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2011: Who woulda thunk it would turn out so well?

If you would have asked me at any time before the last two weeks of the season, I would have said that I thought the year that was 2011 was a complete bust.

It started with the broken down Albert Pujols negotiations and then morphed into five months of disappointments as the Birds -- although they received pleasant surprises from Lance Berkman and Kyle Loshe amongst others -- couldn't put things together as a team. They shrank at challenges from the Reds in the first half of the year, the Brewers in the second half -- and they couldn't even pull away from the Pirates.

It's one thing when a team as sorry as the Rams loses. You're mentally prepared when your expectations are low. But we all knew the 2011 year could be the last hurrah with Albert. It seemed that the Birds were loaded for bear. They just couldn't consistently play well long enough to put together a streak.

But what happened in September is so incredible that I don't think we yet have the perspective to appreciate how wonderful it was. Simply put, the Cardinals faced elimination from playoff contention at every turn following the end of August. And they always found a way to get it done. You just don't see that in baseball where the season is so long. After you get so far behind, the math says pretty clearly that the odds are insurmountable and it's time to think about next season.

I don't think it's a coincidence that the Redbirds' run started after the black hole of hustle Colby Rasmus was shipped away. Of course, adding pitching help both in the rotation and in the bullpen helped. But the amount of life that was injected into the Cardinals when Rasmus was subtracted in favor of spark plug outfielder Jon Jay was undeniable.

Anyway... I asked late in the season if the Cardinals were able to complete the comback from 10 1/2 games out to make the playoffs and win the World Series if it would rank up there with the legendary 1964 Redbirds and most didn't seem to think so. But that was before the Cardinals won a five-game tilt with the Phillies with an incredible complete game shutout from Chris Carpenter. It was before the Birds slayed their foe Milwaukee and before they came back from two strikes and two outs while down by two in the bottom of the ninth in game six -- and again in the bottom of the 10th to win on a walkoff home in the 11th.

I don't think anyone could imagine how great the Cardinals' 2011 comeback would be. And, even with the eventual loss of Pujols, I don't think any of us could image how great a year 2011 would be for Cardinals fans.

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