Tommy Pham might have said it best.
The St. Louis Cardinals, despite their flaws and flubs of the first five-plus months of this season, refuse to concede anything. They are in “never-surrender” mode.
How else to explain a team that was seven games out of first place in the NL Central and on life support Sept. 2 after a demoralizing 2-1, 10-inning loss in San Francisco?
Following their 5-2 victory over Cincinnati on Thursday afternoon, the Cardinals (77-69) found themselves a mere 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Chicago Cubs, pending the result of the Cubs’ night game against a minor-league team posing as the New York Mets.
“We never gave in,” Pham said after becoming the seventh player in Cardinals history to accumulate 20 home runs and 20 steals in the same season.
As they head to Wrigley Field in Chicago for a three-game series weekend series against the Cubs, the Cardinals are driven by the challenge. It remains an uphill climb, but the mentality for the final two weeks of the season already has been firmly established.
“Every game is huge,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “If we would have half-stepped today, it would have been gone. That’s the beautiful thing about that approach.
“Yeah, there’s going to be a lot of hype and a lot of excitement going into Chicago, which I think our guys are going to feed off of. But the simplistic approach is, ‘Just play this next game really well and figure out ways that we can get better.’ ... We’re going to keep teaching that message.
“There’s no team meeting to have before we walk into Chicago to try and get more out of these guys. If you’re giving everything you’ve got, you have nothing more to give. That’s the philosophy we’re going to stick with the rest of the way.”
The Cardinals might not realize their playoff aspirations, but this team is fearless. Pham, perhaps the most fearless all, has taken notice.
“A lot of guys in the locker room have continued to fight and tried to better themselves each and every day to get us in this position,” Pham said. “We have to win every series. If we do that, we’re in.”
Pham has been motivated by more than the Cardinals’ improvement in the standings. After becoming the their first 20-20 player since Reggie Sanders in 2004, Pham revealed that he is closing in on winning a bet with future Hall of Fame catcher Yadier Molina.
In spring training, Molina bet that Pham would not be able to bat .300 with at least 20 home runs and 20 steals. Pham is two-thirds of the way to winning the wager, with 20 homers and 21 steals (he had two Thursday) despite playing in just 113 games.
All Pham must do is maintain a plus-.300 average. He will begin Friday at .306.
“I wrote this down in 2012 that I could be a 20-20 player in the big leagues,” Pham said. “Everything I’m doing now is something I’ve always believed I could do. It’s just no one else believed it.”
“If I lose the bet, it’s $1,000,” Pham said. “If I win the bet, he has to give me a watch up to 60K ($60,000). I’m going to max that out. I’m going to have a nice watch on my left wrist.
“I had never hit 20 home runs, I had never stole 20 bases, I’ve never hit .300. (Molina) thought it was easy money. I looked at it like, ‘I’m going to get this watch.’ So that’s my mind-set.”
The only remaining question is whether the Cardinals have time. It’s the calendar that’s ticking away.
David Wilhelm: @DavidMWilhelm