Twas The Morn Of Game One

2013 WSTwas the morn of Game One, when all through the land
Every creature was scurrying ’round, every fan.
The schedule was cleared for that evening with care,
With hopes of a Cardinals win finding them there.

The ballpark sat ready, all quiet and snug,
But, soon it’d be roaring with noise from above.
Ringing through Fenway, from foul pole to foul pole
As 40,000 strong cheered loudly, with one goal.

For Boston or St. Lou, the die-hards would clatter,
Two cities alike, two rich histories that matter
Because, as they worked for a trophy, a ring,
They played for those lost, who could no longer sing.

A summer of victories, some home, some away,
Had led both the Sox and the Cards to this day.
As the hour crept closer, the sun fading fast,
The mission grew clearer, each knowing their task.

With Wainwright and Lester, the battle begins
Strikes early and often will help their team win.
Matheny will watch from his perch on the step,
Carefully planning which move he’ll try next.

Now Waino! Now Yadi! Now, Beltran, and Adams!
On David! On, Matt-squared! On, Jay, Pete and Allen!
To the top of the Monster! To the top of the wall!
Now smash away, mash away, bash that baseball!

Two teams that reflect one another’s best traits
Two fan bases ready to jump, shout and pace.
Since 2004 this reunion’s been wanted.
Revenge for the Birds, from the series that’s haunted.

The butterflies flutter, the energy builds
The team that we love soon will take to the field.
It’s this that they’ve worked for. It’s now that they can
Set the stage, stake their claim, finish the plan.

It’s the best time of year, it’s the autumnal classic
And baseball’s best teams hope for October magic.
With a chorus as one, clad in red fans will call,
“Let the series begin! Let’s go now! Let’s PLAY BALL!”

Tara is a St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Follow her on twitter @tarawellman.

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On-Paper Advantage Falls Through In Game 3 Loss

Ah, the best laid plans. Lion

On paper, things were lining up perfectly for the Cardinals headed into last night’s NLCS Game 3. They’d beaten the Dodgers’ two star pitchers, and had Adam Wainwright on the mound. They were up 2-0 over a Los Angeles team that had struggled offensively even more than the Cardinals had, and they had a golden opportunity to put the first nail in the coffin.

Unfortunately, it’s games where the odds are with them that the Cardinals tend to struggle. And struggle they did. Continue reading

Wacha, Rookie Relievers And Thankfully A Passed Ball

While Michael Wacha didn’t come close to a no-hitter during Saturday’s Game Two of the NLCS, there were no complaints. Instead, it was just continued awe — of him as well as rookie relievers Kevin Siegrist, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal.

Photos: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Photos: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The quartet (plus Randy Choate, who tripled his production to three pitches in Game Two) shut down the Dodgers in a no-room-for-error 1-0 Cardinals win, as the Cardinals managed to score with their only hits of the day being a first inning triple and fifth inning double.

It was the first 1-0 Cardinals postseason victory since that guy hugging Wacha in the picture at left beat the Phillies in Game Five of the 2011 NLDS.

Pitching really was the story of the game, as it has been whenever Wacha starts. And while he gave up five hits, scattered through four innings, he struck out eight — none bigger than the last.

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Kelly And Company Escape With Game One Winner

It didn’t look good.

That moment many have feared since Joe Kelly returned to the starting rotation —  the Joe Kelly 1moment the league catches up with his magic tricks — appeared to have arrived. Too many pitches. Too many base runners. Too much adrenaline booming through his usually mellow veins.

That was the first three innings. The good news is, it takes at least nine innings to tell the whole story.

Yes, in the first three innings, Kelly struggled. A single, a hit batter, and a wild pitch in the first; another runner at second base with two outs in the second; and a double, two walks, a botched 1-2-3 double play and a base knock in the third, and the Dodgers — behind Zach Greinke — had a 2-0 lead.

But, we know how this story goes. Where Adam Wainwright is the Ace, Michael Wacha is the Boy Wonder, and Shelby Miller is the Near-Perfect Game guy, Kelly is the Escape Artist. He weaves his way into, and then out of, trouble. He ties himself in knots, bound with the chains of one of baseball’s most potent lineups. And yet, he escapes.

It baffles the minds of the sabermetricians. The numbers don’t always add up. He shouldn’t be this successful. He keeps getting lucky.

… I think he gets lucky a lot. And I have nothing against getting lucky. Continue reading

Cardinals Backs Against The Wall? That’s Familiar

The St. Louis Cardinals lose a heartbreaker in the postseason and now face a must-win game — where have we seen this before?

Oh, that’s right. Last October. And the October before that.

Photos: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

                      Photos: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

And how did those particular division series turn out?

Yes, it’s a very familiar October situation in which the Cardinals find themselves after falling to the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-3 yesterday. The game was definitely winnable, which perhaps makes the loss even more painful.

Too many of the automatics from the 2013 Cardinals — hitting with runners in scoring positions, the rookies in the bullpen coming through when called upon — didn’t happen.

So here we are.

One person who is automatic in October, and continued the trend yesterday, was Carlos Beltran. You’ll remember that he tied Babe Ruth on Thursday with his 15th career postseason homer. Thanks to his eighth inning game-tying blast off Mark Melancon yesterday, he’s now surpassed The Babe with his 16th in 136 at-bats (compared to Ruth’s 15 in 129 at-bats). Surprisingly — or perhaps not, given the record at PNC Park this year — that was the first home run the Cardinals have hit there this season.

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Bizarro World Takes Over Cardinals In Game Two

Emotions are always higher in October. Friday’s NLDS Game Two unfortunately gave us an unwelcome reminder — just as wins are sweeter in the postseason, losses are even more painful.

