The St. Louis Cardinals just..won’t..die. Joe Buck’s words from Game 6 of the 2011 World Series stuck in my head during the last two innings of Friday night’s amazing Redbirds comeback against the Washington Nationals. In winning the NLDS in thrilling fashion, the Cardinals offered up an encore of last postseason’s caper. It was so unreal one would think a con was on the capitol of the country. What are they doing? Stealing another win and series right out from under a better and more favored team. I watched it, lived it, drank a lot of whiskey during it and when I awoke the next day I still didn’t believe my eyes when the Post Dispatch told me we were advancing to the next round. Flashback to Friday night around 30 minutes after game time and every Cardinals fan can tell you they were designing their 2012 swan songs for their falling ball club. This guy was writing texts like this to his inner circle of baseball addicts, “No matter what happens, the 2012 Cardinals did good. They survived injury and inconsistency in order to give us a exciting playoff round. Short lived yet wildly intoxicating.” I was drinking away my sorrows, quiet throughout my body except for a furious movement of the metacarpals pounding the screen of my IPhone. If there are victims in this world, the screen of my phone ranks near the top of the list in the most abused department. One of the side effects of an unpredictable yet highly enjoyable baseball team. Flashing back now.
When Adam Wainwright left the mound, he knew what had been done. As he entered the dugout he looked back at the field and saw that there was a knife sticking out of his team’s side. Taking the mound in a critical Game 5, Waino quickly surrendered 6 runs inside 3 innings of work and pushed his team halfway into a grave. Try to imagine Waino’s mood for the next few inning. A pitcher takes the ball and is the first and last line of defense. He is the one that controls the action, dictates the pace and offers the other team an avenue of success. Wainwright let his team down. He had no idea that Gio Gonzalez, the 21 game winner who ran into control problems in Game 1 at Busch Stadium, would be wound up so tight and slowly let his team down. The Cardinals got a run in the 4th inning on a Matt Holliday double to make it 6-1 and suddenly, any Cards fan knew there was a chance. The worst thing about surrendering 6 runs early is your offense goes in chase mode and your pitching staff has to stop the bleeding. A comeback only happens if the pitching can stop taking damage. The real hero of Game 5 wasn’t Daniel Descalso or Pete Kozma. It was the bullpen of the Cardinals that garnered the MVP honors in my opinion. After Wainwright allowed 6 runs in 2.1 innings, the bullpen yielded only a single run in 6.2 innings. The bullpen put out a quality start and it was vital to the comeback of the bats. The offense chipped away more and more. After the run in the 4th, the Cardinals added 2 more in the 5th on a wild pitch and a walk. Gonzalez doesn’t yield runs on hits against the Cards. He hurts himself with bad control and a failure to make pitches with runners on base. He escaped big damage but let the Cardinals in the door. In 10 innings pitched in the NLDS, Gio walked 12 Cardinals and threw over 200 pitches. Instead of showing shades of Sandy Koufax, Gio reminded me of C.J. Wilson from the Rangers rotation in 2011. A playoff choker.
The Cardinals got single tallies in the 7th and 8th innings on a Matt Holliday groundout and a Descalso home run. D.D.’s bash off Nationals setup man Tyler Clippard was especially impressive because he passed the Buffa Insult test. When I jump on a slumping player, they usually respond with big hits. It worked in the past with Edgar Renteria and various Cardinals, but I kept shouting at the TV screen that Descalso was overmatched. On nearly every pitch from Nationals pitching(except a Game 2 home run and triple), Descalso wasn’t able to get his bat speed going and either fouled off pitches to the left from being behind or swung through it. A big factor in Descalso’s future reliability as a starter is his ability to raise his average out of the .220 range. One thing that lingers in my mind about 2013 is the return of Rafael Furcal from an elbow injury and forcing Kozma and Descalso into a battle for second base. Furcal first has to prove he can recover from his injury without surgery and make it back to spring training. Right now, a more realistic option is letting Kozma platoon with Furcal and save the older player for games later in the season, but I know Rafy wants to play every day. It will be an interesting setup. Taking a quick time out here from this Game 5 recap, I will give credit here to John Mozelaik and former director of scouting Jeff Luhnow(now the GM in Houston) for crafting a fleet of homemade talent. Yadier Molina, Jon Jay, Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter, Tony Cruz, Descalso, Kozma, Mitchell Boggs, Jason Motte, Trevor Rosenthal, Sam Freeman(LHP in bullpen in future), Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn, Jaime Garcia, and of course Mr. Shelby Miller. That’s a lot of major league ready or cooking talent. A huge reason for the Cardinals consistent success while only raising their bullpen marginally over the last few years. Amazing development with more on the way in the form of Oscar Taveras, Matt Adams and Kolten Wong.
