St. Louis Cardinals

‘Different stage, same game’: Cards, Cubs set for historic meeting

Adam Wainwright on facing Cubs

St. Louis pitcher Adam Wainwright talks about NLDS matchup with longtime Redbirds rivals
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St. Louis pitcher Adam Wainwright talks about NLDS matchup with longtime Redbirds rivals

The industrial power washers were out in force Thursday afternoon, scrubbing the walkways of Busch Stadium on the eve of yet another postseason.

Do they really need a brighter shine on this series?

Not really, not when it matches the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs, rivals going back more than a century, two teams that have faced each other 2,363 times in the regular season. (A shocker for Cards fans: The Cubs lead the head-to-head meetings 1,197-1,147, with 19 games that weren’t played to conclusion.)

Come 5:45 p.m. Friday, all that history culminates in the teams’ first postseason meeting. Ever.

“Different stage, same game, and it's a team that we've seen recently, a team we've seen all year,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said after his club’s final tuneup for the playoffs. “We’ve seen (them) go through a lot of change – just a very good club, just like the team they beat last night.

The Cardinals and Cubs have faced each other 2,363 times in the regular season. Their first playoff meeting comes at 5:45 p.m. Friday.

“So (we’re) not surprised that they're here, and now, you know, (after) all the anticipation we finally get to go out and play, and I know that will probably look a lot like what it looked all season long. It was a tough fight every time we got a chance to play.”

Makes you wonder how (or if) they can really decide this thing in only five games, after a century-long rivalry comes down to a week’s worth of competition. St. Louis won 11 of 19 meetings between the two teams this year, and obviously have the grander postseason pedigree: 12 trips to the postseason in the last 16 years, two World Series titles since 2006 and 11 overall, five straight trips to the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the Cubs haven’t been to the playoffs since 2008, and their wild card win over Pittsburgh Wednesday was their first playoff victory of any kind since 2003. Nobody needs to be told what 1908 means for Cubs fans, do they?

Mismatch? Nobody sees it that way, in either dugout.

“I didn’t even realize this was the first time we’ve met in the postseason,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I thought that was kind of interesting, but then again it’s believable if you look at how this thing plays out.

“Of course, we’re ready for some kind of a changing of the guard. But I don’t expect the Cardinals to go away.”

Sometime next week, one of these teams will be bitterly disappointed, 100 wins or 97 wins squandered in a season that all at once lasted too long and ended too soon. One thing we know: One fan base will be overjoyed, the other brokenhearted.

It was too early on Thursday to think that far ahead, at least for the athletes involved.

“It’s a good feeling to be back in the playoffs. It always is,” said Cardinals pitcher and team leader Adam Wainwright, officially named to the playoff roster after a five-month battle to make his way back from a torn left Achilles tendon. “You just never know when your last time to pitch in the playoffs is going to be. Playing against the Cubs is going to be a wild, wild ride. These fans are going to be ready for some good games, on both sides, and I think they’re going to get them.”

I've done the Yankees-Red Sox thing. I've done the Dodgers-Angels thing out there. I've seen a couple of pretty big ones. So I think I'll be OK.

Cardinals pitcher John Lackey

The key? For fans and players alike? Don’t get too overwrought — for good or bad, happy or sad.

“I read an article about the Alabama Crimson Tide last week, and Nick Saban is great at this,” Wainwright said. “He just told his guys, don’t get caught up — he was playing my Georgia Bulldogs, so it pains me to say this, but they whupped us. He said guys just need to focus on their roles, focus on their jobs and go out there and don’t get caught up in all the excitement and the hoopla that comes with these kinds of big rivalries.

“That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to go out there and focus on our jobs, we’re going to focus on the task at hand: What can we do individuals to help this team win? That’s what we’re going to do, that’s what we’re going to worry about.”

Cardinals Game 1 starter John Lackey, a veteran of 21 playoff appearances, was typically phlegmatic as he talked about his assignment against longtime friend Jon Lester of the Cubs.

Playing against the Cubs is going to be a wild, wild ride. These fans are going to be ready for some good games, on both sides, and I think they’re going to get them.

Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright

“It's obviously special,” Lackey said the Cardinals-Cubs rivalry. “You can definitely tell, you know, the importance of it and the way people feel about it throughout the Midwest, for sure. I've done the Yankees-Red Sox thing. I've done the Dodgers-Angels thing out there. I've seen a couple of pretty big ones. So I think I'll be OK.”

His start Friday with be his 19th in the postseason, in eight years with three different clubs — the California and then Anaheim Angels, the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis.

He downplayed the honor of the Game 1 start.

“Man, I think I’ve done (Games) 1 through 7, probably,” he said. “I mean, it’s not a deciding game ... one way or the other, you get a Game 2. But it’s definitely nice to be the guy to kind of start things off and hopefully get things rolling in the right direction.

“And, you know, hopefully build some momentum for the team to carry it through the series.”

Joe Ostermeier: 618-239-2512, @JoeOstermeier

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