The 2012 season for the St. Louis Cardinals was a true roller coaster ride. No one was sure what to make of the Albert Pujols departure to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Most Cardinals fans lashed out at the slugger at the beginning of the season and ate up his early season struggles.
Enter Allen Craig. He did an outstanding job of helping Cardinals fans put Pujols to the side when he was healthy enough to be in the lineup.
Carlos Beltran provided a punch on his 35-year-old knees and became the 2012 version of Lance Berkman by swatting 32 home runs and driving in 97 runs.
The Cardinals made a late-season run to secure the Wild Card and beat the Braves in the one-game elimination Wild Card game. Pete Kozma almost went down in Cardinal history for the wrong reasons, pulling a boneheaded play in the Braves game similar to the one Matt Holliday pulled in the 2009 LDS against the Dodgers in the deciding game where he took a ball in the nether region and cost the Cards the game.
Then there was the gritty series against the Washington Nationals with a game for the ages in the decisive Game 5. That game certainly ranks up there with the 2011 Game 6 World Series where Lance Berkman kept championship hopes alive to allow David Freese to cement himself in Cardinal lore forever.
There were some great moments in 2012 for the Cardinals and some heartbreaking ones. Here is my list of the top five moments from the past season.
With the loss of a keystone player like Albert Pujols, the Cardinals were anxious to lock in their next cornerstone player. Yadier Molina has been a fan favorite since day one in St. Louis.
His defense has always been his calling card, leading the majors with 46 pickoffs since 2004. He has done a great job calling games and has been the battery mate of two pitchers who have either won or finished second in the Cy Young voting since 2005.
Additionally, Molina has been racking up the hardware since 2008, taking home five consecutive Gold Gloves and the first two NL Platinum Gloves. The guy is just a rock behind the plate.
Now his bat is coming to life, getting better each year and posting a career best .315 batting average. He has come a long way since his .216 year in 2006.
With Yadi locked up for four more years, Cardinal fans know they have one of the best behind the plate, and if he continues to play as he did in 2012, he could find himself a strong candidate for Cooperstown down the road.
The bullpen was a soft spot for the 2012 Cardinals after being such a strength in their 2011 World Series championship team.
The middle relief from both sides wasn't getting it done. If the Cards could get to the eighth and ninth innings with a lead, things were generally good, with Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte both posting career best numbers.
Boggs posted a 2.21 ERA and frankly was below 2.00 for most of the season. He logged 73.1 innings in his 78 appearances and was very dependable coming in for Mike Matheny in the eighth inning.
Jason Motte posted a career-best 42 saves, which tied for the league best and posted a 10.8 k/9 inning ratio.
However, getting to those fellas with the lead proved troublesome until the trade deadline. Fernando Salas, Eduardo Sanchez, Kyle McClellan, Victor Marte and others all struggled mightily this last year getting timely outs and holding a lead.
Each of the above mentioned relievers had an ERA above 4.30.
Enter Edward Mujica. The Cardinals traded minor leaguer Zack Cox to the Marlins for Mujica at the trade deadline. Mujica wasn't having a great year in Miami, posting a 4.38 ERA with an 0-3 record.
Mujica was the 2012 version of Octavio Dotel (acquired in the stretch run of 2011). Mujica found some magic and posted a 1.03 ERA for the Cardinals the rest of the way. He made 29 appearances and pitched 26.1 innings.
Mujica filled a gaping need and was a big reason the Cardinals were able to make up enough ground to take the second Wild Card spot and advance all the way to Game 7 of the NLCS.
During what was looking like another frustrating day by the offense against a very sub-par Cubs team, the light switch was flipped and the explosion began.
Jake Westbrook was pitching a great game, holding the Cubs scoreless thru seven innings on three hits. Cubs starter Matt Garza only pitched three innings, so it became a bullpen job for the Cubs.
Justin Germano pitched to only one batter in the seventh and gave up an infield single to David Freese. Cubs skipper Dale Sveum then summoned James Russell to try and close out the inning. Unfortunately for the Cubs, Russell got shelled, as did Manual Corpas, who combined to get two out and give up 11 runs.
The best part of this offensive explosion was the Cardinals didn't hit a home run to post all of these runs. They just kept hitting the ball hard and running the bases effectively. That inning also included seven doubles, which tied a major league record for most doubles in one inning, matching the 1936 Boston Braves.
The Cardinals ended up winning the game 12-0 and it was a game (or inning at least) to remember.
The Cardinals fought long and hard down the stretch and were the first beneficiaries of the second Wild Card spot that each league was now offering.
The Cardinals and Braves squared off in a winner-take-all one-game elimination at Turner Field. Both teams sent their season aces to mound, Kyle Lohse for the Cardinals and Kris Medlan for the Braves.
Medlan was tough in 2012, making both relief appearances as well as starting 12 games. In all, he posted a 10-1 record with a 1.57 ERA. Lohse posted a 16-3 record for the Redbirds with a 2.86 ERA and was the Cardinals' go-to guy.
The Braves' poor defense basically handed the game to the Cardinals, committing three errors that led to four unearned runs in the Cardinals' 6-3 win.
But the play that stands out above all others was the bizarre play in the bottom of the eighth inning. Facing Andrelton Simmons with runners on first and second, Mitchell Boggs forced a pop up between shortstop Pete Kozma and left fielder Matt Holliday. Kozma called off Holliday and then for some bizarre reason decided the ball was Holliday's.
The ball fell in between, and it appeared the Braves had the bases loaded with only one out. However, the base umpire had called the infield fly rule and the batter was deemed out. The pandemonium that ensued was memorable as well, as Braves fans littered the field with trash in protest.
After all the hoopla ended and the trash was picked up, Jason Motte came in to close the door and strikeout Michael Bourn to end the rally and the inning.
The Cardinals came into Game 5 of the NLDS tied at two games apiece. But after a dreadful start by Adam Wainwright, allowing six runs in 2.1 innings pitched on three long home runs, it appeared the Cardinals' season was going to be over.
But these Cardinals still had some fight in them and chipped away at the lead, but still found themselves two runs down in the top of the ninth inning.
After a lead off double by Carlos Beltran to start the ninth inning, Matt Holliday weakly grounded out and Allen Craig struck out. With two outs and things looking bleak, the magic began.
Yadier Molina and David Freese drew back-to-back walks, and Daniel Desclaso came through with the biggest hit of his young career, a single that scored Beltran and Molina. With Freese at third, Descalso stole second, which eliminated the force out.
Then young Pete Kozma stepped up to the plate with a chance to be a hero. Kozma quickly fell behind 0-2 in the count. He eventually worked the count to 2-2 before stroking the double that sent St. Louis into a frenzy and a young Nationals club home for the season. The Cardinals went on to win 9-7 and square off against the Giants in the NLCS.
It was the greatest ninth-inning comeback in postseason history and one Cardinals fans will not soon forget.