Cardinal baseball, from the girls
It’s the postseason and my St. Louis Cardinals have conquered the unconquerable, done the unthinkable.
This team, who was 10 ½ games out of first place in the NL Central during the last week in August put on the turbo-boosters and raced into October, beating the odds-favorite pitching monsters of the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Division Series and then moving on to snuff the mighty Brewers in the National League Championship Series.
This is the team who lost their “Ace” Adam Wainwright to Tommy John surgery during Spring Training, whose veteran closer fought a prolonged and painful struggle to “get it right” through a good part of the season before finally hanging up his cleats, whose bullpen woes and injury bugs peaked early and haunted faithful fans. This is the team who failed to reach a contract extension agreement with their legendary (pending free agent) first baseman before the start of the season, leaving a cloud of doubt over the future of the club. This is the team whose manager battled SHINGLES for what seemed like an eternity. This was the team nobody expected to be here.
And yet, here we are.
The Cardinals are heading back to the World Series, five years after another of their unexpected (and victorious) runs through the postseason.
The Texas Rangers are the bulldogs waiting for us in the final showdown. The Cardinals are (again) the underdogs, facing a powerhouse lineup that should strike fear in the hearts of any opposing pitching staff.
Except this team is the 2011 Cardinals, something unexpected, something… special. This is the team with the power trio of Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman, and Matt Holliday. This is the team with Golden (glove) Boy, Yadier Molina anchoring the battery. This is the team of David Freese, whose superhero powers apparently magnify in the postseason. This is the team of churlish veteran Ace Chris Carpenter, the wise-beyond-his-years lefty, Jaime Garcia, and the resurgence of Kyle Lohse. This is the team with an MVP bullpen (Fernando Salas, Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, Lance Lynn…), a work in progress throughout the entire season, rich in talent and tuned to perfection under the mad genius of Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan.
This team exemplifies the saying: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The midseason trade for shortstop Rafael Furcal added a potent combo of game-changing glove and switch-hitting hot bat. The Colby Rasmus trade, initially flunking all seemingly rational baseball criteria, now shines with the luster of La Russa brilliance (isn’t hindsight incredible?) as pitchers Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski have all contributed handily to the magic of these rally Cardinals with Jon Jay in centerfield, making Rasmus’ absence (dare I say?) forgettable.
As I sit here composing this ode to what looks more and more like a team of destiny, I am finding it difficult to know where to stop. So many players up and down the bench, the bullpen and the rotation have contributed to get this hot surging team to the magical summit: Allen “Do It For Torty” Craig, Nick Punto, Adron Chambers, Skip Schumaker, Daniel Descalso, Ryan Theriot… the list goes on and on. When you stop to think, it is beyond belief: the timely talent really does run that deep, this team has surpassed every expectation. But don’t tell them that. They have momentum and their eyes on the ultimate prize. They are aiming for the top.
This is not a team of superstars, this is a TEAM. The light-hearted frivolities: Puma suits, rookie hazing costumes, the “shredder”, tortoises, rally squirrels, “Happy Flights” and sprinkles have combined with an underlying burst of what can only be described as a perfect storm of “Do It or Go Home” mentality.
Game 1 of the World Series starts tomorrow…. and it starts at Busch Stadium.