On Saturday, September 21, 1935, the Chicago Cubs defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-3. The Cubs got out to a 4-0 lead behind a home run by Augie Galan, three hits by Billy Herman, and two knocks by Frank Demaree. Roy Henshaw tried for the complete game, but he allowed a run in the eighth when Tom Padden drove in Cookie Lavagetto and then four straight hits in the ninth, the last two by Lloyd Waner and Arky Vaughan, brought the Pirates to within one with runners on first and second. Lon Warneke, also known as The Arkansas Hummingbird, got three of the next four out to lock down the game. (It helped that Pep Young bunted to try to move the runners over and instead bunted into a force at third.) That was the last time* a National League team won seventeen in a row.
*Technically, it was the last time a National League team won 17 in a row in the same season. The 1937 Pirates ended their season with ten straight wins and the 1938 version started with seven straight wins, so if you want to go that route the last game was still a Pirates/Cubs game, just this time with Pittsburgh winning.
Imagine someone coming up to you on the night of September 10, right after the Cardinals had lost a tough game to the Reds by allowing two runs in the ninth, and saying, “Don’t worry, the Cardinals are going to win 17 in a row and clinch the wild card.” Even if you could believe that the team that had trouble stringing more than two wins together was going to go on that run, there’s no way you’d have believed the Cards could take the wild card that way.
“Look, even if you are right and they win all those games, it takes two to tango. The Reds, with their easy schedule, would have go basically 9-8 through that stretch for us to be far enough ahead of them. And they aren’t even in the wild card right now! The Padres would have to play .500. That’s not counting the Phillies and Mets, who are close enough that they’d have to really stumble to be out of it with five games remaining. You are telling me the Cards are going to get a historic winning streak (against teams that almost all in contention, by the way) AND the other teams are going to blow it? We all want 2011 to happen, man, but let it go.”
Yet that’s exactly what happened. The Reds have gone 7-9 since that win in St. Louis. The Padres have gone from wild card leaders to under .500 with a 3-13 stretch. The Phillies have played pretty well, going 10-6, and without that legendary streak would still have a chance at both the wild card and the division. (Their division hopes are still alive by a thread.) The Mets….well, they Metsed, going 4-11. Much like 2011, we’ll remember the wild run but other franchises are going to remember their collapse.
What’s also somewhat remarkable to me with this streak is that they have been able to come out twice after off days and continue it. Last night, even though it was an Adam Wainwright start, it would have been easy to have a letdown. Facing one of the top pitchers in Brandon Woodruff, the craziness of the weekend and the push through that road trip could have reached a climax on Sunday and, with the off day, dissipated enough to make a win difficult. When Luis Arias punished a Wainwright pitch and put it into Big Mac Land for a 2-0 lead, it felt like that might have happened.
To the Cardinals’ credit, they didn’t let it feel like that very long. Dylan Carlson led off the bottom of that inning with a home run and after Harrison Bader walked and made his way to third, Adam Wainwright brought him home with a squeeze bunt. Remarkably, for as long as Wainwright has been doing this pitching thing, that was the first time he’d gotten an RBI off a squeeze bunt. Strange but true!
Once the Cardinals had tied it up, you felt much more like this was going to be their night. It didn’t hurt that the Brewers, looking forward to their postseason, removed Woodruff after four innings. Odds are they were going to find a way to pull it out anyway. Adam Wainwright does that, you know, in big moments in front of the home crowd. A very large home crowd, it must be noted. For all the talk about attendance this season, the Cards are now fifth in average attendance with a solid chance at fourth with big crowds the rest of the way. It’s a little lower in the rankings than normal, but not much.
Let’s give the Hero tag to Nolan Arenado. When he advocated to leave Colorado (and, I believe, focused his sights on St. Louis only), these kind of moments were what he was looking for. Last night, besides doing that defense that he does all the time, he also drove in Tyler O’Neill (who had doubled in the tiebreaking run and then went to third on an error) with a sacrifice fly, then capped the scoring in the seventh with his 34th home run of the season, tying him with Scott Rolen and Fernando Tatis for most homers by a third baseman in a season. I imagine there are few happier than Nolan after getting that ticket punched.
However, like almost every game in this streak, it was truly a team effort. Paul Goldschmidt and O’Neill had two hits. Jose Rondon hit a pinch-hit home run. Wainwright’s six innings of two run ball were followed by scoreless frames from T.J. McFarland, Luis Garcia, and Giovanny Gallegos. Almost everyone contributed in some form or fashion.
We do have to pick a Goat, which is difficult since every starter got a base hit. I’ll go with Tommy Edman again because he went 1-4 but didn’t score a run or drive one in. The same criteria could have been used to select Andrew Knizner, but Edman’s leading off plus he plays more often than Knizner does.
Yadier Molina was scratched with shoulder soreness but you know it has to be EXTREMELY serious for him to miss a Wainwright start and for them not to continue to add to their starts together number. Given that he had Sunday’s game off and they didn’t play Monday, that raises a lot of eyebrows as well. I imagine Knizner will get a number of starts this week as they try to rest that shoulder so Molina will be good for the playoffs and it’s worth keeping an eye on to see how that goes.
Honestly, it’s going to be remarkable if the streak continues tonight. Adrian Houser has had the Cardinals’ number this year, the postseason is clinched (and they have to recover from the party), and the focus has shifted. We’re going to see some starts by Matt Carpenter. Knizner’s going to play. Heck, Edman might even get a day off. I don’t think they are going to go all out to win games now that the objective has been secured. That said, if they want to keep this roll going, it’s fine by me!