In the bottom of the 8th inning, Jason Motte allowed the Nationals a huge insurance run. After Descalso’ home run made it 6-5 and a one swing game, Motte allowed the Nationals to carve out a little breathing room. Drew Storen, the Nats closer returned from surgery and only coming back into the role slowly, took the ball in the 9th. Carlos Beltran smacked a double to start the inning and just like that, the tying run came to the plate. Matt Holliday and Allen Craig gave the crowd hope. Holliday bounced out and Allen Craig struck out. Molina came to the plate as our last shot. Of everybody on the roster, Molina and David Freese were my preferred hitters because of their ability to come through in the clutch. Both faced pitcher’s counts and both drew miraculous walks. They were locked in and focused. The ability of this team to focus in close and tight situations is amazing. Storen twice had them down to their last strike, just like 2011 against the Rangers, and Molina and Freese drew walks. Based loaded, 2 outs, and Daniel Descalso at the plate. The .225 hitting defensive specialist who constantly gets overmatched yet just launched a solo home run an inning earlier. Descalso had worked counts equaling 32 pitches inside 4 at bats in Game 4’s 2-1 loss. This time, Descalso refused to go deep in the count. On the first pitch, he ripped a 2 run game tying single off shortstop Ian Desmond’s glove. Suddenly, the crowd went quiet. The Nationals looked stunned. Their lead, as comfortable as mac and cheese on a stormy cold night, was GONE. Jayson Werth from looking like the proud sheriff of Tombstone to the dejected lost soul on Hells on Wheels. Bryce Harper’s energy slowed. Storen now had the sword sticking out of his team’s side. The tables had turned. The Cardinals were threatening to steal everything the Washington baseball crowd had held dear for 3 hours. The crowd was packed but I can bet more than half of those people were baptized Nationals followers in the past month. The bandwagon in the capitol had been tipped over. Back in St. Louis, I flew off the couch and sent a fist pump and swing so quick I nearly knocked out my wife. I didn’t know what was wrong with the world at the moment. I just knew the Cardinals were tied.
When Kozma came to the plate, all I was thinking was, “We are tied. If we get a hit here, it’s gravy on the top.” Kozma got behind 0-2 to Storen, but then lined an outside fastball into the right field corner. Before the hit, Descalso had moved up to second base on a non throw from catcher Kurt Suzuki. Kozma’s hit brought home Freese and Descalso. The Cardinals dugout erupted. Mike Matheny even smiled for more than a second. St. Louis homes lit up and got loud. Fireworks were set to go off. The tide had been turned. The last thing on our minds was thinking the Cardinals would return to the stage and provide an encore from last year. Together, as a team, they did just that Friday night. Something about their resurgence in late September and the luck they have had, is telling me this team could make another run. A year ago, Chris Carpenter out-dueled Roy Halladay and the Cards outlasted the Phillies in the NLDS. This year, the Cards outlast the Nationals and come back from a 6-0 deficit to win 9-7 on great bullpen pitching, timely walks and a flurry of clutch hits. All in one night, everything that went wrong all of 2012 happened and everything that had been great in 2012 also occurred. Without Tony La Russa, Albert Pujols and Dave Duncan, down 6-0, down to their last strike, The Cardinals never gave up. This is why I love baseball. Love this team. It’s an unpredictable ride. That ride continues tonight against the Giants in San Francisco.
There aren’t a lot of scary factors to the Giants. They just came back against the Reds after being down 2-0 in the NLDS. After dropping two at home, they won 3 in a row on the road. Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner are quality starters. Tim Lincecum had a horrible 2012 season but owns two Cy Youngs and pitched well in the NLDS. Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Pablo Sandoval anchor their offensive attack. Sergio Romo is their closer, with Brian Wilson on the mend from Tommy John surgery. I wanted this matchup over the Reds because of the bullpen, lineup and rotation advantage the Cardinals have. The SF Giants are no pushovers but I expect this to be a gritty and exciting series. It may go 7 games.
Other Things While I bring my Blood Pressure back down after reliving Friday night there in 1,700 words-
*It’s no surprise Chris Carpenter made a rousing speech in the 4th inning to jumpstart his teammates. That is what true leaders do. The man’s an animal. He also owns 10 postseason wins, which ranks in the top 10 of all time totals in MLB history. If you told me Carpenter brushed his teeth with a slab of concrete, I’d believe you.
