Five Years Ago Tonight: Clinching The Wild Card

Ah, Game 162! That epic final night of the 2011 regular season, when the triumphant comeback of the Cardinals and monumental collapse of the Braves was complete, yet was just one part of a fantastic evening. (Though obviously the part we as Cards fans cared about the most.)

Experience again MLB’s highs and lows from the evening here (it’s worth the 12 minutes, especially to see bits of Chris Carpenter’s performance — plus isn’t it always nice to see the Red Sox complete their collapse? And the Braves as well?). Then continue on below to read what was published here five years ago about Game 162, which made the “September to remember” complete. That final sentence is rather prescient in retrospect, if I do say so myself. (OK, only because we know the final fairy-tale ending. Still …)

That’s A Historic Comeback Winner!

The comeback climb is finished, and in the best way possible — the Cardinals are the Wild Card Champions!

Carp, Albert and an epic hug

Carp, Albert and an epic hug

The details are so familiar now: on the morning of Aug. 25, the Cards were 10 1/2 games behind the Braves. They’d just been swept by the Dodgers — Aaron Miles’ revenge — and were 67-63.

The the winning began, with that 8-4 Social Media Night victory over the Pirates. The winning continued. And now, history.

Making the playoffs after trailing by 10 1/2 after 130 games is, according to Fox Sports Midwest, the biggest comeback in history. No. 2 on the list? The 2011 Tampa Bay Rays, who are the AL Wild Cards Champs following their own stunning win in Game 162. At one point they’d been 9 games back. Third on the list? The 1964 Cardinals, who trailed by 8 1/2 games before propelling themselves to the National League pennant.

The Cardinals’ win was achieved without any of the tension or drama of Tuesday night. They took command from the very beginning, with five straight hits to open the game. Albert drove in the first run for RBI No.99, and the scoring continued until Nick Punto drove in run No. 5. Chris Carpenter came to bat before even taking the pitchers mound — always a good sign.

And CC was determined. He was the pitcher we all wanted out there in a must-win game, and he showed exactly why. A complete game shutout, only two singles allowed, 11 strikeouts, 106 pitches — aces do what aces do. He even drove in the Cards’ 7th run of the night, just for fun. (Final score was 8-0.)

Yet, with the Cards victory all but assured in the top of the seventh inning, many of us turned our attention elsewhere for a bit — as in to ESPN2, where the top of the ninth inning in Atlanta was beginning. The score was 3-2 and Braves closer Craig Kimbrel was in. Placido Polanco, our old pal, started things off right for the Phillies with a single. After a strikeout, Kimbrel walked two to load the bases. And Chase Utley delivered, with a game-tying sacrifice fly.

And, once the Cards game ended, they joined the rest of us in watching that game. The 13th inning proved to be the lucky one for the Cardinals — the Phillies took the lead as Hunter Pence singled with two on base, then quickly retired the Braves. That completed the Atlanta collapse and started the celebration for the Cards in Houston and those of us throughout Cardinal Nation.

As Matthew Leach describes it:

The clubhouse absolutely erupted, with joy, shock, relief and excitement. Forty or so grown men hooted and hollered like little boys, drenched each other with champagne and beer and chanted their trademark slogan, “Happy flight!” It’s what they yell in the clubhouse when getaway day ends with a win — but no getaway day has been quite like this one.

So, now, a time to celebrate and look back on the journey that’s brought the Cardinals to the playoffs. Then, Saturday, the games begin — and all records are cleared. The Phillies are 0-0 now, just like the Cardinals.

And with the way these past five weeks have gone, there’s really no telling just where the story of the 2011 Cardinals is going to end.

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