The last time St. Louis celebrated an NL pennant
Musings of a postseason couch potato:
Yup, sitting here trying not to get Cheetos dust on the couch cushions or my keyboard, all the while wishing I was at a ballpark for a playoff series but settling for the next best thing.
It’s a little hard to watch, I grant you, with the Cardinals not playing in October. Sadly, we’re getting more used to that predicament every year.
But if you love baseball, and you look past the uniforms of the teams Cardinals fans love to hate, there’s still the beauty of baseball as the shadows grow long and the games grow even longer.
In no particular order, then, here’s a look the 2018 version of baseball’s best month from my little corner of the world:
Hey, I know that guy
Everywhere I turn this month, a former Cardinals is toiling for one of the playoff teams.
None are more prominent than St. Louis’ favorite son, David Freese, playing first base a little bit and coming off the bench for the Los Angeles Dodgers in their National League Championship Series with the Milwaukee Brewers.
He played a key role in L.A.’s Division Series triumph over Atlanta, going 1-for-2 with three RBI.
Freese’s October showing comes seven years after he was the MVP in both the NLCS (he hit .545 in that series) and the World Series for the 2011 Cardinals.
A couple weeks ago, a writer for the Los Angeles Times acted as if he didn’t remember any of that. After Freese hit a sacrifice fly for the final run in a 6-0 Dodgers win over Atlanta in Game 1 of the NLDS, the L.A. writer posted this Tweet (tongue planted, evidently, firmly in cheek):
“Biggest postseason RBI of David Freese’s career? Has to be up there. 6-0, Dodgers.”
If anyone needs reminding, seven years ago Freese hit a game-tying, two-out, two-strike, two-run triple in the ninth inning of what many consider the greatest World Series game ever played, only to hit a home run in the 11th to cap the come-from-behind win. It led to the Cardinals’ 11th World Series title the next night.
Since then, Freese has bounced from the Cardinals to the Los Angeles Angels to the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Dodgers. He is 0-for-5 and been hit by a pitch so far in the NLCS.
Other bygone Birds on the Bat? One of Freese’s teammates in St. Louis, Lance Lynn, posted an 11.57 ERA in 2 1/3 innings of the New York Yankees’ ALDS loss to Boston, allowing three earned runs on three hits and two walks in two games.
Lynn, who looks oddly clean shaven in Yankees pinstripes (the Evil Empire has a no-facial-hair rule), was making his first playoff appearance since pitching for the Cardinals in every postseason from 2011-2015. (Think of that: The Cardinals in the playoffs five years in a row, and 12 times since 2000. Ancient history, I suppose.)
The Yanks-Red Sox series also marked the first postseason play for ex-Cardinal Luke Voit, dispatched by the Birds to the Yankees for pitchers Chasen Shreve and Giovanny Gallegos on July 29.
Voit fared a little better than Lynn this postseason, driving in two runs for the Yankees in their wild card win over Oakland, and another two runs in their division series loss to the Red Sox.
And former Cardinals pitcher Joe Kelly, a teammate of Freese and Lynn in 2012-13, has made four appearances this postseason for Boston. He is 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA in three innings spanning three relief appearances in the ALCS between the Red Sox and Houston, and was 0-0 without allowing a run in 2 1/3 innings in one game of the Sox’ division series with the Yankees.
Cards are Kershaw’s Kryptonite
Watching the Brewers chase Los Angeles left-hander Clayton Kershaw in Game 1 of their NLCS got me to thinking about his failures in the playoffs – against the Cardinals in particular.
There’s no team that’s been tougher on Kershaw in the postseason than St. Louis. He is 0-4 with a 7.14 ERA in four starts against the Cardinals in playoff series in 2013 and 2014.
Against 10 other teams in the playoffs, he is 9-4.
A win for the little guy
This month’s first postseason game – a 4-hour, 55-minute white-knuckle wild card game pitting the Colorado Rockies and Chicago Cubs, the longest lose-and-go-home game in baseball history – ended with a 2-1, 13-inning win for the Rockies two weeks ago
It marked a dramatic start to baseball’s 2018 postseason, and signaled a frustrating end for the Cubs season.
Colorado, playing its third game in three cities in three days (Denver, then Los Angeles, then Chicago), got the game-winning hit from their third-string catcher, Tony Wolters. He was the 42nd player used in the game.
The beauty of baseball is this: Anybody can be the hero on any day, in this case the Rockies’ backup backup catcher wondering if he’d even have a chance to play in the game.
“In basketball,” ESPN analyst Tim Kurkjian likes to say, “LeBron James always takes the last shot. Michael (Jordan) always took the last shot.”
Not so in baseball, where by rule a player takes his turn at bat, no matter his place in the club’s hierarchy.
David Eckstein was nowhere near the best player on the 2006 Cardinals. But he was their World Series MVP. David Freese has had a nice career, but never again close to that magical night in Game 6 of the 2011 Series.
The other side of that coin? Some of baseball’s greats have been October busts.
Boston’s Ted Williams hit .200 in his only World Series, a loss to the Cardinals in 1946. Willie Mays hit .247 with one home run in 25 playoff games for the Giants (New York, San Francisco) and the New York Mets. Greg Maddux was 11-14 with a 3.27 ERA in an astonishing 35 postseason appearances (30 of them starts) for the Cubs, Atlanta Braves and Dodgers.
Mad at Maddon?
After three consecutive NLCS appearances ended in the wild-card for the Cubs, the next day there were pundits who wondered if Joe Maddon’s job was safe.
(Go ahead, Theo, fire him. It will make the Cards’ job easier for years to come. I hear that Matheny fellow is looking for work, if you want to take a look.)
All too abruptly – for Cubs fans suddenly spoiled by a handful of winning seasons – the year was over for the team with the best record all year in the National League.
Not unlike a meeting of strong ballclubs in the American League wild card game, which saw the 100-win New York Yankees eliminate the 97-win Oakland Athletics.
Such are the vagaries of October: The lowest-payroll-in-baseball A’s spent six months building that win total – third best in baseball – only to see it end in a 3-hour, 25-minute, 7-2 loss.
And as the A’s headed home, they got to ponder this fact: At that point earlier this October, still playing were the 91-win Cleveland Indians, the 90-win Atlanta Braves, and the 91-win Rockies.
And imagine how the 95-win Cubs felt, leading the National League in wins for most of the season, only to become the first NL playoff entrant to be eliminated.
Find a seat on the couch, baseball fans. And watch that Cheetos dust, will you?