*The Rams coughed up a 17-14 loss on the road against Miami today. Bradford threw for 315 yards but still holds the ball too long and takes too many sacks. He has to throw it away. “The Leg” Greg Zuerlein missed three field goals today on the grass in an outdoor stadium, reminding everyone he isn’t a cyborg. Steven Jackson and Darryl Richardson ran for nearly 140 yards together. The receivers played well. What doomed the Rams were wasting several opportunities early in the red zone. When you can’t push 7 points on the board on three chances in the red zone, your offense is inept and shitty. For 6 games, the Rams defense and kicker have helped provide exclamation points on 3 wins and failed to get help from the offense on 3 losses. I will take the 3-3 record, but it’s hard to dismiss the fact that the Rams could be 5-1 right now. Miami didn’t play a great game but they stopped the Rams from scoring a touchdown until the fourth quarter and Ryan Tannehill did a solid job behind center. Jeff Fisher’s gang can play football and compete and win their share. Their next step up depends on the offense’s ability to put up real points early.
*Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado produced the best fight all year in boxing on Saturday night. The two welterweights engaged in heavy duty jaw shaking warfare for 7 rounds before Rios finished off Mile High Mike with a dosage of heavy right hands forcing the ref to stop the fight. Both fighters were undefeated and each were warriors in the ring last night and reminded boxing fans there are men out there who want train for 3 months and actually put on a show. Rios and Alvarado did. Fight replays all week on HBO. At the time of the stoppage, Rios was up slightly on one card and the other two had the fight even. Rios just caught Alvarado with a few healthy right hands.
*Argo is one of the best movies of the year and worth your ticket this weekend. It is the first film of 2012 to fully embody the idea of an Oscar winner. A part drama, part thriller, and part delicious comedy comes from Ben Affleck who is currently 3-3 in the director’s chair. He produces nail biting adult entertainment that involve thought provoking human crime dramas. This story was true and declassified until recently, about Tony Mendez, brilliantly underplayed by Affleck, a CIA specialist who was good at extracting Americans in dicey situations. The situation was the 1979 Iranian Revolution in Tehran where the locals went berserk and joined the local army and locked down the streets until The US government returned their leader, called The Sha, to Iran to face punishment for his crimes. Six American diplomats took refuge in the Canadian Ambassador’s home until Mendez devised a plan to create a fake movie production in Iran to try and get them out. Affleck’s attention to detail here is insanely good and award worthy. See it. Now. Argo and End of Watch are the best out there.
*If the NHL players care about the fans and the millions of employees who work in arenas across the country, they will give in, take a pay cut and end the lockout. Regular season games were cancelled last week and while I can see the players perspective, I can also see the owners side. Both sides can grow some humility and end this soon.
*The Dallas Cowboys find many ways to choke and it’s not just Tony Romo. Watch the highlights and find out.
*The Falcons are 6-0 but I doubt they win the Super Bowl. Matt Ryan isn’t a good quarterback in the playoffs and that may never change. Their defense also isn’t that good. All they have going for them full time is Michael Turner’s running ability. I am not sure if that will be enough.
*The Jets find ways to be horrible yet tolerable. Their Tim Tebow sideshow act didn’t work so well but they might finish at 7-9 or 8-8, against Rex Ryan’s preseason wishes of a Super Bowl. I’ll say this with full conviction. Tim Tebow has a better shot of winning a Super Bowl than Mark Sanchez, who chokes on the big stage. I said it so deal with it.
*Devil’s Cut Kentucy Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a wise well intention carrying friend to have during playoff baseball.
*The little monster known as Vinny keeps talking, moving and growing in ambition. He isn’t walking yet but he is putting together words and showing intelligence while showing a keen sense for doing things he shouldn’t. He spreads his “fake” whines out well, loves to get into the trash can and smiles all the time even though he can’t breathe fully with a cough and stuffy nose. He collects mini concussions daily by throwing himself into wood floors, the head of my dog and pushing and grappling like a full back. I’ve been a dad for 13 months and I can tell you kids truly are resilient.
*Song of the Day-“Lost Boy” by Greg Holden is songwriting and coalition of instruments to go with a hurtful voice at it’s best. Check it out.
*Best Show at the moment-Tie between Boardwalk Empire and Homeland.
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That’s all I have for now. Go Cards!