Just moments after Wednesday night’s surreal Wild Card clincher, I started receiving “Can I be a Cardinals fan for the post season?” texts. And with a few days off before either NL division series starts, I’m sure there will be more. So, first things first: Welcome! So glad you’ve decided to join us. Cardinal Nation is a wonderful place, as I’m sure you’ll see. Since you’re new here, and have probably been buried in your own team’s season, I hope we can help you find your way around.
For a heads up on the “Who’s Who” in St. Lou, check out Miranda’s post today as well.
Here, we’re going to take a little walk down memory lane to see just how the Cardinals — once favored, a dozen times written off — made it this far.
In the preseason predictions from the most
unreliable of experts, the Cardinals joined the Phillies as the teams to beat. That was pre-Wainwright Tommy John’s surgery. But, as we all know now, Adam never made a single start, after blowing out his elbow in Spring Training.
If only that had been the end of the drama.
Matt Holliday had an emergency appendectomy. The team went 2-6 through the first eight games. Albert Pujols hit .257 through April with seven home runs. Chris Carpenter — now the de facto ace — didn’t get his first win until May 10. He wouldn’t get his second until June 23.
Tony La Russa had shingles. Ryan Franklin couldn’t throw strikes. Ryan Theriot couldn’t field routine ground balls. David Freese was hurt, Skip Schumaker was hurt, Albert Pujols was hurt. And one of the most dangerous lineups in the big leagues was on a mission to top the NL Ground Into Double Play record.
Who would have thought the hopes of the Cardinals, hopes that had been so high to start the season, would rest on the shoulders of former Astro Lance Berkman?
But, in case you didn’t see a single Cardinals highlight all season, Lance came through. Again, and again, and again.
To reach the All-Star Break tied for first in the Central Division was quite a feat. And yet, in the same breath, it wasn’t. This team was — is — good. But with the trade deadline looming, and the now-infamous Colby Rasmus drama swelling, the tide was about to change. Little did we know how directly General Manager John Mozeliak’s bold moves would impact the season’s course.
Edwin Jackson, Marc Rzepczynski, and Rafael Furcal headlined the trades that emphasized a “win now” mindset. Arthur Rhodes and Octavio Dotel became Dave Duncan’s new projects. Kyle McClellan moved back to the ‘pen. Jason Motte and Fernando Salas tag-teamed as unofficial closers.
Then August happened.
Two and a half games behind Milwaukee turned into seven, which turned into ten and a half.
Berkman cooled to a .281 average. Jaime Garcia’s 2.51 July ERA exploded to 6.81 in August. And after starting the month by getting swept by the Brew Crew, the Redbirds lost series to the Pirates and the Cubs. The real kicker, though, was the sweep by the Dodgers — at the hand of none other than former Cardinal scrapmeister, Aaron Miles.
Now 10.5 behind the Atlanta Braves in the Wild Card race, everything was headed in the wrong direction.
But, September happened too.
The Cards swept the Brewers, then the Braves, in St. Louis. Two of three from the Pirates led to three of four from the Phillies. And just like that, the Braves’ seemingly insurmountable lead was cut to 2.5.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals were energized. Inspired, even. And with the impossible becoming more and more possible every day, the gloom of August’s road trips turned into victorious chants of, “Happy flight! Happy flight!” as the Cards headed home.
Luau-themed travel attire showcased the new-found looseness. Allen Craig’s pet tortoise became the unofficial mascot. Odes to “Torty” rippled through Cardinal Nation. And the Can-Do Cards were back in the game!
If you’re a baseball fan, you know how things went down on Wednesday night in game 162. The Cardinals and Braves were tied in the standings, poised for a one-game playoff Thursday night. Unless …
The Cardinals sent Chris Carpenter (who had rebounded from his 1-7 start to a 9-2 finish) to the mound, having pitched at least seven innings in four of his five September starts thus far.
Make that five of six.
Nine innings, two hits. Cards score eight. And it’s all in the hands of the Braves. Well, them and the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Redbirds went 23-9 after being swept by the Dodgers back in August. Albert hit .355 in September. Yadier Molina hit .341. Yes, they set that GIDP record (169), but they also led the majors in creating double plays (167). That dangerous lineup? Only led the NL in runs scored, runs batted in, batting average, on-base percentage, and intentional walks.
That pitching staff courtesy of the Rasmus trade? Solid, at last!
And with the kind of irony only the 2011 Cardinals could appreciate, the Wild Card was clinched on a GIDP … by the Braves.
I’ll warn you now — cheering for this team is like riding a roller coaster. Terrifying and disorienting, but thrilling and eye popping too. Mostly, they’re just really, really fun. Heading into Philadelphia, I expect nothing less.
So, welcome to the bandwagon (or plane, as it were). Buckle up, and happy flight! Go Cards!