Because We are the Champions, My Friend!
This is one fairy tale that didn’t end at midnight. In fact it will be etched into our minds forever, and in stone for eternity. They truly did the impossible, and it will go down as one of the single greatest “against all odds” Championship runs in baseball history. And here’s how it all started…
They did lose their top starter Adam Wainwright back in the preseason due to injury, and at one point in August were 10 1/2 games back of the wild card spot, but lets fast-forward to September. The 1st of September, or in the eyes of owners, managers, and coaches; team evaluation time. Is your team in the hunt? Coasting to a division title? Way down in the standings? Or the way they see it; time to push your players, over-rotate your top pitchers, and fight for every out. Time to rest your starters, and plan for the long postseason road ahead. Or time to jump ship, evaluate your rookies and assets, and get ready for next year. The Cards found themselves in the last of the three situations. They were 8 1/2 games back of the Atlanta Braves for the last spot into the playoffs, and it was time to look towards next season. Well, that was until the opinion of one wiley, veteran manager, named Tony La Russa. He looked at his group of guys as winners, as champions, and he set out to prove it. He was willing to fight to the last out and for every run, and they were willing to follow. Like a Commander leading his soldiers into battle, they were ready to fight, and fight they did.
They went 18-8 through the month of September, erasing the wild card deficit (also due to the Braves going 9-18 in Sept.), and clinching the last spot into the playoffs. They did it in dramatic fashion by winning the golden ticket on the last day of the regular season, and completing one of the greatest late-season comebacks in baseball history! But believe it or not, they were overshadowed. Their AL counterparts, the Tampa Bay Rays, overcame the same if not larger “insurmountable” odds during their late-season run. And won their golden ticket in even more dramatic fashion, by being down in the game, and down to their last strike in the ninth. I mean who actually rallies back to win when they’re down to their last strike?!? Foreshadowing aside, the Cards would never be “over” shadowed again. Queue the NLDS.
The NLDS pitted the Cards against the league best Philadelphia Phillies. The Cards were out-matched in this series, but they were flying high and had the whole city of St. Louis with them, including the wildlife. After losing 2 of the first 3, the Cards found themselves in a must win game 4. The Cards were up 1 in the 5th, their chances still looking bleak, when a squirrel ran across home plate while the redbirds were batting. The squirrel “helped” the Cards rally for 2 runs in the next inning to take the lead 5-2. The “Rally Squirrel” (much like the Florida Panthers’ rat) became a phenomenon throughout the city (and country to a lesser extent), sparking T-shirts, hats, a 25,000 follower Twitter account, and of course the Game 4 win. Game 5 saw both teams in a must win situation, which was apparent when they both sent their best pitcher to the mound. It was a good ‘ol fashion pitchers duel between Halladay of the Phillies, and Carpenter of the Cards. Carpenter pitched a masterful 9-inning shutout, becoming the first player to do so in a deciding game of the NLDS. Halladay was almost as good, going 8 innings and only giving up one run. That one run was enough, and Chris Carpenter’s Cardiac Cards were going to the NLCS!
The NLCS saw the Cards going up against their NL Central division rivals, the Milwaukee Brewers. The series wasn’t quite as dramatatic as the ALDS, but still provided plenty of excitement over the 6 games with both offences rolling with full steam. The 6 game series saw 69 runs on 118 hits, with 17 homeruns. Three of those homeruns came off of the bat of David Freese, as he propelled the Cards past the Brewers winning the series 4-2, and capturing the MVP award in the process. The Cardiac Cards were heading to the World Series! But meanwhile, on a diamond across the country, the Texas Rangers were also wrapping up their 7-game series in 6 against the Detroit Tigers. And MVP Nelson Cruz hit twice as many dingers as Freese, 1 of the 6 being a walk-off grand slam in the 11th inning of Game 2. The first one in MLB postseason history. The cards who battled hard to get here, were now up against their toughest challenge yet…
The World Series this year (like last year) didn’t have a dominate team like the Phillies. It didn’t have the New York Yankees, or the Boston Red Sox. And it didn’t have the viewership. Well, until one of the greatest games ever played forced the first Game 7 since 2002. Game 7 brought in the biggest audience since the Red Sox ended the curse of the Babe back in ’04. The series that nobody wanted to see, turned out to be one of the best ever. And for those who watched it from the begging were rewarded with some great baseball.
The series pitted two of the best managers in the game against each other. With both looking to out manage, and out micromanage each other. And with their ace’s on the mound in games 1 and 2, they were able to do just that. The Cards skip, La Russa, deployed a timely pinch-hit, to gain a one run win in Game 1. The Rangers skip, Washington, answered back. He was able to manufacture two runs in the top of the 9th inning of Game 2 via sac flies, to win Game 2. Game 3 saw the managers take more of a backseat, while the players duked it out with their bats. The two teams combined for 23 runs. The Cards scored 16 of them, which was two away from the World Series record set by the New York Yankees in 1936. A team record wasn’t set, but an individual record sure was.
