How’s it going, buddy? Of course you’ve bounced back from the last time we all met, almost two weeks ago now, and seeing you that night was rough. Every Cardinals fan out there just wanted to give you a hug after watching you leave the pitcher’s mound at Fenway Park — even my uncle Jim, who rarely hugs anybody.
Yes, the night was incredibly disappointing but the Cardinals wouldn’t even have been in the situation, Game Six of the World Series, without you. And now, with a little time and a little perspective, hopefully you can see and appreciate that.
Because, in the big picture, what a season for you! And, especially, what an October!
Seriously, how can any of us as Cardinals fans decide which game of yours from this season was our favorite? I definitely have a difficult time.
Was it your final regular season start, that oh-so-very-close-to-a-no-hitter against the Nationals on Sept. 24? It was special because of its unexpectedness at that particular moment and, of course, incredible to watch (especially for someone who loves pitching like I do).
Maybe it was your next start, your first taste of October and — oh yeah — only a must-win game at a very loud PNC Park. You quieted the crowd as you sent Pirate after Pirate back to the dugout, striking out nine of them, until Pedro Alvarez (damn him!) managed to take one of those pitches deep. Only that one hit, only the one run, leading the Cards to victory when they absolutely had to have a win to continue on in the division series.
Then there was the NLCS — and I think those two games are my favorites, although I can’t choose between them for which one I liked most. Game Two against Clayton Kershaw, where every bit of your power and guile were needed as you didn’t necessarily shutdown the Dodgers but absolutely contained them and didn’t allow a run? That sixth inning, those bases-loaded strikeouts of Yasiel Puig and Juan Uribe — I could watch replays of those over and over, especially that swing-and-miss by Uribe and your reaction afterward. (OK, I have already. Repeatedly.)
Game Six ended up less a second showdown against Kershaw more than just an incredibly enjoyable clinching game in which you excelled on the mound once again and demonstrated that even in what started off as a pressure game but then became a blowout, you can stay cool and focused and keep the Dodgers off the board — and mostly off the bases too. Then, once it was over and the pennant clinching celebrations were in progress, it made me tear up to see you receive the NLCS MVP trophy, and it still does now too.
And even the first game of the World Series showed us you are still so good even when you weren’t at your best — plus, once again, you handled the pressure and atmosphere of a raucous enemy park so well.
That’s what has been so impressive about you during your short big-league career: the way you just ignore the pressure and don’t let anything distract you. Big, bigger, biggest games of the year? No big deal — just go out and focus and concentrate and excel.
We as Cardinals fans knew who you were before the season began, and you were definitely someone I looked forward to seeing pitch. Now everyone knows who you are (especially Pedro Martinez) and will be watching and paying attention once 2014 arrives.
I know I can’t wait until next season is here, with the chance to see you over the course of an entire season. You impressed all of us more than we could have hoped last February and March, when your spring training performances made us all a little giddy and hopeful we’d get to see you in September. Then we were excited when you did arrive earlier than anticipated, and endured the ups and downs and starts and relief appearances along the way. And then late September arrived …
Enjoy the off-season, Michael, and thanks for all the terrific and memorable moments you’ve given us so far. It was a pleasure to watch each and every one of those filthy strikeouts and nasty change-ups. Can’t wait to see more!
Christine Coleman is the lead writer for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Follow her on Twitter, @CColeman802, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also follow @AMilesFastball for the latest updates.