MLB Playoffs 2012: Don't Count out the St. Louis Cardinals
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The St. Louis Cardinals seem to have a flair for the histrionic.
Last season, they performed sloppily throughout the summer, but were able to ride a late-season hot streak all the way to a National League Wild-Card berth (with help from a slumping Atlanta Braves team), trouncing the Houston Astros 8-0 to secure it.
The team then pushed National League-favorites the Philadelphia Phillies to Game 5 of the NLDS, winning a tense 1-0 game in what turned into a pitching clinic put on by Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter.
After doing away with the Milwaukee Brewers in six games, the Cardinals went on to face the AL Champs from Texas. After losing the World Series just a year earlier, the Rangers were expected to win, not only because they ostensibly had better stats and more depth, but because they also carried that sour feeling from failing to execute to completion the prior year.
The Texas Rangers were in good position to win their first World Series in franchise history, leading the series against the Cards 3-2.
Then Game 6 happened.
If you’re unfamiliar with the circumstances from Game 6 of last year’s World Series, you probably haven’t been following baseball recently.
Every commentator and sports critic has it at the tip of his tongue, and you can bet that it will not go unacknowledged in tonight’s NLCS Game 7 matchup between the Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants.
Trading runs back and forth throughout the game, the Rangers finally seemed to break the game wide open in the seventh inning, scoring three runs to take a huge 7-4 lead with only two innings left to play. The Cardinals were able to mount an unbelievable rally in the ninth inning, but that was tarnished by a two-run homer by Josh Hamilton in the top of the tenth.
However, it was Lance Berkman—down to his last strike—who rode the pressure of elimination and turned it into a run-scoring single, once again tying the game.
When David Freese hit his walk-off home run in the bottom of the 12th to end the game—only the fourth in a Game 6 in the history of the World Series—he proved the MLB’s current promotional axiom that legends are indeed born in October.
The Cardinals, of course, went on to win their 11th World Series championship. However, they would also bid adieu to ace manager Tony La Russa, who announced his retirement shortly after the victory.
Given the loss of La Russa, along with pitching coach Dave Duncan and All-Star first basemen Albert Pujols—who took a lucrative contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim—it was questioned whether or not the Cardinals could continue their run of success.
Well, sort of. They certainly haven’t lost their theatrical appeal.
In 2012, the Cardinals once again had to whittle their way into the postseason. Given the MLB’s new Wild-Card format, the Cardinals—who would have traditionally been ousted from contention in favor of the Atlanta Braves at the end of the regular season—played a first-of-its-kind, winner-take-all Wild-Card game to decide who would take on what was categorically the best team in the National League.
In very controversial fashion, the Cardinals once again pried away a postseason berth from the Braves. They faced a burgeoning Washington Nationals team, riding the high of their postseason debut.
Again, the Cardinals took the NLDS to five games, and again were down to their last strike.
These boys of summer just will not say die.
Of course, it was just a week ago that the Cardinals rallied from a 6-0 deficit to beat the Washington Nationals in the ninth inning of Game 5. But to a Cardinals fan, given the Cardinals’ slumping offense and poor fielding decisions of late, that game almost seems a distant memory, after they coughed up a 3-1 NLCS series lead to the ever-resilient San Francisco Giants.
Just like the Cardinals, the Giants have experience. They have resiliency. They are a team only two years removed from a World Series victory. They’ve excelled when facing elimination so far this postseason, and there’s no reason to believe that they will crumble under the pressure of Game 7.
The Cardinals have lost momentum. Their stars are slumping. Their pitching and defense has been mediocre (to put it kindly).
They once again find themselves in a winner-take-all elimination/advancement game with their backs against the wall.
As you’ll recall, this is their bread and butter.
The St. Louis Cardinals may be the most exciting team to watch in baseball right now. They’ve recently displayed the type of resiliency only found in feel-good sports dramas—the stuff of fiction.
They may be down and they may be slumping, but they will not go gentle into that good night.
The Giants are an excellent team, deserving of an NL championship, and they are in a good position to be meet the Detroit Tigers this time next week.
But even if they are up against the Cards 10-0 in the ninth tonight, the St. Louis season won't fade to black until the third out.
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