MLB Playoffs: Are the St. Louis Cardinals the Most Clutch Team Ever?
There have and will always be games in sports that leave fans in disbelief. Great comebacks that can only be described as miracles. But what the St. Louis Cardinals' organization has done over the last two seasons will likely stand alone as one of the most clutch events that sports fans will ever see.
The Cardinals needed a miraculous September rally just to make the playoffs on the final day of the regular season last year. They went on to stun the Phillies in a dramatic five-game NLDS and then knocked off the Brewers in six games in the NLCS. St. Louis would eventually find themselves facing the Texas Rangers in the World Series.
The Rangers, hungry for a title after coming up short in the 2010 Fall Classic, grabbed a 3-2 series lead over the Redbirds. They took a 7-5 lead into the ninth inning of Game 6 and appeared primed to win their franchise's first championship.
Not so fast.
Down to their final strike, the Cardinals rallied in the ninth and tied the game on a two-run triple by St. Louis third baseman David Freese. The tie did not last for long. In the 10th inning, Josh Hamilton hit a two-run bomb to put Texas back on top 9-7.
It appeared that time had finally run out on the Cardiac Cardinals.
Again though, not so fast.
St. Louis was again pushed to their final strike of the season when Lance Berkman came up with a huge game-tying single to make it 9-9 in the 10th inning. Two innings later, David Freese hit a moonshot over the center field grass to send the series to a Game 7.
The Cardinals had little trouble in Game 7, putting the Rangers away 6-2 to win the franchise's 11th World Series title.
Fast forward now to this year.
Without Albert Pujols, Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan, the defending World Series champions were doubted from the start. It simply seemed like the losses of these three key figures would be too great for one team to overcome, especially a team who had just come off a championship run.
This year's installment of the St. Louis Cardinals did not seem too concerned though. They snuck into the playoffs on the second to last day of the regular season, and put themselves right back in position to defend their 2011 title.
After beating Atlanta in a single elimination wild-card game, St. Louis squared off against Washington. The series was hard fought throughout, but in Game 5, the Nats jumped all over starter Adam Wainwright and took a 6-0 lead after just three innings.
Things once again looked bad for St. Louis. No team in MLB history had ever come back from more than four runs down in a final decisive game of a playoff series.
Don't tell that to the Cardinals though.
The Redbirds continued to chip away at the lead. They added one run in the fourth, two in the fifth, one in the seventh and one in the eighth, cutting the score to 6-5. But Washington struck for an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth, all but putting an end to St. Louis' season.
Again, not so fast.
Carlos Beltran led off the ninth with a long fly that fell just beyond the reach of the speedy Bryce Harper in center field. Two batters later, Beltran was standing on third with the Cardinals one out away from seeing their repeat chances dashed. Nationals closer Drew Storen proceeded to put his team within one strike on back-to-back occasions, but Yadier Molina and David Freese drew consecutive walks to load the bases.
Then, with all the great hitters that the powerful St. Louis lineup had, the game came down to Daniel Descalso. Descalso, a career .245 hitter, went deep on a solo shot in the eighth, but he might very well be the last guy you would want to have at the plate in this situation.
On the first pitch he saw, Descalso ripped a ball up the middle that could not be fielded cleanly by the Nationals, and all the sudden they had done it again. St. Louis had pulled off another miracle. Next up was Pete Kozma, and with two strikes he hit a single down the right field line to give the Cardinals the lead.
Jason Motte closed the door for the Redbirds in the bottom half of the inning, and just like that the Nationals were done and St. Louis was about to have a happy flight to San Francisco.
Over the last two seasons, the Cardinals have been pushed to their final strike four times. Four times they were pushed to the brink of elimination, and four times they said not so fast.
Surely there will be a time when St. Louis fails to get it done. Whether it be this year, next year or a decade from now, they will eventually have strike three pass one of their hitters and the lights will be shut off for the winter at the beautiful stadium known to Cardinal Nation as Baseball Heaven.
But for now, their dream of winning a 12th championship lives on, and the St. Louis Cardinals have the baseball world once again buzzing about this team from the Midwest who simply refuses to let their postseason hopes die.
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