No one expected We would make it this far.
Then again, no one expected it last year either (you think someone would have caught on by now, this is their seventh NLCS appearance since 2000). For the second year in a row, the Cardinals slipped in to clinch a Wild Card spot at the last minute and edged out the Braves. Last year, legend Tony LaRussa led his team to a series title in typical St. Louis style.
After two incredible Game 6 rallies, twice one strike away from elimination, culminating in a 10-9 win in the 11th inning, the Cardinals forced the Rangers to a Game 7 to take their 11th world series title.
Hometown boy David Freese emerged as a hero as LaRussa and coach Dave Duncan hung up their hats and powerhouse Albert Pujols’s future remained uncertain.
Fast-forward to 2012. Pujols is in Los Angeles, and former catcher Mike Matheny has taken over as Manager. After an average season filled with major injuries leaving key players Carpenter, Berkman, Wainright, and Furcal out for major portions of the season, the Cardinals creep up in the race for the newly created second Wild Card spot.Beating the Braves in a one-game Wild Card playoff, the then beat the unexpectedly hot team of the season, the Nationals in five games. Waltzing to a 3-1 lead in the NLCS, history seemed to be repeating itself.
The Cardinals were one game away from winning the NLCS and had the energy of the hometown crowd behind them. Leaving men on 2nd and 3rd with no outs in the bottom of the second inning, and a phenomenal performance by Barry Zito, the Giants brought the series to Game 6 in San Fransisco, where he two teams had split even at the beginning of the series. The Cardinals still had every opportunity to win. They are, after all, the kings of drama.
The problem is, so are the Giants. No one expected them to get this far either.
A series of embarrassing errors led to a Game 7. The Giants then proceeded to do to St. Louis what they did to the number one team, Cincinnati, just a few days earlier. It seemed as if the Cardinals simply handed the series title over. In a 9-0 shutout, the Giants ended the Cardinal’s six-game winning streak in winner-take-all games which began in Game 7 of the 2004 NLCS.
The incredible run by the Cardinals is now over, Berkman is a free agent, and Carlos Beltran is still left without a ring.
As incredibly disappointing as it is, the Cardinals are set well for next year. Matheny has an incredible year of experience under his belt, and the team maintains a large number of outstanding players are set to return next year. After the game, Matheny said “What I’ve learned is that we’ve got a special group of players over on our side, who have overcome a lot of obstacles and who did a lot of things that people didn’t think they could do. There’s quite a bit to be excited about if you’re a St. Louis Cardinals fan, and I wanted to make sure these guys don’t forget how we got here and the character and the heart that it took to be where we are right now.”
I am incredibly satisfied with his job as a manager and I can’t wait to see what he will continue to do with the team.
When I look at the Giants, in a lot of ways I see the same traits that I see in the Cardinals. Dedicated fans, the refusal to give up or go away, the ability to surprise the world and get where non one thought they would be, and a roster of classy players who genuinely enjoy the game and each other. They’re kind of a different group of guys… Teams like these are what make baseball such a special sport.
And while the Giants have nothing on the Cardinal’s rich history, Cardinal Nation, or the character and spunk of our players, I am glad that of all the teams, the Giants are the ones who beat us.
So with that, I look forward with excitement to what next year may bring.
Is it April yet?