The first time during the 2011 baseball season I proclaimed the St. Louis Cardinals dead was when star pitcher Adam Wainwright got hurt in spring training and was ruled out for the year.
The second time I mentally proclaimed the Cardinals dead was Aug. 25, when they were 10 1/2 games out of the National League wild-card lead.
The third time I thought the Cardinals were dead was when they were matched up against the Philadelphia Phillies in the first round of the NL playoffs.
The fourth time I thought the Cardinals would be killed off was when they were matched up against the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Championship Series.
Let’s just say when they call it the wild card, they ain’t kidding, because here the Cardinals are, still playing, last man standing in the National League as the World Series begins Wednesday against the Texas Rangers. I can’t believe it. It took until like midnight on the last day of the regular season for the Cardinals to even slip into the playoffs because the Atlanta Braves pulled off the amazing feat of giving away a sure thing. Instead of graciously accepting the gift of a playoff berth from their NL brethern they allowed their own generosity to get in the way. Here, you take it, the Braves said to the Cards.
How is it possible that the Cardinals are still playing at this late date when there are leaves to be raked and candy to be bought for trick or treaters? In what was somewhat of a sub-par year for him, Albert Pujols got hot when it mattered and helped carry the Cardinals through September. A bunch of guys whose own families think of angus bulls when they hear bullpen, anchored manager Tony La Russa’s relief corps. And everything broke right in last-week-of-September matchups and wins and losses.
That’s how the Cardinals got in the door to the post-season. Like the good people of Philadelphia I will spend the winter wondering how the Cardinals ever beat the Phillies in the first round. And like the good people of Milwaukee I will spend the winter wondering how come the Brewers’ pitchers couldn’t get anybody out in mid-October.
Allowing Pujols his share of slugging is understandable. But David Freese? I’m hoping a mutal friend introduces us some day if we’re standing in the same room because otherwise I’d never recognize him. I completely missed his early days with the Fort Wayne Wizards and Eugene Emeralds. But that’s me. In St. Louis there are probably political party bosses on both sides of the aisle seeking to enlist him to run for mayor and sculptors lining up to carve statues of him.
The Most Valuable Player in the NCLS slugged three home runs, drove in nine runs, scored seven, and batted .545. You can’t pitch to David Freese, you can only hope to contain him.
Somehow it doesn’t seem right for St. Louis to be in the World Series. At a time when some former also-rans are breaking out, it just felt more fitting for Milwaukee to make it. Historically, the Cardinals are the Yankees of the National League. This is St. Louis’ 18th pennant.
That King Kong of a hitter David Freese aside, credit must be accorded to La Russa. There were critical injuries. Pujols did start slow (and was injured, too.) Yet… La Russa, 67, has grown increasingly grumpy in the clubhouse with reporters in his old age, but when it came to maxing out his players’ skills, he displayed the mix-and-match genius of a Casey Stengel this year.