By JOE SPARCIO
Published November 2, 2011
Some chalk it up to luck, others say resiliency, and many considered it destiny, yet Cardinals’ fans can all agree that St. Louis World Series win was nothing short of a miracle.
When the Cardinals overtook the Braves for the NL wildcard spot on the last day of the regular season, most baseball fans did not realize that this was the start of one of the greatest playoff runs in baseball history. The Cardinals had been on the brink of going home since the beginning of August. As the season dwindled, they were 10½ games out with 31 games to play, 8½ back with 21 to play, and three games out with five games left.
No other team in history has made such a historic comeback. Managed by Tony La Russa, this Cardinals club slowly crept their way into a playoff spot in miraculous fashion, yet entered the playoffs surprisingly unnoticed and underrated.
In the first round, the Cardinals were expected to lose to the heavily favored Philadelphia Phillies and yet, they ousted the Phillies in an exciting five-game series. The Cardinals fought their way back after being down two games to one in the series, and beat Phillies’ ace Roy Halladay in a memorable do-or-die game in the first round of the playoffs.
Their incredible streak continued as they faced off against one of the best hitting teams in the league, the Milwaukee Brewers. La Russa’s team forged ahead with heroics from maybe the league’s best player, Albert Pujols, and ace, Chris Carpenter. They surprised the baseball world as they slipped into the World Series.
The Cardinals were the underdogs as they opposed the Texas Rangers, a team that was in the World Series the year prior and boasted maybe the most potent lineup in the league.
The first game started innocently enough, but foreshadowed a great series for the young Allen Craig, who won the game for the Cardinals in the sixth inning with an RBI single, to break a tie in what had been a pitcher’s duel.
The second game was just as exciting and similar into the ninth inning. It was another pitcher’s duel with a scoreless tie until the previous day’s hero, Craig, once again had a clutch pinch-hit to break the tie. The Cardinals were on the verge of taking a 2-0 series lead until the ninth inning. Texas played small-ball and accumulated hits against Cardinals’ closer Jason Motte. They won the game in surprising comeback fashion and stole game two from the Cardinals.
Games three, four, and five were all electrifying in their own right. Game three was a blowout with Cardinals’ slugger Albert Pujols putting on a spectacle with three homeruns and six RBIs. Texas countered in game four with a stellar performance showing the blossoming of young pitcher Derek Holland. Holland came two outs away from finishing a complete-game shutout—a shutout against a team that had just scored 16 runs the night before. With the Series tied 2-2, Texas was fueled by catcher Mike Napoli, who added to his monster season with a bases loaded hit in the eigth inning of the tie game. This game was also called by many “the worst game that Tony La Russa has ever managed,” with botched hit-and-runs, untimely bunts, and unneeded pitching switches.
Though Texas would go on to lose game seven to the Cardinals, the series was really lost in game six. Game six started laden with errors and unimpressive pitching. When Texas’ Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz hit back-to-back homeruns in the seventh inning, putting Texas up 7-4, most viewers thought the game was over. Even after the Cardinals got a run in the eigth, when Mike Adams retired Rafael Furcal to end a bases loaded threat, Texas was poised to win their first championship franchise history.
All hope seemed lost when Neftali Feliz got two strikes on David Freese in the bottom of the ninth with two outs. Freese refused to give in, crushing a triple to tie the game. The Cardinals seemed beat again when Josh Hamilton launched a two-run homer in the tenth. But the Cardinals seemed destined to crush Texas’ dreams. Lance Berkman tied the game in the bottom of the 10th, with another improbable two out hit.
Then David Freese became most beloved player in St. Louis as he homered to deep center in the bottom of the 11th. The Rangers were in shambles and the Cardinals celebrated at home plate, tearing apart Freese’s jersey in an effort to express their primal joy the second that he touched home. This game was a perfect encapsulation of the gritty Cardinals’ season as a whole.
As impressive as Cardinals’ miracle run was to become World Series champions, they had no business even being in the playoffs. Yet they never said die, and fought until their last strike. They set an ideal standard for any team, showing more heart than it seemed possible for a team that was so close to losing it all.