NLDS game 2

Photos: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

It was another sunny and beautiful afternoon at Busch Stadium, but Game Two quickly became a bizarro world replay of Game One. Everything was reversed, as the Pirates won 7-1.

Well, Lance Lynn didn’t quite do an A.J. Burnett impression, as the five runs he allowed were over three separate innings instead of just one, but he looked more like the Lynn of August instead of September. Unfortunately.

The defensive misplays? The Cardinals this time, although only one official error — by David Freese — compared to the three by the Pirates on Thursday. But Jon Jay misjudged a fly ball in the second that fell in and bounced over the wall for a ground-rule double. Yadier Molina — yes, Yadi — didn’t get a pop-up behind the plate. Matt Carpenter couldn’t get the ball out of his glove in what could have been a double play.

The bullpen management by Mike Matheny also was interesting, to say the least.

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Cardinals Cruise To Victory Thanks To October Stars

When October arrives and every game is more meaningful, some players shine brighter.

And those shining stars for the St. Louis Cardinals — Carlos Beltran, David Freese, Adam Wainwright — led the way to a 9-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game One of the National League Division Series.

collage10-3-13It began in a wild and wonderful bottom of the third inning with, of all things, a walk to Wainwright by A.J. Burnett. (What’s the saying about leadoff walks?) Next was a single by Matt Carpenter to bring up Beltran.

And he simply “continued his postseason surge,” as Dick Stockton phrased it, launching a home run to the right field corner. See it again here, or just watch that gorgeous swing over and over again in super slow-mo in this gif at CBS Sports.

Yet the Cardinals were far from done in the inning.

Matt Holliday was up next and he doubled, followed by a hit-by-pitch to Matt Adams’ lower leg that had him sprawled across home plate. Next: a walk to Yadier Molina to load the bases. Six up, six reached, no outs, Jon Jay at the plate — and he too is walked to score Holliday. 4-0.

David Freese was the eighth man up, bases loaded, still no outs and, hey — it’s October now! So it was no surprise that Freese singled past Pirates first baseman Justin Morneau as both Adams and Yadi easily scored. Wait, Marlon Byrd’s throw in from right field ended up somewhere by the Cards dugout so Jay raced toward home and was safe — seven runs. No outs. Anyone else remember why they love Cardinals October baseball?

Perhaps not surprisingly, that was all for Burnett in the game. Jeanmar Gomez came in and retired the next three, including Wainwright and Carpenter for their second at-bats of the inning.

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That’s A Perfect Home Stand Winner!

Now that’s the way for the St. Louis Cardinals to finish the regular season: a 4-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs for a perfect 6-0 home stand, a final record of 97-65 for the best record in the National League, tied with the Boston Red Sox for top record in MLB.

9-30-collageBring on the Pirates or Reds!

Yes, the prize for having that best NL record (in addition to home field advantage throughout the playoffs) will now be a very familiar foe, pending the results of the wild card game at PNC Park on Tuesday night. But we have plenty of time to wonder about that — game one isn’t until Thursday at Busch Stadium.

For now, let’s appreciate what happened today.

And appreciating Jake Westbrook was what the first inning was about, while recognizing Yadier Molina with a standing ovation was what happened right before the first pitch of the game — Tony Cruz actually caught today.

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One More Cardinals Win Means Best Record

With a record of 96-65, the St. Louis Cardinals currently top the National League — thanks to the Philadelphia Phillies hanging on to beat the Atlanta Braves last night.

one-1A Cardinals win today, or a Braves loss, would give the Cards home field advantage throughout the playoffs as well as the wild card winner of either the Pittsburgh Pirates or Cincinnati Reds as their division series opponent.

Once again, a magic number of one.

While it seems like Cardinals fans are all for achieving that best record, manager Mike Matheny doesn’t necessarily share that sentiment as Jason Mastrodonato writes at Cardinals.com:

“Maybe I should put more [emphasis on home-field advantage], but I don’t,” Matheny said. “My theory is people start overthinking that and over planning and trying to be a master puppeteer in how that all plays out. I think that stuff comes back and bites you. I think there’s too many good teams in this right now and we got to respect that, respect the game, just like we’ve done all season long and what we do is we go out and set our priorities.

“I made it clear to you guys right now, our priority is getting these guys ready for Thursday. But whenever we walk out there we also don’t want to lose that culture that we developed of going out and maximizing everything we’ve got while we’re out there out. No matter who we put out there, we’re playing to win all the time.”

So, does it look like Mike is saying “take that, everyone complaining about Jake Westbrook starting today”?

Anyway, yesterday’s game was a rather easy 6-2 win over the Chicago Cubs, and it was cruising along as another shutout until the ninth inning.

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Cardinals Are Central Champs — That Sounds Good!

With a magic number of one, it’s always best to take care of matters yourself and win to clinch. That’s exactly what the St. Louis Cardinals did, easily, in beating the Chicago Cubs 7-0 to become 2013 National League Central champions.

That's a clinching winner! (Photo: St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

That’s a clinching winner! (Photo: St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

And the celebration began!

It’s the first time since 2009 that the Cardinals are division champs, and last night’s win was number 95 on the season (to give them a nice 95-65 record after 160 games). Last time the Cards won 95 games? Back in 2005, when they won 100.

Yes, we are spoiled by our team with their ongoing success as they’ll be playing in October for the 10th time since 2000. We also are spoiled by watching some terrific baseball from them this month alone — they’re now 17-8 in September.

Continue reading