Champions Photo By Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
“I think that in a 7 game series that Tony LaRussa will do just enough to beat the Rangers…The Rangers are an amazing team and I do think that they are the better team and really want to win this, but there is something about this 2011 Cardinals team. Since the end of August they have played every day with their season on the line and risen to the occasion. Besides they have the Rally Squirrel…. How can they lose?” Padre Steve on October 19th (Cardinals in Seven: Padre Steve’s World Series Pick)
I hate to say I told you so, no wait that’s a lie; I love to be right and hate to be wrong. For the third strait year since starting to do so I picked the World Series winner. Last year I had a dog in the fight, my San Francisco Giants, this year I didn’t and I enjoyed the playoffs and World Series immensely. That being said this is about the incredible, improbable, amazing and unbelievable epic regular season comeback and playoff run of the St Louis Cardinals. In order to keep this from being the mother of all posts I have included links to the articles that I wrote about their accomplishment as September came to an end and as the 2011 Cardinals became part of baseball history and immortality.
Incredible: The Road to the World Series
Back in August I remember talking with a friend about the pennant race. At the time the Cardinals were 10.5 games behind the Braves in the NL Wild Card Race. They had endured major adversity, their closer Ryan Franklin was released, Albert Pujols had rebuffed a contract offer and refused to negotiate during the season and to make matters worse he had broken a bone in his wrist and was expected to be out at least 4 weeks. Expected lead starting pitcher Adam Wainwright went on the disabled list on March 25th and never pitched a game in the season. The Cardinals suffered injuries and adversity throughout the season and by all calculations it looked like they were done.
On the morning of August 25th Tony LaRussa and the Cardinals woke up having been swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers at home in a series where the Dodgers outscored the Cardinals 24-7. They were so far out of the Wild Card that all the talk was not about the playoffs but finishing well.
Then something changed though it as imperceptible at first. They took 3 of 4 from the Pirates and traveled to Milwaukee and swept three from the division leading Brewers and were now 8.5 games behind the Braves for the Wild Card. But then the Cincinnati Reds took 2 of 3 and it looked like the Cardinals might fade. They got their groove back and took 2 of 3 from the Brewers at home and swept three from the Braves. On September 11th the Cardinals were 4.5 out of the Wild Card. The Giants had fallen back to 7.5 out and like others I started to notice the Cardinals.
The Cardinals then made a road trip throughPennsylvaniaand took 2 of 3 from the Pirates and 3 of 4 from the Phillies before coming home to face the Mets. With just 9 games left the Cardinals were 2.5 games behind the faltering Braves with the Giants clawing at their heels just 4.5 games behind the Braves.
The Cards took two from the Mets on the 20th and 21st but then dropped a game to the Mets and lost 5-1 in Chicago. On the 24th they were 2 behind the Braves with 5 games left. They then won two one run games against the Cubs, 2-1 on the 24th and 3-2 on the 25th. The morning of the 26th of September they were down by 1 game. The Cardinals had to face the lowly Houston Astros in Houston while the Braves had to face the Phillies. Unbelievably the Cardinals lost to the Astros on the 26th but the Braves also lost so the lead was still one game, had the Braves won the best that the Cardinals could hope for was a one game playoff with the Braves. On the 27th they defeated the Astros 13-6 while the Braves lost yet again and with one game left the Cardinals had caught the Braves.
Down to the Wire: MLB’s Epic Wild Card September Continues to Amaze
September 28th dawned with two epic comebacks and two epic collapses in the making. In the American League the Boston Red Sox had lost a 9 game Wild Card lead and were tied with the Tampa Bay Rays in large part due to the lowly Baltimore Orioles who had taken 4 of 6 games from the Red Sox in the previous 9 days asTampa could not seem to lose. While many experts thought a comeback by the Rays was possible none had thought that the Cardinals would be tied with the Braves on the final day of the regular season.
Two Tied Wild Card Races: Who would have Thunk It?
On the 28th Chris Carpenter took the hill for the Cardinals and pitched a 2 hit shutout as the Cardinals pounded the Astros 8-0 with the Braves still playing the Phillies. As the Cardinals waited in the visiting clubhouse at Minute Maid Park the Braves had a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the 6th against the Phillies. The Phillies scored 1 in the top of the 7th and with two outs in the bottom of the 9th tied the game. They would go on to win in 13 as the Braves lost 18 of their last 27 games including the last 5 games of the season. The Cardinals won 23 of 31 games after August 24th. It was incredible somehow the Cardinals had reached the playoffs.
UNBELIEVABLE! Braves and Red Sox Collapse Complete! Rays and Cardinals win Wild Cards, Orioles sink Red Sox with 2 Outs in Bottom of the 9th as Longoria hits walk off against Yankees
Improbable: Cardinals defeat Phillies in NLDS
An Icon is born…the Rally Squirrel
The Cardinals went into the NLDS as decided underdogs but despite that I had a strange feeling about this series. Philadelphia Phillies owned the best record in the regular season but were just 4-12 from September 11th to the 24th. The Cardinals had taken 3 of 4 from the Phillies during that period and the Phillies hitters were struggling.
However in game one the Phillies seemed to be everything that they were advertised. The slammed Kyle Lohse and the Cardinals 13-6 but in game two the Cardinals defeated Cliff Lee 5-4 to tie the series. That game was significant because Tony LaRussa stunned the experts by removing Chris Carpenter who had given up 4 runs from the game after 3 innings. He then used 6 relievers who shut out the Phillies as the Cardinals hitters plated 5 runs.
