So, um, that was fun.
The rational part of me knew that last night was possible, and maybe even likely. I have the receipts to prove it. But the dumb fan in me couldn’t fathom the Cardinals ever winning a game after Sunday night’s heartbreak, much less the next game. I fancy myself an analytical person who views sports through a realm of ultimate realism, but like most of you, I’m actually a stupid idiot who is controlled entirely by his id. And really, that’s probably fine. As long as I cop to it/don’t let this lack of logic apply to my analysis of things more important than baseball.
Originally, my intention yesterday was to skip out from work around 3 p.m. (after getting to work a little early and not taking a lunch–while some seem to think that attending the game was an easy task for St. Louis Cardinals fans, I was willing to settle for watching on TV given the wildly unconducive start time for attending the game) and head home and watch alone with the requisite delays one would expet from YouTube TV (a generally good service if you can ignore a 1-2 pitch lag). But the sheer energy from refreshing feeds and Twitter and what have you that came from the first inning home runs from Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna invigorated me. I knew I wanted to watch this game with my people, even if those people were strangers. So I went to the bar.
My intention was very simple–drink a few beers (though a low enough amount that I could safely drive home, to be abundantly clear), get a cheap Happy Hour appetizer, and call it a night. But then I let loose what I was doing, and then the game got weird. I was going to text my friend in question but then I realized there was a (low but nonzero) chance he would tell me not to share this text correspondence on the World Wide Web, so I’m doing it anyway.
Four notes before I continue.
- Look, I like a nice hyper-fancy quadruple-filtered IPA as much as the next guy, but sometimes I also like paying two bucks for a macrobrewed two dollar Happy Hour beer at a bar where a guy got shot two weeks ago.
- Yes, I slowed down my pace.
- The half-inning in question was the top of the fifth inning. When this text was sent, the Cardinals were winning 3-1. By the time my friend arrived, about 15 minutes later, it was 4-3 Braves.
- Yes, I sort of have a point here.
The Cardinals were trailing by one run, and because this is the Cardinals in the postseason, no game is ever not close (unless the Giants are involved and the Cardinals are trailing 3-1 in the series). The Cardinals tied the game in the bottom of the eighth and walked off on a sacrifice fly–both times off the bat of Yadier Molina–in the bottom of the tenth. Sports were triumphant and lovely and man am I glad I didn’t watch it alone in my apartment.
Anyway, I have a point here, which is that, following the game, I calculated the records of major St. Louis professional sports teams in elimination games since I graduated from college–the Cardinals, the Blues, and the Rams had they not been in the midst of a Major League-like plot to suck as loudly as possible in order to tank attendance and move the team. I calculated two things–St Louis’s record in games I watched primarily alone and St. Louis’s record in games I watched primarily with one or more other people.
- In games I watched primarily alone: 5-11
- In games I watched primarily with others: 9-0
So let me be clear about something–if I were to watch Game 5 on Wednesday alone, this would not mean the Cardinals were going to lose. However, a 9-0 record while watching Not Alone is a bit challenging to ignore. For the sake of the city of St. Louis, I promise I won’t go home to watch Game 5.
Anyway, I am not yet capable of analyzing Game 4 of the 2019 NLDS with any degree of objectivity. So with the following list, upon which I rank the greatest individual playoff performances in 2010s St. Louis Cardinals postseason history, I am not counting anything that happened yesterday, because as awesome as Marcell Ozuna (two home runs) and Yadier Molina (an 8th inning go-ahead single and a 10th inning game-winning sacrifice fly) were, I will promptly rank them at the top of this list, and I know deep down that this is a stupid decision. So count them as Honorable Honorable Mentions.
But before I get started, this song playlist-shuffled into my car as I drove home last night, and in addition to it being extremely in my personal musical preference lane of “too cool to be outright Dad Rock, too mainstream to be Actually Cool, it feels appropriate. It is time to embrace our role as perpetual MLB playoff heels. WE’RE GONNA BURN THESE PLAYOFFS, BURN THESE PLAYOFFS!
