St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves: Some Second Place Teams Perform Miracles

Harold FriendChief Writer INovember 17, 2011

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 28:  Chris Carpenter #29 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates after defeating the Texas Rangers 6-2 to win Game Seven of the MLB World Series at Busch Stadium on October 28, 2011 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Tony La Russa led the St. Louis Cardinals to the greatest comeback in baseball history this season.

On Sept. 5, the Atlanta Braves led the Cardinals by eight and one-half games. The Cardinals finished the season one game ahead of Atlanta.

A disclaimer is necessary. Few experts have pointed out that the Cardinals didn't overtake a first place team. They still finished second in the Central Division to the Milwaukee Brewers, which brings us to a second disclaimer.

Since the wild card was introduced, it doesn't matter much if a team makes the postseason as a division winner or as a wild card. Just make the playoffs.

Some in the media and fans outside of St. Louis claim that the Cardinals were picked to be a contender before the season started. They were supposed to win about 90 games and they did. What a simplistic view.

The Cardinals lost Adam Wainwright before the season started. They had a slew of injuries and didn't come together as a team until late in the season. They won 90 games, but not the way the were "supposed to" win them.

Others don't credit the Cardinals great play but point out that the Atlanta Braves collapsed. As New York Mets fan Pearl Baily used to sing, "It Takes Two to Tango."

In our era of "political correctness," it is unfashionable and even to some, unacceptable to say that a team or a player choked. Well folks, what would you call what the Atlanta Braves did?

If the Cardinals miracle is the greatest of all, what does that say about the Braves collapse?

Many teams have faltered near the end of the season but managed to eke into the postseason because the pursuer couldn't quite finish off the miracle. Tony La Russa and the Cardinals finished their miracle run.

The Cardinals had to make up eight and one-half games from Sept. 6-28. No team had ever made up so much in so little time.

The 1978 New York Yankees led their friends from Boston by 14 games in July, the 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers led the New York Giants by 13 and one-half games during the middle of August and the Chicago Cubs led the New York Mets by nine and one-half games on Aug. 13, 1969.

The Yankees and Giants each had to win a playoff to get to the World Series. The Cubs simply collapsed from the Mets pressure. They were great comebacks, but the 2011 Cardinals topped them all.

Those who might criticize the Cardinals because their surge didn't result in passing a first place team are wrong.

The Cardinals played the Eastern Division champion Philadelphia Phillies, a team that won 102 games and was the odds-on favorite to win the pennant and the World Series. The Cardinals beat them.

The Cardinals played the Central Division champion Milwaukee Brewers, the team that finished six games ahead of them. The Cardinals beat them.

Then the Cardinals beat the favored Texas Rangers in the World Series after trailing three games to two.

Yes, it was the greatest of all comebacks.