Before we can even start to dissect the statistics as to why the 2011 Cardinals are world champions once again, we just need to live in the moment. So let's take a look, and remember 2011 for the year it was; a time line, if you will—down but never out; deflated, but never quitting; injured, but resilient; frustrating and exciting; misery...to history.
The Cardinals all reported to Jupiter, Fla., by February 19, 2011. Emotions were high as the team had bolstered its lineup by adding Lance Berkman and shortstop Ryan Theriot.
A rotation with the looks of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright at the front was rounded out by names like Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse. And Ryan Franklin headlined a bullpen after having 27 saves in 29 opportunities for the Redbirds.
Fans were frustrated by contract talks with Albert Pujols coming to a halt to avoid distraction, yes, but still, hopes were high for yet another summer of St. Louis Cardinals baseball in "Baseball Heaven."
Feelings: Excitement, anxiousness, nervousness.
On February 23, 2011, Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright was flown back to St. Louis to have his right elbow examined for discomfort in the joint area. The outcome? We all know the story.
Cardinals fans dropped to their knees. Milwaukee fans licked their chops. Phillies fans nearly crowned their team 2011 National League Champs before Opening Day, and a harpoon was already through the St. Louis heart.
Feelings: Hurt, anger, "Why?", throwing things, "Now what?", *expletives*
Fans had a month to get over Wainwright's absence. It obviously still hurt, but it was time to see if any unsung hero could step up and make up for the 20-game winner. And then the game started, and everybody forgot about the uphill battle they faced.
The Cardinals led the Padres 3-2 headed into the top of the ninth inning after a clutch solo home run by Matt Holliday. Franklin took the bump. Over, right? With one out, Cameron Maybin sends a shot to the batter's eye in center field at Busch Stadium—tie game.
The Cardinals lose 5-3 in the 11th. Cameron Maybin, the heartbreaker once again.
Feelings: Heartbreak, "It's only one game", "But it's Opening Day!"
Tied with the NL Central lead halfway through the 2011 campaign, the Redbirds were tied for the lead in the division with a 49-43 record. Bugged by many injuries and a—for lack of a better term—pathetic bullpen, they were lucky to be tied for the Central lead. To hear how bizarre of a first half it was, Albert Pujols didn't even make the All-Star team. His injury was one of the bigger reasons why, but in the past decade it has been unheard of to not hear No. 5 announced to the NL team.
If the Cardinals wanted to make it to the postseason, they needed to turn it on right then. And some of them did. Carpenter hit his stride after the break, posting a 7-2 record with a 2.98 ERA after starting out the season 4-7. Pujols hit .319 in the second half after a .280 average through mid-July.
They weren't down and out yet, but they needed to pick it up. Did they?
Feelings: Uneasiness, hope
John Mozeliak’s attitude: “Win now!”
This thought process led to a trade that fans never thought would happen two years ago. Sending long-time top prospect Colby Rasmus to the Toronto Blue Jays, the Redbirds thought for the first time that they were immediately better. The three-team trade brought journey-man pitcher Edwin Jackson, along with left-handed specialist Marc Rzepczynski, veteran Octavio Dotel and outfielder Corey Patterson to the Cardinals. (The Cardinals also sent Trever Miller, P.J. Walters and Brian Tallet to Toronto as well.)
The purpose of the trade was to “win now.” Jackson claimed the W in his first start on July 29 with the Cards against the rival Cubs. But a .500 record for the next month wasn’t good enough to hang with the Milwaukee Brewers. One-and-a-half games back on July 29 turned into 10.5 games out in a hurry.
Good night. Game over.
Feelings: Frustration, failure, embarrassment, throwing things once again, hiding the jersey in the back of the closet
Side Note: I wonder if this thought process was caused because of Tony La Russa’s thoughts on calling it quits after the 2011 season no matter what. I wonder if Mo wanted to give La Russa everything he needed to go for one last “hoorah.”
The situation: It's September 7, 2011. Chris Carpenter strikes Nyjer Morgan out on a fastball in the top of the ninth. Words are exchanged. Tobacco is thrown. The benches clear.
An anger that had been building up for years between the two athletes finally hit the limit. The Cardinals went on to win the game 2-0, and this is what was said after the game.
“There’s nothing really more to say other than we are still in first place, and they’re still chasing us.”
“It’s whatever. It is what it is. We are still in first place. Believe it.”
@TheRealTPlush Where still n 1st and I hope those crying birds injoy watching tha Crew in tha Playoffs!!! Aaaaahhhhh!!! (via Twitter).
All of this was said after St. Louis had completed a three-game sweep of the Brew Crew. And now, despite being 8.5 out in the NL Central, the table was set. The fire was sparked. Nobody embarrasses one of the most historic and proven franchises in baseball.
Feelings: Anger, rage, fury
There are two scenarios here:
Scenario A: The Cardinals welcome Atlanta into St. Louis and play the type of baseball that had left Cardinal Nation frustrated all year, losing close games late and crushing rallies by the heartbreaking theme of double play balls off of Cardinals bats.
