There’s an obvious statement that needs to be made: the 2012 Cardinals are not the 2011 Cardinals.
Duh, right? Different personnel, different vibe, different degrees of ups and downs they’ve put us through this season.
And it’s been a challenge to characterize this 2012 team.
Sure, a great April had our hopes high. Then came mediocre May and June, with records under .500 both months. July, August and September were better, as the had winning months for each. Yet there was never that big, exciting run of 2011. (Of course, look at the 2006 team and what happened to them in September too — almost the opposite end of the spectrum.)
The Cardinals are now officially a playoff team.
Yes, I’m one of those who felt like making it to the wild-card playoff but being “one and done” wasn’t really the post-season. Each of us is entitled to our own opinion.
Yet with yesterday’s 6-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves, no one has to debate that any longer. Division series, here are the Cardinals.
And we learned a little something more about this 2012 team in watching them play and deal with the unique circumstances of last night’s game.
They really are a team — one that did pull together, one that does truly care about the other ones who are there in the dugout with them and wants to succeed for those other 24-plus guys.
Need proof? Here are comments from a few Cardinals from Bernie Miklasz’s column in today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
From winning pitcher Kyle Lohse:
“As I was thinking about making this start, it kept coming back to me, how much I wanted to win for these guys. I wanted to see them go forward. I want to go on and play too. But mostly I wanted this really bad for the team.”
“We had some ups and downs this season and it was hard at times, but we stayed close,” Molina said. “We played like a team. And that’s why we’re here. Whenever you play like a team, good things are going to happen. And that’s what we did. We kept believing.”
And manager Mike Matheny:
“I believed in these guys, and knew they were very prepared for this,” Matheny said. “And I was just very excited to watch them just play the game. That was kind of our message. We’ve been here before. We know what it’s like to compete in big games. You can’t put a value on that.
“This was a crazy game. But we got ourselves into so many crazy games, and tight games this year. It seemed like we were constantly up against the wall all season long. And I believe that it sets you up for this kind of test. It built so much unity, so much character, and so much toughness. Things that you are even more proud of when you see it all come together, as it did tonight.”
Unity. Character. Toughness.
Those are the qualities that separate the 2012 Cardinals from a team like this year’s Pirates — one that was in the chase and even ahead of the Cards in the division until Aug. 22, only to collapse and stumble to its 20th straight losing season.
And the Cardinals character and toughness was on display during the game too. They didn’t shirk at the consecutive numbers of Braves’s wins when Kris Medlen starts. They didn’t fall apart at the umpire’s late time-out and subsequent home run in the second inning (which is actually more than can be said for quite a few on Twitter, at the very least). The Braves made errors; the Cardinals capitalized. The Braves were the ones leaving runners on base; the Cardinals scored six runs on four hits through the seventh inning.
Now, granted — this was one game. But it literally was a must-win game to go on — and they did.
And now they have that experience to build on as they prepare for the division series against the Washington Nationals.
You know, the Nationals who the experts are all predicting will win.
The October story is not yet finished on the 2012 Cardinals — we can’t necessarily completely define this team yet. But last night’s game did add another layer to what we’ll ultimately be saying about them come November and into 2013.
And what we’ll be saying will likely be good things, regardless of what happens from here on out. They showed us that last night.
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.