I find series previews to be simultaneously timely and unnecessary, and I’ve always had an uneasy relationship with writing them. I don’t think that’s that much to be said about matchups, and particularly once the season has developed, any fan who cares enough to read a series preview knows generally what the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers, who will play tonight and for two more nights after this, are all about.
They know these are presently the two teams who would play in the National League Wild Card Game next week and that either could win the NL Central but either could miss the playoffs altogether. They know about Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain not only living up to but exceeding expectations from when they were acquired this off-season. They know about the Cardinals to an even greater depth. They are savvy enough baseball fans to know that the main relevant component in examining “matchups” is starting pitchers, and merely listing them is probably enough.
But I’m a fan of history and I’m a fan of the path which has been forged before. I enjoy the present, too, but any sincere analysis of the upcoming three-game set at Busch Stadium is the future, not the present. And I don’t know the future.
What I do know is that the Milwaukee Brewers are the only team that the St. Louis Cardinals has faced in both the World Series and the National League playoffs (so far: this will change when the Cardinals face the Houston Astros in this year’s World Series). The Brewers might be the least hated of the Cardinals’ NL Central rivals: the 2011 animosity towards Nyjer Morgan disappeared from the public consciousness much more quickly than animosity towards Brandon Phillips, Johnny Cueto, and the Cincinnati Reds, while longstanding division and pre-division rivalries with the Pittsburgh and especially the Chicago Cubs have left the Brewers relatively in the dust. But this is a Cardinals-centric perspective. The Milwaukee Brewers reached the League Championship Series or beyond twice in their history and both times, the St. Louis Cardinals kept them from advancing further. There are two types of Milwaukee Brewers fans: ones who hate the Cardinals, and ones who should.
I was going to, as I did with the Dodgers and the Giants, rank the greatest Cardinals/Brewers moments by Championship Probability Added, but when it comes down to it, this all boiled down to an underrated gem in Cardinals postseason history: Game 7 of the 1982 World Series.
Every little moment in the seventh game of a World Series carries monumental significance. Acquiring the best player in baseball at a trade deadline has less impact on a team’s probability of winning a World Series than, say, a single to lead off an inning in a Game 7. Some Game Sevens are classics; some are duds. In the last four seasons, we’ve had two games which leaned towards classic (2014 and 2016) and one which was somewhere in the middle, but closer to a dud than the other two (2017). 1982’s seventh game wasn’t an inner-circle classic, like the final game in 1991 or 2001, but it was a compelling game nonetheless.
The first three innings were fairly quiet, as the team’s aces, Cardinal Joaquin Andujar and Brewer Pete Vukovich, traded scoreless frames. In the top of the fourth, for the first time all night, the Brewers became very slight favorites to win the World Series thanks to a leadoff Paul Molitor single, but ultimately, the Brewers were unable to capitalize. But in the bottom half of the inning, the Cardinals started to piece together hits. Rookie Willie McGee led off with a single, which was followed by a Tom Herr single which brought McGee to third base. Ozzie Smith popped up, but a Lonnie Smith single scored McGee. Ken Oberkfell and Keith Hernandez recorded outs but the Cardinals had a 1-0 lead.
One pitch into the fifth inning, the Brewers equalized the Cardinals thanks to a solo home run off the bat of Ben Oglivie. And in the top of the sixth, the Brewers took their first lead of the game after Joaquin Andujar misfired a throw to first base after fielding a Paul Molitor bunt, scoring Jim Gantner from second base. After the next batter, Robin Yount, reached on an infield single after no Cardinals covered first base after Keith Hernandez stepped off to field the ball, and Cecil Cooper drove in another run via sacrifice fly, it appeared the wheels might be falling off for the Cardinals.
But in the bottom of the sixth, following a groundout off the bat of Tom Herr, the Cardinals got going. Ozzie Smith singled, and a Lonnie Smith double advanced Ozzie to third base, with Lonnie representing the World Series-tying run 180 feet from home plate. In an aggressive move straight out of a more modern era, Brewers manager Harvey Kuehn went to Bob McClure, while Gene Tenace came into the game to pinch-hit for Oberkfell. Tenace walked, Mike Ramsey pinch-ran, and Keith Hernandez came to the plate with the opportunity of a lifetime–the bases loaded, down two, in the decisive game of the World Series.
And he did this on his birthday! The game was tied, and the next batter, George Hendrick, ended the tie with a single of his own. The rally ended with consecutive groundouts but the Cardinals had the lead.
Bruce Sutter eventually replaced Joaquin Andujar on the mound for the Cardinals and had a 1-2-3 top of the eighth. The Cardinals were three outs away from their ninth World Series title but a one run lead, even with a closer of Sutter’s caliber, was a tenuous one. So the Cardinals’ offense got to work on adding insurance runs. With two outs and runners on first and second in the bottom of the eighth, Darrell Porter singled to score Lonnie Smith, and the next batter, Steve Braun, singled to score Keith Hernandez. And ultimately, it didn’t matter, because Bruce Sutter was unhittable.
Here are the projected starters for this week’s series at Busch Stadium. Start times listed in Central time zone.
Today (7:15)–Chase Anderson (9-8, 3.93 ERA) vs. Jack Flaherty (8-8, 3.08 ERA)
Tuesday (7:15)–Gio Gonzalez (9-11, 4.28 ERA) vs. Austin Gomber (6-1, 3.63 ERA)
Wednesday (6:00)–Jhoulys Chacin (14-8, 3.61 ERA) vs. John Gant (7-6, 3.53 ERA)