Scenario B: The Redbirds use the words graciously given to them by “Tony Plush” and shock the nation. They sweep the Braves, putting themselves 4.5 games out in the Wild Card, and more importantly, change the word pretender to contender.
St. Louis trailed Atlanta 3-1 heading into the bottom of the ninth in Game 1 of the three-game rendezvous. Two outs, bases loaded. Albert Pujols versus Craig Kimbrel. On an 0-1 pitch, the 2011 Cardinals campaign was changed. A two-RBI single to right field off of the future Hall of Famer’s bat tied the game at three, and the Birds went on to win in extras.
Then they won on Saturday. And Sunday? Same thing. Four-and-a-half games out. And Cardinals fans all yelled out, “Thank you, Nyjer Morgan.”
Feelings: Shock, hope, belief, digging out the jersey from the back of the closet
Tony La Russa is mid-postgame conference after a Cardinals road win against Roy Halladay and the Phillies. It was the last game of a four-game series at Citizens Bank in Philadelphia; a series in which the Cardinals won three of four.
Mid-conference, cheers are heard from the visiting clubhouse. Omar Infante of the Marlins had just hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth—Marlins win 6-5 over Atlanta. With nine to play, the Birds were two-and-a-half out of the playoffs.
Feelings: Excitement, confidence, actually wearing the jersey
Cardinals 6, Mets 2. Top ninth. Three outs away from being…out…then there was a walk. And an error. And two more walks. And a single, and a double, and a single, and before Cardinal fans could even blink, the Mets had put up six runs in the final frame. They could have been a game away from a tie with Atlanta for the fourth NL playoff spot. But instead, two games out with six remaining was at stake.
Feelings: Heartbreak, uneasiness, pass the Pepto
Cardinal Nation should all send Cubs closer Carlos Marmol a Christmas card this holiday season. And here’s why…
Saturday afternoon in St. Louis, Cubs starter Rodrigo Lopez absolutely shut down the Redbird lineup. And then, Marmol came in looking to shut the Cardinals’s door on that afternoon and possibly on the entire 2011 season.
Down 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth, the “Cardiac Cards” (as they became known) found a way to win yet again. A single, three consecutive walks and a wild pitch led the team to a 2-1 victory. With four games remaining, they still had a two-game gap separating them and October.
Feelings: Anticipation, expectation, trust, confidence, “It’s in the stars.”
Atlanta and St. Louis both went into Game 162 tied for the Wild Card lead. If both teams lost, it would force a play-in in St. Louis—same if both teams won.
Atlanta faced the NL East champion Phillies. They led 3-1 after six innings at Turner Field. Meanwhile, the Cardinals lineup put up five runs on the Houston Astros before starter Chris Carpenter even stepped onto the field. A play-in game was almost inevitable. Or was it?
Behind a great offensive start and a complete game, two-hit shutout by Carpenter, the Redbirds guaranteed themselves at least one more game in 2011. All eyes were on the Braves.
Atlanta had the lead going into the seventh. An error on shortstop Jack Wilson cut the two-run lead in half in the top of the inning. Then a scoreless eighth. And then, Kimbrel took the ball and tried to seal Atlanta’s fate of playing a necessary Game 163.
A single and two walks loaded the bases, and then Chase Utley sent a fly ball to left—a sacrifice fly to tie the game. Bonus baseball in Atlanta.
It was written in the stars. Long story short, Hunter Pence fisted a single right over 2B Dan Uggla and gave the Phillies the lead in the 13th. Their bullpen shut the door on Atlanta’s season, capping off a 10.5-game comeback in the Wild Card that will forever be written in history.
Feelings: Success, promise, pride, shock
The National League Division Series between the Phils and Cards might as well have been known as David vs. Goliath. The Phillies were nearly named 2011 World Series champions back in Spring Training. Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt: A playoff rotation composed of four pitchers that could be labeled as aces on ANY roster.
The series couldn’t have started out any worse for St. Louis. An early three-run lead after the first inning in Game 1 vs. Doc Halladay turned into an 11-6 trudging by the end of the night.
In Game 2, Tony La Russa called for his ace Carpenter just three days after he had clinched a playoff birth for the squad. Carp looked awful. Three days rest caught up to him, and so did the Phillies lineup. After three innings Philadelphia led 4-0.
The series and the season was once again on the line. And the resilient Cardinals fought back against Cliff Lee. The bullpen was nearly perfect. And Phillies faithful left “The Bank” that night upset that the Cardinals had tied the series at one with it heading back to St. Louis.
Philadelphia won Game 3 thanks to a Ben Francisco bomb off of Jaime Garcia, arguably Garcia’s only mistake that day. And then once again, in Game 4, with their backs up against the wall, the Cardinals won when they needed it most.
The magic happened in Game 5. Carpenter vs. Halladay. Mono y mono.