Albert Pujols, the clear cut winner of game 3′s slugfest, jacked the ball three times throughout the course of the 9 innings. Tying records set in a World Series game for; most homeruns (3), most hits (5), and most RBI’s (6). And breaking records set in a World Series game for most consecutive innings with a hit (4), and most total bases (14). His teammate, David Freese, was pretty good with the stick too, getting two hits, and extending his postseason hitting streak to 13 games. The streak would end there making it the longest in Cardinals history. The reason it ended – Derek Holland. He came on the mound to pitch Game 4 for the Rangers, and he meant business. He shut the Cards out for 8 innings as the Rangers went on to win Game 4 by a score of 4-0.
With the series tied at 2, Game 5 saw the managers back in action, as Cards manager La Russa, made one of the biggest managerial errors ever. The game was tied 2-2 in the 8th inning when La Russa, looking for his closer (Motte), accidentally brought out two other pitchers due to a mixup with his bullpen. The Rangers took advantage of the mixup and cashed in two runs, winning the game 4-2. Game 6 headed back to Busch Stadium, and with it brought one of the most entertaining games I’ve ever watched. And experts are saying that is the single greatest baseball game ever played.
The game started out looking like an Abbott and Costello routine. It was some of the sloppiest baseball I have ever seen! Both teams combined for 5 errors, and I thought that was lenient. Bill Buchner would have been proud. But the nerves settled down as the game wore on, and the runs started to pour in. Texas lead 5 times in this game, and none more significant then when they scored three runs by hitting back-to-back homers (Beltre, Cruz) in the top of the 7th inning to go up 7-4. After giving one back in the 8th, Texas went into the bottom of the 9th, with their smoke-throwing closer (Feliz) on the mound, a 3-2 series lead, and up in the game 7-5. The Cards were down to their final 3 outs, and Texas was 3 outs away from being crowned the World Series Champs for the first time in history. But this is the 2011 Cards were taking about, the Cardiac Cards, the team of destiny! This was their year, and this was their night!
Pujols started things off with a one out double. Then Berkman took a four ball, free pass. And just like that the tying run was on first base. Allen Craig was up next, but went down swinging to a Neftali Feliz fastball, and the Cards were down to their last out. Hometown hero David Freese strolls to the plate with the season resting on his shoulders. Like his name suggests, he is cool, and calm at the plate. And with 2 strikes, 2 outs, in the bottom of the 9th, down 3-2 in the series, Freese makes history. He hits a long fly ball, over the head of Cruz, and off of the wall for a triple. Busch Stadium erupts as two runs cross the plate, sending the game into extra innings. The look on Rangers President Nolan Ryan’s face, said it all. But they were beaten, not broken.
Texas fought back and put up 2 runs of their own in the top of the 10th. But like I said before, this night belonged to the Cards. After two singles to start the inning, a well aimed bunt scored one run. Then with two out, and a man on, Cards slugger Pujols, stepped to the plate. Washington didn’t want to take any chances with the big hitter, so he signaled the intentional walk to get to the wiley veteran Lance Berkman. Old grey beard himself stepped up to the plate, and with 2 out and two strikes, made Washington pay for his decision. He singled up the middle, bringing in the tying run and locking the game (again) at 9′s. And this time, like the Russian in Rocky IV, they were broken. How can you beat a opponent who won’t stay down? So in the bottom of the 11th, who else; but already hero, David Freese, steps to the plate, and carves his name deeper into the history books. He hits the 4th ever, walk-off homerun, in World Series Game 6 history. Sending the Cards to Game 7 in heroic fashion. The Cards also set two World Series Records. The first, being the only team to come back twice from deficits in both the 9th and 10th innings. And the second, they are the only team to score in the 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th innings consecutively.
Game 7 was just a formality. The series was won in Game 6 and everybody knew it. Texas made an attempt at the game, by scoring 2 runs in the first off of Cards ace Chris Carpenter. But Freese, once again, said don’t bother. He hit a two-run double in the bottom half of the inning, breaking the post season RBI record in the process. This time the Rangers listened. Carpenter, with some help from the bullpen, shut them down the rest of the way. And at one point it even seemed like the Rangers were afraid to pitch to the Cards offense. They hit two St. Louis batters, and walked another three, giving St. Louis 2 runs without them even hitting the ball! The Cards cruised to a 6-2 victory. And with the the last out still warming the pocket of Cards outfielder, Allen Craig’s glove; pandemonium broke out in Busch Stadium.
The players were jumping, hugging, and diving on each other. And would later go down to the locker room and celebrate by soaking each other (and everything in sight), in beer and champagne. The fans broke into a frenzy. From the stands, to the parking lot, to the hotel tower, to the parking garage; unabated inebriation. The Cardinals have done the impossible! Completing one of the most remarkable, improbable, memorable, come-from-behind, World Series victories ever! shattering countless team, and personal records in the process. Freese again won MVP honours, and will likely be bronzed somewhere in the city. The Cards brass, well, they stood out on the field for hours after the game and into the night, just soaking it in. The St. Louis Cardinals have won the World Series!
…and that is the last word.