Here we are, Saturday, Oct. 1. The September to remember is over. Now it’s October baseball.
Yes, the Cardinals are one of only eight teams left. No more looking at standings or scoreboard watching. The calendar page flipped, and so does the focus.
The National League Division Series starts late this afternoon, with game one between the Cardinals and Phillies at 4:07 p.m. Central Time. The goal remains the same as what got the Cardinals to this point: keep winning. But let’s start small. Let’s just win one game first.
Oh, sure — we all want them to win more than one. But, as we learned in “Bull Durham” and from countless cliche-spouting baseball players through the years, you’ve got to play them one game at a time. Win one, that’s all I ask.
Besides, an NL Central team winning just one game in the NLDS has been a rare thing since the Cardinals beat the Padres five years ago. The 2007 and 2008 Central champ Cubs? Swept each year. 2009 Cardinals? Same story. 2010 Reds? Uh, yeah. By these Phillies. The only NL Central team to win a game in the past five years was the wild card Brewers in 2008 — beating the Phillies 4-1 in game three.
This is the fifth straight season the Phillies are in the playoffs, and they’ve won the division series for four consecutive years. The last time they even lost a division series game was Oct. 8, 2009, game two against the Rockies. And of course we remember what today’s starter, Roy Halladay, did in his postseason debut last year against the Reds — we loved it. (We laughed at Brandon Phillips being the last out in the no-hitter.)
All the “experts” are predicting an easy time of it for the Phillies again in 2011. Even my local newspaper — the old-school, printed kind — has as its headline for the series preview in today’s sports section “Halladay, Phils eager to begin postseason.” (The editor is a Cubs fan, so it’s not a surprise.)
No one’s given the Cardinals a chance for a month now. Half the fans wrote them off in late August … only to sheepishly come crawling back within the last two weeks.
Speaking of two weeks ago, the Cardinals were in Philadelphia then also. Remember? They won three of four — the only Phillies win being the one that clinched the NL East. And what about the fourth game of the series, that Monday night game? Oh yeah, the Cards scored two runs off Roy Halladay in the first inning and four runs off him in total and won 4-3.
Yes, of course, it’s different now, right? It’s October. And the Cardinals are, understandably, the underdogs.
But, as Bernie Miklasz reminds us in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch today, being the underdog is exactly the role Tony La Russa likes.
“I don’t mean this disrespectfully,” La Russa said Friday. “We don’t pay attention to experts.”
And St. Louis should understand this by now. La Russa’s best Cardinals’ teams (2004, 2005) did not win a World Series. And TLR’s least imposing postseason-eligible team, the 2006 Cardinals, won the World Series.
We’ve been on both sides of this October randomness. The Cardinals have lost when winning seemed automatic. And the Cardinals have won in the most improbable, incredible way when we’ve given them no chance.
Halladay and Lee are truly great.
And sometimes Jeff Suppan beats Roger Clemens in NLCS Game 7.
Sometimes Anthony Reyes defeats Justin Verlander in World Series Game 1.
And sometimes Jeff Weaver happens, showing up and winning three October games, including the World Series clincher.
Do not ever believe that you have figured out this grand and mysterious game of baseball. Do not mess with the baseball gods, for they shall zap you with a bolt of October lightning.
And, though yesterday was still September, was anyone picking the Rays and rookie Matt Moore to beat the Rangers and C.J. Wilson in game one of their series? How did that one turn out?
October baseball starts for the Cardinals in a matter of hours. It all starts with winning a game. If nothing else, win one for Torty.
Christine Coleman is the senior St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Follow her on Twitter, @CColeman802, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also follow @AMilesFastball for the latest updates.