Midseason acquisition Rafael Furcal led off the elimination game with a triple to deep right. Then Skip Schumaker roped a double down the right-field line, and the Cardinals had a 1-0 lead early.
That’s all Carp needed. The game was a pitching gem between two future Hall of Famers. Fast forward to the bottom of the ninth. Due up: Utley, Pence, Howard. Eight pitches later, the Cardinals were headed to Milwaukee to face their NL Central rivals in the NLCS.
Feelings: Belief, lots of fist pumps/high fives, “Is this real life?”
Game 1 of the National League Championship Series was oddly similar to Game 1 of the NLDS. A lead early rapidly turned into a deficit and a loss.
In a series defined by hatred and “Monsters, Inc,” the “monsters” had the upper hand after Game 1. Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder proved too much for the Cardinals pitching staff. And then, in Game 2, St. Louis hitters gave the Brewers a taste of their own medicine with a 12-3 beat down.
The series resumed in St. Louis where the Cardinals took care of business in Game 3 against Milwaukee ace Yovani Gallardo. With the series in the palm of their hand (especially considering Milwaukee’s record away from Miller Park), the Cardinals sent Kyle Lohse to the mound to face veteran Randy Wolf. Wolf hushed the Redbirds after giving up an early two runs and tied the series at two.
The NLCS headed back to Milwaukee after the Cardinals handily defeated the Brew Crew in Game 5. They were one win away from their 18th National League Pennant.
David Freese sparked the Cardinals in the first inning with a three-run home run in Game 6. They never looked back. Led by a 3-for-4 performance by Freese, the eventual MVP, the Cardinals won Game 6 by a score of 12-6.
A team that was down and out on August 24 was headed to the Fall Classic a month and a half later. The story was almost complete.
Feelings: “How is this happening!?,” “Thank you Tony Plush.”
Games 1 and 2 of the Fall Classic set the tone for what would be one of the most historic World Series in decades, and possibly ever.
Carpenter and C.J. Wilson faced off as the series kicked off. Tied at two in the bottom of the sixth, Rangers manager Ron Washington made a pitching change, bringing in Alexi Ogando to face St. Louis pinch-hitter Allen Craig. Ogando blew two pitches past Craig, and with a 1-2 count, Craig flared a single to right, just out of the reach of right fielder Nelson Cruz. Cards win Game 1.
The Cardinals should have been up 2-0 as the series shifted to Texas, but a ninth inning rally by the Rangers just proved that they weren’t going to go quietly as they searched for their first world championship in franchise history. But after a tough loss in the final inning in Game 2, St. Louis made history in Game 3. Or should I say, Albert Pujols made history.
Scoring in seven of the nine innings, the Birds took the series lead once again with a 16-7 victory. And on that Saturday night in Arlington, Pujols forever carved his name in baseball lore. Pujols was 5-for-6, with three home runs and six runs batted in, putting him on lists with Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson.
After the offensive onslaught in Game 3, the offense was non-existent for Games 4 and 5. The Cardinals found themselves down 3-2 in the series as it returned back to Busch Stadium.
Cardinals trail 7-5 in the ninth inning with two outs and two strikes. Neftali Feliz was one pitch away from putting the 2011 baseball season to rest. But third baseman David Freese had other plans.
The hometown hero blasted a triple off of the right field wall, scoring two and sending the game into extra innings. Down to the last strike, and once again, the Cards fought back.
In the top of the 10th, it was heartbreak again. Josh Hamilton hit a moon shot just over the wall in right-center, and once again, it seemed like the final feeling of this 2011 roller-coaster ride of a season would be disappointment and frustration. The Birds were once again, down by two.
Texas, again, was three outs away from winning their first ring. But, naturally, St. Louis wouldn’t go quietly. Two consecutive singles by Daniel Descalso and Jon Jay started off the St. Louis 10th. A sacrifice bunt moved them into scoring position, and then an RBI groundout by Ryan Theriot cut Texas’s lead to one.
And here they were once again…down to their final strike. Lance Berkman stood in the box, and on a 2-2 count, "The Big Puma” ripped a line drive to center. Tie game. Again.
The Cardinals had to win this game. There was no way they could lose. Everybody knew it. Everyone.
And in the bottom of the 11th, David Freese once again shocked the world. A 3-2 pitch from Mark Lowe took a ride for the ages to the grass beyond the center-field wall. Series tied. The teams were headed to Game 7.
Feelings: We won't lose this series.
Who else other than Carpenter could take the ball in Game 7? Carpenter took the ball and gave up an early two runs in the first inning. But down two runs, that’s exactly where the Cards wanted to be. That was their identity: Down but never out; a true underdog.
The Birds scored six runs in Game 7 to the Rangers two. David Murphy hit an 0-1 fastball from Jason Motte to left, and Craig caught it. Mayhem in St. Louis…
“What a team. What a ride. The Cardinals are World Champs in 2011!” announcer Joe Buck said (via stltoday.com).
Some call it luck. Others call it destiny.