BREAKING: The St. Louis Cardinals are not a baseball team.
Sure, they play baseball, but the Cardinals' essence more closely resembles that of a horror-movie franchise. The Cardinals are baseball's answer to Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger. They are takers of souls who just keep coming and coming and coming, and they simply can't be reasoned with.
Worse, they can't be killed.
In 2011, the Cardinals made victims of the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS and the Texas Rangers in the World Series, two series that many expected the Cardinals to lose without too much of a fuss. But they just kept coming, and they wouldn't even stop coming when the Rangers had them one strike away from death in Game 6 of the Fall Classic.
The Cardinals fought off death in that situation not once, but twice. And in the end, they snatched the title from Texas' cold fingers.
So far in these playoffs, the Cardinals have already made victims of two teams. Their first victim was the Atlanta Braves in the NL Wild Card Game at Turner Field last Friday evening. Their latest victim are the Washington Nationals, who the Cardinals just dispatched with a thrilling 9-7 win in Game 5 of the NLDS on Friday night at Nationals Park.
In true Cardinals' fashion, the death of the Nats came swiftly and suddenly, and it also came after they appeared to be a walking definition of the word "safe."
Early on, it was all Nats. They had a 3-0 lead before Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright had even recorded an out, as Jayson Werth's leadoff double was followed by a Bryce Harper triple and a Ryan Zimmerman home run. At the time, Nationals Park was rocking.
The Nats struck again in the third inning. Harper led things off with a home run off of Wainwright, and Michael Morse added a two-run homer later in the inning that stretched Washington's lead to 6-0.
That was it for Wainwright. And, if we're being frank, that seemed to be it for the Cardinals too.
But, of course, it wasn't. Matt Holliday put the Cardinals on the board with an RBI double in the fourth inning, and the Cardinals were able to chase Nats star lefty Gio Gonzalez from the game by forcing him to throw 36 pitches in a two-run fifth inning that sliced the home team's lead in half.
All the home crowd could do was watch in horror. The 45,966 innocent people packed into Nationals Park knew that trouble was brewing. They could see the Nationals walking down into the dark basement armed only with a flashlight.
And trouble was most certainly brewing. St. Louis' bullpen froze Washington's bats solid after Gonzalez left the game, and the Cardinals were able to add runs in the seventh and eighth innings on a Holliday RBI groundout and a Daniel Descalso solo home run.
It wasn't until the bottom of the eighth inning that Washington's torture finally let up, as Kurt Suzuki's third hit of the night was a two-out RBI single that gave the Nats a two-run cushion heading into the ninth inning.
For the Nats, Suzuki's single was a flicker of hope. It was a cop car coming down the highway.
But no. The Cardinals weren't going to let the Nationals go that easily. Their torture began anew in the top of the ninth inning.
Against fireballing closer Drew Storen, postseason stud Carlos Beltran led off with a double, and Storen would eventually load the bases with two outs with back-to-back walks to Yadier Molina and David Freese.
That's when Descalso—because, of course, it would be a guy like Descalso—landed a killing blow, lining a single up the middle that just barely ticked off shortstop Ian Desmond's glove to tie the score at 7-7.
The next batter was the immortal Pete Kozma—yet another "of course it would be him" guy—and he punched a two-run single down the right-field line that gave the Cardinals a 9-7 lead.
Jason Motte took it from there, getting Werth, Harper and Zimmerman in order to seal the deal and bring total silence over Nationals Park.
St. Louis' comeback is going to go into the books as a "shocker." Or maybe as an "upset." Or maybe as a "shocking upset."
But was it really? Should we really be so surprised that the Cardinals won Game 5 when it looked like they were so incredibly destined to lose Game 5?
Shouldn't we have been expecting them to win all along?
Had you asked me around the third inning or so, I would have said no. The Nationals had the upper hand. They were holding all the cards. Other sports cliches were working in their favor as well. It really was that obvious that they were going to win.
The Cardinals knew better. People were declaring them doomed losers when they were going up against the Phillies in last year's NLDS, and people were also declaring them doomed losers on more than one occasion in the World Series against the Rangers. Some even viewed them as doomed losers against the Braves in the Wild Card Game this year.
In each instance, all those who declared the Cardinals to be doomed losers soon became the butt of the Cardinals' best jokes. And sure enough, it happened again on Friday night. As they always do, the Cardinals have gotten the last laugh.
It was the same movie all over again. Such is life in the horror genre.
You know what's truly scary? The Cardinals have another sequel coming out pretty soon, one that will co-star the San Francisco Giants.
And what an NLCS it shall be. On one side is a Cardinals team that is utterly incapable of going home quietly for the winter when October rolls around, and on the other side is a Giants team that just pulled off the first 0-2 comeback in NLDS history.
The Giants didn't beat any chumps to get it done either, as they knocked off a Cincinnati Reds squad that finished with the second-best record in baseball during the regular season. To boot, the Giants got it done by winning three straight on the road at Great American Ballpark.
This stuff. You can't make it up.
But it's real, alright, and the best part is that, well, the best stuff is yet to come. With an NLCS matchup featuring the comeback kids from St. Louis on one side and the comeback kids from San Francisco on the other side, how will there not be drama?
...Or do we already know how things are going to pan out?
Let's see, according to the Cardinals' usual script, the series will go down something like this:
The Cardinals are going to split the first two games of the series in San Francisco. Their win will be a blowout. Their loss with be a nail-biter.
Then they'll come home and lose Game 3 before winning Game 4. Then they'll lose Game 5 and will head back to San Francisco with a 3-2 series deficit.
They'll look down for the count in Game 6, but they won't actually be down for the count. Ominous piano chords will sound, and the Cardinals will rise from their grave and erase whatever deficit they may be dealing with. Then they'll go on to win in a fashion that will totally annihilate the Giants' hopes and dreams, and then the Cardinals will finish them off in Game 7.
A crude outline, perhaps, but does anybody want to try to debunk its validity? Is this not the general narrative that the Cardinals tend to stick to in October?
You know the answer as well as I do. If the sequence is something like down-up-down-dead-triumphant, it must be Cardinals baseball.
I want to say something like, "And now here we go again." I can't, though. In reality, we're already going again. The Cardinals have been presumed dead at least once in this postseason, yet they're still on the prowl for more souls. They're doing their ghoulish thing.
Maybe you think the madness has gone far enough. Maybe you think the Giants are just the team to vanquish the Cardinals once and for all. They'll drown them in a lake or blow them out of an airlock. Whatever their means of dispatch, it will be final.
That's the thing with horror films, though: There is no far enough. There is no final.
The next time you see loose dirt in front of the Cardinals' tombstone, just wait. It surely won't be long before a hand bursts through the ground.
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