With 2014 drawing to a close tonight, it’s the perfect time to look back at the year that’s ending — as well as time to close out 2014 with the United Cardinal Bloggers annually December project, the Top 5 Stories of the Year.
It was certainly an interesting Cardinals season. Definite highs, with another division title and fourth consecutive trip to the National League Championship Series, yet also a shocking and devastating low. And, though it doesn’t make my list, a lot of angst and frustration about the team mostly because of Mike Matheny — which I wrote about several times (Hey Cardinals, Are You There? Do You Even Care in early June and This Year’s Cardinals Don’t Do Much For Me after the All-Star break) that culminated in their final game of the season, The “Because Matheny” Season Ends Because of Matheny. (Honestly, I’m getting tense again just looking back at those posts. Maybe it should have been one of my top stories …)
Anyway, here’s a look at my choices, listed chronologically.
1. The debut of Oscar Taveras on May 31
From that day: “As you’ve no doubt heard by now, since rumors began circulating during last night’s game, the moment every Cardinals fan has been waiting all season for is finally here: Oscar Taveras is coming to the big leagues.”
Then there was the game — the first hit in the second at-bat, which you can see again here. That swing, the raindrops, those cheers, that smile, the curtain call … Such promise right then. So much was written everywhere that my own post was merely a wrap-up with links to those.
The season for Oscar didn’t go as gloriously as that first hit did, though he definitely continued to have a flare for dramatic homers in the few he did hit, and obviously Oscar unfortunately makes my list again. But on May 31, and with that beautiful home run, the anticipation for what could be ahead was tremendous.
2. The trade of Joe Kelly and Allen Craig for John Lackey
It was a shock at the time — Mr. All-Around-Fun Joe Kelly and Mr. 2013-RISP-King Allen Craig traded? How could that be? I even found myself agreeing with what Joe Strauss wrote about the trade and the reasons behind it, so that’s how shocking it really was.
And the return in getting John Lackey was OK in the regular season, as he compiled a 3-3 record and 4.30 ERA in his 60.2 innings. In October, he was great in the division series against the Dodgers as he allowed just one run on five hits with eight strikeouts in a Game Three win. After a first inning stumble in Game Three of the NLCS, when he allowed four runs on four hits, he settled in and allowed just one more hit and no runs through the next five innings in a game the Cards ultimately lost in 10 innings. (Thanks, Matheny!)
The move was one that needed to be made to shake things up at the time, although the trading of Craig to give Oscar playing time didn’t necessarily work completely as Randal Grichuk became a right-field fixture later in the season.
3. Cardinals win their second straight NL Central title
On Aug. 17, with seven weeks to go until the end of the regular season, the Milwaukee Brewers had a record of 70-55 and a three-game lead in the NL Central. The Cardinals were in second place at 66-57. Two Sundays later, on Aug. 31, the two teams were tied for first. The Cards took over the division lead on Sept. 1 and never relinquished it, as the Brewers went 12-25 during those final seven weeks (which included a nine-game losing streak) and finished the season 82-80 and in third place.
Because of the second-place Pirates, who finished 88-74 and were the NL Wild Card champs for the second straight year, the Cardinals didn’t clinch the NL Central title until the final day of the regular season (and it was Johnny Cueto — ugh — defeating Pittsburgh for his 20th win of the season that officially clinched the division for the Cards). Yet it was the second straight division crown for the Cards, which is something they hadn’t achieved since winning three straight in 2004-2006.
4. Cardinals beat Clayton Kershaw twice in NLDS
Clayton Kershaw had a spectacular 2014 regular season, as he compiled a 21-3 record in 27 starts with a 1.77 ERA and six complete games including a no-hitter on June 18. He was the unanimous choice for the NL Cy Young Award, his second straight time winning and third overall. He also became the first NL pitcher since the Cardinals’ own Bob Gibson in 1968 to be named MVP.
Yet the Cardinals owned him in October.
In Game One of the NLDS, Randal Grichuck hit a first-inning homer off Kershaw to put the Cards up 1-0. He then retired 16 straight until Matt Carpenter hit a sixth-inning homer to make the score 6-2 Dodgers. (Oh, yeah, Adam Wainwright had a not-very-good game.) Then came the seventh inning — which are the exact words I used in my post on the game. Here’s what came next:
Matt Holliday singled. Jhonny Peralta singled. Yadier Molina singled to load the bases with obviously no outs. Matt Adams singled for a Matt Matted In that made the score 6-3. Pete Kozma did not have a 2012-like at-bat and struck out, but Jon Jay then singled to score Peralta to make it 6-4. Oscar Taveras pinch-hit for Marco Gonzalez with the bases still loaded and struck out on three pitches. Was Kershaw getting his groove back after all?
No, not with Carpenter up again. With the bases loaded. The same Matt Carpenter who’d just homered the inning before, and of course the same Matt Carpenter who had that epic 11-pitch at-bat in Game Six of the 2013 NLCS (and if you’ve never read this post by Joe Schwartz on that, you should). It was another epic at-bat.
Carpenter doubled to chase Kershaw from the game. Pedro Baez then walked Grichuk and a homer by Matt Holliday (Matts driving in runs — it could have been another top story perhaps) and the final tally for Kershaw was eight runs allowed on eight hits … after he’d struck out 10.
Then there was Game Four at Busch Stadium, and deja vu in a way.
The Cardinals against Clayton Kershaw — again.
The Cardinals trailing the Dodgers in the seventh inning — again — with Kershaw dominating — again.
Matt Holliday leading off the seventh with a single off Kershaw, followed by Jhonny Peralta singling — again.
A big hit by a Matt to stun Kershaw and the Dodgers and give the Cardinals the lead — again.
In Game Four, however, it was Adams instead of Carpenter — and he launched a no-doubt-about-it-even-Joe-Buck-got-crazy-excited-3-run-bomb into the Cards bullpen (which of course you want to see again and again even though you’re already watched it countless times).
Ah, Clayton Kershaw in October. The Cardinals can only hope to meet up with you again in the 2015 post-season …
5. The death of Oscar Taveras
The news began to filter through Twitter on Sunday, Oct. 26, as I was watching Game Five of the World Series and occasionally checking TweetDeck. Oscar Taveras was killed in a car accident in Puerto Plata, Domincan Republic, along with his girlfriend Edilia Arvelo, as he crashed his red 2014 Camaro into a tree.
It was later confirmed that Oscar was intoxicated at the time of the crash. And it’s easy to make judgments about that, but he was 22. He was literally living his dream of playing Major League Baseball. He likely felt invincible, as it’s so easy to do at age 22. That doesn’t excuse anything. His death, and his girlfriend’s death, remains a tragedy — even if an avoidable one.
The finality of Oscar’s death on the Cardinals hasn’t completely been felt yet, and won’t be until the team begins the 2015 season. The team has subsequently acquired Jason Heyward from the Braves and traded Shelby Miller, which means it will be a different team taking the field of course. And we’ll never know just what might have been in the career of Oscar Taveras.
The promise that he showed will remain forever unfulfilled, no matter how his death came about.
Which is not really a very cheery note to end this post on, but so it goes.
Thank you for your support of Aaron Miles’ Fastball throughout this season and the previous ones — hopefully my pace of writing will pick with the New Year.
And happy 2015! Just 95 days until the Cardinals begin the season on Sunday Night Baseball at Wrigley Field. Hopefully, it will be here before we know it.