Cards are aces
pblackwell, Mon, November 6th, 2006
Okay, so you’re not Dr. Emmett Brown. But imagine, for a moment, cruising in Doc’s DeLorean and traveling back in time – specifically, to Oct. 3, when the baseball playoffs got underway.
And imagine also if you told everyone that the St. Louis Cardinals – the 83-win, backed-into-the-playoffs, nearly-threw-the-whole-thing-away-in-the-last-two-weeks Cardinals – would win the World Series?
The next sound you would have heard, even in loyal burgh like St. Louis, would be a roar of laughter similar to what is emanating from the theaters these days anywhere the “Borat” movie is showing.
Anyone else in the field had an argument. The Yankees were all but handed the crown. Oakland and (especially) Minnesota had their defenders. Some sensed the destiny in Detroit. The Mets had overwhelming support from National League partisans. Even San Diego and Los Angeles got a few votes.
Absolutely no one pictured the ending on Oct. 27, when Adam Wainwright struck out Brandon Inge and the party began by the Gateway Arch.
Amid the din (and that incessant Budweiser jingle), you could hear every red-clad partisan of Missouri getting the last laugh on the baseball world, with no help from any ersatz journalist from Kazakhstan.
Thus ended Tony LaRussa’s decade-long quest for diamond redemption. He managed a dynasty in Oakland, but all that talent and muscle produced just one World Series title, in 1989, hardly celebrated in the Bay Area due to that earthquake.
As heavy favorites in 1988, the A’s, thanks to the tag team of Kirk Gibson and Orel Hershiser, didn’t believe what they just saw in Chavez Ravine. Much the same thing, without the Roy Hobbs imitation, took place in 1990, when Cincinnati swept the A’s.
Upon arrival in St. Louis in ’96, LaRussa immediately took the Cards to the NLCS, immediately jumped on Atlanta 3-1 in the NLCS – and promptly got creamed in those last three games by the Braves.
So began a wild and frustrating journey. LaRussa sat through the Mark McGwire circus (tainted or not), watched young Rick Ankiel implode in front of the Mets in 2000, and saw his Cards denied again in 2001 and ’02 post-season appearances. The reputation stuck – great manager, but can’t win when it counts.
St. Louis finally got back to the Fall Classic in 2004, surviving a seven-game NLCS epic with Houston. But no team was going to deny the Boston Red Sox after that comeback against the Yankees. Still, the sweep hurt.
Two years later, the Cardinals did everything possible to hand the NL Central to somebody else, wracked by injuries, age, inconsistency, and dozens of other maladies. Only on the last day of the season, when Houston lost, was a berth in October secured.
Funny, it took being the Least Likely to Succeed for St. Louis to finally get it right. Great pitching buried the Padres. Patience and resilience helped the Cards edge past the Mets. And in an ugly World Series, St. Louis seemed to exploit every Tiger mistake and turn it into success.
Along the way, unlikely heroes emerged. Jeff Suppan, Jeff Weaver and Anthony Reyes all pitched masterpieces to show that the staff was more than Chris Carpenter. Wainwright stepped into the shoes of injured Jason Isringhausen and turned into quite the effective closer.
With Albert Pujols struggling or getting the Barry Bonds (intentional walk) treatment most of the time, Scott Rolen got hot, Yadier Molina hit that home run in Game 7 to beat the Mets, and David Eckstein continued his Nellie Fox-Freddie Patek imitation on his way to World Series MVP status.
Amid all this, LaRussa did a masterful managing job. Instead of wilting in his favorite status, he relished the underdog role, as did his players, defying predictions of the Cardinals’ demise in every round of the playoffs. Make no mistake – the right team won this championship.
Perhaps it took winning a World Series for people to recognize the terrific tradition and atmosphere St. Louis brings to the table.
No one else can be (or should be) the Yankees, but the Cards come close with a line that stretches from Musial to Gibson, from Lou Brock to Ozzie Smith. And the fans are great, too, staying loyal, passionate and loud without resorting to obscenities or obnoxious behavior – all in the home of Anheuser-Busch. Imagine that!
This title gives the Cardinals 10 crowns, second only to the pinstripes. It also restores some National League pride after years of hearing that the American League was better. Most of all, St. Louis is the seventh different team to win a World Series in seven years. Parity is back – deal with it.
Two days after winning it all, they had the victory parade in St. Louis. Bands played, confetti was thrown, red was the color of the day – and if you listened closely enough, you could still hear the laughter from the Cardinal faithful.
And they’ll chuckle until April, World Series trophy in hand.