 3 of the 2009 NLDS against the Dodgers. But after that year’s Game 2 had been lost in the lights (and Matt Holliday’s groin area), emotions were only cautiously high. Deep down, I think we all knew the Cards were in trouble. Not only were they down 0-2 in the series; they lost a game they had all but won. Call it momentum or karma or whatever, but that Cardinal team lost something big in Game 2 that year and never had much of a chance in Game 3.
This year is different. For the most part, the Cards have been with the Phils every step of the way. I’m truly optimistic about Game 4 on Wednesday. And if they win, all bets are off for Game 5 with Chris Carpenter facing Roy Halladay, both on full rest. This series is shaping up to be a classic in the making.
But first things first: the Cards must beat Philly on Wednesday at Busch.