After the San Francisco Giants polished off the St. Louis Cardinals 6-1 Sunday night to knot the National League Championship Series at 3-3 the Cardinals should be worried, very worried. It’s not so much an issue that they can’t win one more game to kill off the Giants for 2012, but of what are the chances of Matt Cain not being too good to handle?
Cain is the Giants’ ace. He went 16-5. He pitched a perfect game this season. But he has not pitched super in the playoffs. I’m thinking he’s due for a lights-out game and that could turn the lights out on the Cardinals’ season. Still, one thing these playoffs have shown is that there is no such thing as momentum. The Cincinnati Reds definitely had it and look at them now. The Cardinals had it and look at them now, a team that by midnight could be on the redeye home–and not to host Game 1 of the World Series against Detroit.
St. Louis had the Giants right where they wanted them, trailing 3-1 in the best-of-seven series. The Giants were hitting like the New York Yankees. Up until recently that used to be a compliment. Now the Giants are hitting like a Major League team. Unfortunately for the Cardinals they’re not, but worse, St. Louis also has been fielding like a minor league team. Ugly, ugly.
Weeks ago I caught up to the Cardinals for a game when they were on a road trip and beginning to put together the 23-9 September streak that won them the second wild-card spot in the playoffs by edging out the Los Angeles Dodgers. Manager Mike Matheny admitted that every game was like a playoff game from then on. Chatting with pitcher Joe Kelly we touched on the topic of the Cardinals’ miraculous run to the World Series crown last year and mused about the prospect of doing it all over again. “Why not?” said Kelly.
Rather remarkably, from that moment to this, the Cardinals pretty much have been on a Why not? rerun. They finished the regular season with a flourish to capture the playoff slot. They knocked off the Atlanta Braves in a single-game elimination wild-card game. They fought off the Washington Nationals in five games in the NL Division Series. Then they went up 3-1 on the Giants, only to drop back into this 3-3 tie, backs-to-the-wall elimination game Monday night.
Neither last year nor this year has anyone suggested that the Cardinals are one of the greatest or most powerful teams of all time. One of the scrappiest maybe, one of the most overachieving possibly. It seems as if they have been living on borrowed time for an entire year.
The Giants seem to have all the advantages for the finale. The game is in their home park. They are the hot team. They are hitting better than St. Louis. They have their best pitcher on the mound and he seems prepped for a dominating performance. On the other hand, the Cardinals have been here before–over and over again–and survived to play another day.
Everything seems to be lined up for the Giants to win the game and advance to the Series. But the Cardinals have paid absolutely zero attention to such indicators before and come up smiling. My brain says that San Francisco will win. My gut tells me St. Louis. The Cardinals have defeated common sense before.