Here’s the list.
Adam Wainwright, Game 3 of the 2019 NLDS: Come on, man, Brian McCann? You seriously intentionally walked Brian McCann to get to Dansby Swanson? This should have been the only thing I spent today talking about (well, until all the stuff I wrote about before).
Lance Berkman, Game 6 of the 2011 World Series: Had this game ended, as it so nearly did, with a 7-5 Texas Rangers victory in nine innings, the World Series MVP would have been Mike Napoli, but the Cardinals MVP in the series, without close competition, would have been Lance Berkman. He proved why in Game 6 of the series, belting a two-run, go-ahead home run in the first inning of the game. In the bottom of the fourth, Berkman scored a game-tying run. In the bottom of the sixth, Berkman singled and later scored, again, a game-tying run. In the bottom of the ninth, Berkman drew a walk and again scored a game-tying run. And in the bottom of the tenth, while one strike away from elimination, Lance Berkman had a game-tying single. It is absurd that he is merely an honorable mention, objectively speaking, but it’s hard for me to include a guy who wasn’t even the most valuable player in the game in the top five, even if I probably should.
5. Daniel Descalso, Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS: There was never a less likely all-game hero than Daniel Descalso. And as much as Pete Kozma became the name Washington Nationals fans would bemoan for generations, it was Descalso who had the superior game. Although the Cardinals found themselves in an early hole, with the Nationals up 6-1 through four, Descalso hit a leadoff double in the top of the fifth, later scoring a run on a wild pitch. And with the Cardinals down two entering the eighth inning, Descalso hit a leadoff home run off Tyler Clippard to cut the deficit in half. But then came Descalso’s true star turn–a first pitch, two-out single off Drew Storen in the top of the ninth to score two runs and level the winner-take-all game for the Cardinals.
4. Michael Wacha, Game 4 of the 2013 NLDS: The Pittsburgh Pirates had won a tight Game 3 the day before to take a 2-1 series lead, but on this Monday afternoon (yesterday’s Game 4 was the sixth anniversary, to the date, of this game), Michael Wacha was nearly all-time historic. Entering the bottom of the eighth inning, the Cardinals rookie held the Pirates not only scoreless, but hitless. The Cardinals were holding a 2-0 lead, which was of course nice, but there was a chance that the guy who had been drafted just over fifteen months prior was going to throw the third no-hitter in MLB postseason history. He didn’t–the second hitter of the 8th inning, Pedro Alvarez, hit a solo home run, and after Wacha issued a walk to Russell Martin, Mike Matheny wisely pulled Wacha from the game. But the Cardinals won and while Wacha’s start may not have been historic historic, it was really good.
3. Carlos Beltran, Game 1 of the 2013 NLCS: Four days after Michael Wacha’s brilliance came a game that I will forever colloquially call The Carlos Beltran Game. In the third inning, the veteran right fielder, noted for a long history of postseason heroics (his strikeout to end Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS in favor of the Cardinals is wildly unrepresentative of his overall body of work), doubled off Zack Greinke to score Joe Kelly and Matt Carpenter and level the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. In the tenth inning, following a routine fly ball putout, Beltran fired an absolute missile to throw future Cardinal Mark Ellis out at home plate on what would have been the go-ahead run. And in the bottom of the 13th, Beltran once again proved the hero, doubling down the right field line to score Daniel Descalso in walk-off fashion.
2. Chris Carpenter, Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS: I could be pedantic about batted-ball luck and how Carpenter wasn’t nearly as dominant by the stat line as his legend indicates. But it was because Chris Carpenter had built such a reputation as baseball’s most fiery competitor that his outdueling of late, great Roy Halladay in Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS took on such lore in Cardinals history. The Cardinals led 1-0 from the moment Carpenter took the mound, and it always felt like enough.
- David Freese, Game 6 of the 2011 World Series: *extremely Billie Eilish voice* Duh.