Last night, I left the comfort of the windowless underground cement bunker where I live, and headed to the Outfield Reserved Terrace of Busch Stadium with great fear in my heart. I expected to witness signs of the sad decline of the St. Louis Cardinals in person. The Detroit Tigers were in town, for the first time since losing to the Cards in the 2006 World Series, and their ace pitcher, the very intimidating Justin Verlander, was on the mound. I figured that the declining St. Louis offense and their starting pitcher, Adam Wainwright, wouldn't be able to offer much of a counter-attack.
The first Tigers at-bat didn't do much to cure my optimism, as they hit a triple, and then saw Wainwright walk two batters to load the bases. Luckily, the Cardinals fielded their way out of this hairy situation.
Then, when St. Louis stepped up to the plate to face Verlander, who many people consider to be the best pitcher in the American League, something amazing happened. The Cardinals seemed to magically transform into a competent ballclub. Their hitters uncharacteristically didn't swing at bad pitches, they saw the ball well, and they played very smart small ball. They scored four runs in that first inning. Even when intentionally walking Albert Pujols, usually a very effective strategy, the Tigers found themselves in a hole that they could never climb out of.
For the rest of this brutal game, this Detroit team must have felt like General Custer walking into a pow-wow. The Cardinals kept attacking and piling on, pulling off an amazing and resounding 11- 2 victory.
Pujols and Chris Duncan thrilled the crowd, hitting back to back home-runs. Yadier Molina and Skip Schumacher were among the game's unlikely heroes. Wainwright effectively shut down the Detroit lineup. The fans at Busch Stadium could not seem to believe the competence that the Cardinals showed during this game, and were losing their minds with excitement. By the end of the whole thing, the Cardinals were so self-satisfied, Pujols was on the bench and Yadier Molina was playing first base. It was that kind of night.
I do not mean to make the forecast for the rest of the season as sunny as last night's contest would make it appear to be. The Cardinals aren't statistically on top of their division. (Detroit, by the way, is leading the American League Central, and watching them blunder their way through this game illustrated, to me how weak that division must be.) This wasn't a perfect game for the Cardinals. They did make a few boneheaded base running mistakes, in the third inning, and they did allow a couple of late-inning home-runs.
Overall, though, the team showed a spark and a drive that has been sorely lacking the last couple of months. I hope that this isn't just a fluke and that Cardinal fans get the chance to see more games like this one. Aspects of this season has given me some serious doubts, but I do have more hope for the Cardinals' prospects I've had in a while.