There isn’t much that most people agree on. But, most people agree that St. Louis is a great baseball town. The people of St Louis love the Cardinals. They also are great, knowledgeable fans. They respect the players and don’t boo a botched play. They also applaud for an opposing player who makes a great play. That is the atmosphere I grew up in.
When I was a little kid, I used to go to bed each night listening to Harry Carey and Gabby Street broadcasting the Cardinal games. As soon as the team would get close to 500 ball, Harry would start figuring what we had to do to get into first place. Back then, there was no National League playoff. You either won the pennant or you went home. The Cardinals won their share in the Forties, not in the Fifties.
My dad had been a professional baseball player and in the early 50’s was scouting for the Cardinals. In 1952, we were invited over to Sportsman’s Park to see a new pitching phenom. The young pitcher was Stu Miller and the Cards were playing the Brooklyn Dodgers. We were sitting right behind home plate. Miller had a slow curve that swept from inside the plate to way outside. I still remember Miller striking out Roy Campanella. After the last strike, Campy leaned on one leg and the bat and stared out at Miller. It appeared he was thinking, “Where in the world did that pitch come from?”
In 1954, I was there the day that Stan the Man hit five home runs in a double header against the New York Giants. I guess I have made it quite clear that I grew up with the Cardinals as a main part of my childhood.
Through the years, we Redbird fans have had our ups and downs. After beating the Milwaukee Brewers (then in the American League) in 1982 to win the World Series for the 9th time, we took on Kansas City in 1985 for number 10. We were ahead 3 games to 2 and 1-0 in the 9th inning of game six. The first ball hit in the bottom of the ninth was to the Cardinal first baseman Jack Clark who tossed it to pitcher Todd Worrell. The runner was clearly out, but umpire Don Denkinger called the runner safe. Denkinger later admitted that he had blown the call. Things went down hill after that and we ended up losing 2-1. Game seven was a Cardinal debacle. KC was the world champs.
In 2006, the Cardinals finished the season the same way Boston and Atlanta did this year. With two weeks to play, the Cards had an 8 1/2 game lead over the Houston Astros. The Cards lost seven games in a row, including four to the Astros. Well, the Cards lost the last game of the season, but so did the Astros, causing the Cards to limp into the playoffs. I figured they would lose in the the first round of the playoffs, but at least they weren’t humiliated by missing the playoffs completely.
It turned out we raced through San Diego and squeaked out a seven-game win over the New York Mets. Yadier Molina hit a home run in the top of the ninth to give the Cards a 2-1 lead. In the bottom of the ninth, rookie closer, Adam Wainwright, ended up with the bases loaded, two outs and Carlos Beltran at the plate. Beltran had destroyed the Cardinals for years as an Astro. But with two strikes on Beltran, Wainwright buckled Beltran’s knees with a curve ball that caught the center of the plate.
After the playoff with the Mets, the World Series with Detroit was anti-climatic. We weren’t supposed to beat San Diego or the Mets. We were a prohibitive underdog against the Tigers, but we beat them in five games. I guess that’s why they play the game. We seem to make Las Vegas look bad.
But nothing, I mean nothing, in my life long love affair with the Cardinals prepared me for this years World Series against the Texas Rangers. We weren’t supposed to be there. Duh. We weren’t supposed to even make the playoffs. I guess you and I must have heard the next line regurgitated by announcers and commentators hundreds of times – “12 1/2 games out of the Wild Card on August 25th.” You need help to make up that kind of distance and we got it. We made the playoff on the last day of the season. Of course we were the underdog against the Phillies and the Brewers. Does that sound familiar? We beat them both and guess what? Texas was the prohibitive favorite to win the World Series. Somewhere along the way, it would seem that at least some of these odds makers would scratch their head and wonder what is going on.
At the end of five games, Texas was ahead three games to two. Let me just mention that in most major sports, there is a clock. Working the clock is just another weapon the team that is ahead may use. My wife, Carole, would go crazy when North Carolina would go into their four corner offense. But baseball has no clock. You must get the last out to win the game
In the 9th inning, with two outs, the Cardinals were down by two runs with men on first and second. David Freeze was down to his last strike. I had my finger (really thumb) on the off button of the TV. And, somehow Freeze cracked one off the right field fence scoring two runs to tie the game. Thumb removed from TV button. There was life, there was hope. Then in the top of the 10th, Texas Ranger Josh Hamilton blasted a two-run homer. The air went out of Busch Stadium.
So here we go again. The first two cardinals, Daniel Descalso and John Jay got base hits. Pitcher Kyle Lohse pinch hit and hit a sacrifice bunt to move the runners into scoring position. Then Ryan Theriot grounded out to third scoring Descalso. Texas intentionally walked Albert Pujols. No one and I mean no one should question that decision. So with two outs, again, and two strike, again, and my thumb on the TV off button, again, Lance Bergman laces a single to centerfield scoring the tying run. This was better than Friday Night Lights – and it was for real!
In the 11th inning, after Texas failed to score, David Freeze hit a monster home run to the deepest part of center field. I was acting like a seven-year old. We had lived to play game seven.
Game seven was tense, but the Cardinals edge farther and farther ahead, winning the game 6-2. Chris Carpenter pitched six great innings giving up two early runs. Timely hitting by Freeze, Allen Craig and Molina was all that was needed.
Some will say that if it hadn’t rained postponing game six, then Carpenter couldn’t have pitched game seven and the Rangers would be World Champs. Anybody that talks like that doesn’t believe in destiny. I remind you of August 25th and 12 1/2 games behind. Let’s face it, the Force was with us.
There may have been teams that were better on paper than the Cardinals. But no team was better prepared than Tony LaRussa’s team. And no team had the heart, guts and nevergiveupidness. Go Redbirds!
Written by PJ Rice at www.ricequips.com