2011 Revisited: A Wild, Wild, Wild Night

Is anyone really surprised that I went straight to the Star Wars well to try to describe this evening? I didn’t think so. Also, I’m just now realizing Albert Pujols was the Goat in the last regular season game he played in St. Louis.

A Wild, Wild, Wild Night

Luke’s X-Wing has sunk into the swamp and Yoda asks him to lift it out.
LUKE: OK, I’ll try.
YODA: No. Do or do not. There is no try.

Luke attempts to bring it out, but is unsuccessful.
LUKE: You ask the impossible.

Yoda lifts the X-Wing out of the bog and sets it on dry land.
LUKE: I don’t, I don’t believe it.
YODA: That is why you fail.

I didn’t really give the Cardinals a chance when they were down 10.5 games as they held Social Media Night.  Many of us spent that time lamenting this season, talking about how this would be the fourth in five years that held no postseason, and what that meant for this team and for Tony La Russa.  Blogging plans for October included different ideas to alleviate the monotony of no baseball.

I still didn’t fully believe even after they swept the Braves in mid-September to pull within 4.5 games.  It was better than alternatives, of course, but 4.5 still seemed pretty formidable.  I remember thinking the sweep was nice, but I’d have been more excited if it had put them closer to 2.5 or so behind the Braves.

I’m not sure I even was completely on board going into last night’s game.  This team so often pulled the football out from in front of us that, even with the cushion of only one of four options putting them out of the playoffs, I held my breath that it wouldn’t happen.

And now….. And now the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals, a team left for dead earlier in the year, a team that set a National League record for double plays, a team with an Albert Pujols that had his long-running streaks snapped, this team is one of the four NL teams playing in October and have a reasonable chance of making it to the World Series.

Seriously, Hollywood would have tossed this script as being written by a novice screenwriter with no idea how movies actually work.  Nobody could suspend their disbelief that much.

As for the game, it was a bit anti-climatic, but nobody in Cardinal Nation was complaining.  Five runs in the first?  The pitcher batting before he throws his first pitch?  Yes, please.

With Hero Chris Carpenter on the mound, a couple of runs was probably all the team needed, but giving him five runs was license to settle back and start plastering the clubhouse with plastic covers.  The Cards tacked on more runs–Carpenter even got into it with an RBI single–but it was vintage Chris Carpenter that was the story.  For a while, it looked like he had no-hit stuff and he did only give up two knocks.  Eleven strikeouts in a complete game victory and he only threw 106 pitches.  That, my friends, is what dominance looks like.  Remember when we wondered if he was starting downhill earlier in the season?  I’d say he’s come back from that quite well.

There were a lot of offensive stars last night as well.  Allen Craig proved that even if Matt Holliday is out for the postseason (which sounds like a definite possibility), the offensive chores could be covered.  Craig had two hits, including a home run late that pushed the lead out to 8-0.  October could be Craig’s coming out party as more people around baseball find out who he is.

Two hits and three runs from David Freese was nice as well.  If he had hit his first ball a little more to the left, it’s a home run in the Crawford boxes rather than a double, but a double was just fine.  It’s nice to see the offense clicking together at the right time.

Every starter had a hit.  Carpenter threw a complete game shutout.  I mean, where do you have to dig to find a Goat in this game?

As much as I hate to, we’ll give it to Albert Pujols, though this is more related to his work the last week or so than this game specifically.  Remember that Albert got up to .305 and got to 98 RBI and we were sure the streak would continue.  Instead, he spun out down the stretch, finished at .299 and only got one RBI last night.  The .300-30-100 streak is history, just one home run shy of getting both of those marks.  It might be the only flaw on the back of his baseball card, and it’s not much of one.  It’s still sad to see those marks go by the wayside, though.

Bill DeWitt commented that, while the Colby Rasmus trade wasn’t popular, they aren’t standing there without that deal.  He’s completely right, I think.  We saw how important all those pieces (well, maybe not Corey Patterson) were coming down the stretch and especially into October.  Marc Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel were a couple of the relievers La Russa would rely on heavily, and I think all of us feel more comfortable with Edwin Jackson in the postseason rotation.  We gave John Mozeliak a lot of flak at the time about the deal and later we mocked the “win now” aspect when the Cards weren’t winning in August, but the proof is in the results and Mozeliak deserves a lot of mea culpas there.

It was also nice that pitching coach Dave Duncan got to be with the team last night.  According to TLR, the team wanted him to be there at the end and they asked him to join them.  It’s good to know that his wife is doing well enough that he could make the trip.  Wonder if he’ll be able to do the postseason grind.

The Cardinals get a couple of days off before facing Philadelphia on Saturday.  Kyle Lohse was, of course, on the schedule to start the playoff game but I’m guessing he’ll get skipped now that that game is no longer necessary.  I’m thinking Jackson starts the first game, with Jaime Garcia in Game 2 and Carpenter in Game 3.

We’ll talk tomorrow about matchups and how this team could really go deep into October, but for right now, let’s just enjoy one really, really wild night.

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