The series returned to St Louis and the Phillies took a 2 game to 1 lead in the series by defeating the Cardinals 3-2. The Cardinals who had been living on the edge since August appeared to be looking at an early exit from the playoffs. But the Cardinals were not dead, they won game four 5-3 powered by the hitting of Lance Berkman and David Freese. Freese drove in 4 runs hammering a two run double and to run home run off of Roy Oswalt.
This sent the teams back to Philadelphia for the decisive game five. This was a battle of the best Roy Halliday on the hill for the Phillies and Chris Carpenter for the Cardinals. The Cardinals struck first for the only run of the game when Rafael Furcal tripled to lead off the first and scored when Skip Schumaker doubled. Halliday then shut down the Cardinals for 8 innings. But Carpenter who had been battered by the Phillies in game two pitched a 3 hit shutout to win the game. The Cardinals had done the improbable, they beat Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt and they had beaten the best regular season team in baseball, a team built to avenge their 2010 NLCS loss to the Giants and win the World Series.
Amazing: Cardinals defeat the Brewers
The Cardinals had taken out the Phillies but had to face the big bats of their division rival the Milwaukee Brewers to get to the World Series. Most experts picked the Brewers to win because they had the home field advantage and were billed as the better team. They had Cecil Fielder and led the NL in home runs and slugging percentage and they had home field advantage. Playing at home this was huge for the Brewers in 2011 they were 57-24 at home win percentage of .703 and their team batting average was 31 points higher at home than on the road. The Brewers and Cardinals split their 18 regular season games evenly but Milwaukee was 5-4 at home against the Redbirds and had outscored them 48-39 at home. Despite this the Cardinals had a better team batting average and led the NL and Brewers in every major offensive category except home runs and the teams had an identical slugging percentage of .425 while the Brewers pitching was somewhat better than the Cardinals.
Game one went as many expected. Milwaukee won the game 9-6 and took a 1-0 lead in the series. However the Cardinals turned the tables in a big way in game two shelling the Brew Crew 12-3 as Albert Pujols went 4-5 with a Home Run, three Doubles and 5 RBI while David Freese hit his second home run and 5th RBI of the series. It was a stunning loss for the Brewers and the series moved back to St Louis tied.
The Cardinals took game 3 by a score of 4-3 as they scored 4 times in the top of the first inning and their LaRussa used Carpenter for 5 innings and then relied on his bullpen to shut the Brewers down and they did allowing no runs and no hits the remainder of the game. Pujols and Freese each doubled and brought their RBI total to 6 each. However the Brewers tied the series in game four winning the game behind the pitching of Randy Wolf. In game five the Brewers defense imploded giving up 4 errors. Matt Holiday went 3 for 5 with 2 RBI and the Cardinals beat Zach Greinke and the Brewers 7-1 taking a 3-2 lead but heading back to Milwaukee where the Brewers were expected to make a strong showing.
In game six it was the Cardinals that turned on the offense and not the Brewers. The Cardinals scored 12 runs nine of which were earned. They scored 4 runs in the top of the 1st inning and drove Brewers starter Shaun Marcum from the game, David Freese hit his third home run of the series. The Brewers brought Chris Narveson into the game in the top of the 2nd inning hoping to stop the Cardinals onslaught. Narveson faired worse than Marcum giving up 5 earned runs in 1.2 innings work and gave up home runs to Rafael Furcal and Pujols. The Brewers managed a respectable 6 runs four of which came off Cardinals starter Edwin Jackson who pitched just 2 innings. The Cardinals bullpen rose to the occasion, in 7 innings 5 relievers gave up just 2 runs on 3 hits.
Unbelievable: Cardinals defeat Rangers in 7 games to win the World Series
The expectation before the World Series began was the Cardinals and the Rangers would turn this series into an all out slugging affair. The expectation was partially met but games one and two were low scoring affairs that featured plenty of great defense and pitching. In game one it was solid defense and pitching which gave the Cardinals a 3-2 win over the Rangers. Rangers catcher Mike Napoli hit a 5th inning home run and drove in the only Texas runs of the game and David Freese drove in the winning run with a 6th inning double off of C J Wilson.
Cardinals take Game One 3-2: Defense and Pitching Key to Win
Game two was a pitching duel that it looked like the Cardinals would win. Starting pitchers Colby Lewis of Texas and Jaime Garcia pitched extremely well. The Cardinals scored a run when Allen Craig singed off of Alexi Ogando who had come in to relieve Lewis with 2 outs in the 7th. Craig’s single scored David Freese and gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead. But the Rangers managed a comeback win in the top of the 9th inning.
Comeback: Rangers Win Battle of the Bullpens
The series went to Texas tied and it was expected that scoring would go up but no one expected the carnage that the Cardinals would inflict on the Rangers in game three. Albert Pujols tied the World Series single game home run record held by Reggie Jackson and Babe Ruth with 3 and the most RBI in a World Series game with six. The Cardinals defeated the Rangers 16-7 and took a 2-1 lead in the series.
Beat Down in Texas: Pujols Sets Record as Cardinals down Rangers 16-7
The Rangers may have been down but they were not out and instead of another slugfest game four as Derek Holland shut out the Cardinals allowing just 2 hits. Mike Napoli hit a 3 run home run off of Cardinals reliever Mitchell Boggs to ensure the win in the bottom of the 6th inning.
Shutdown! Derek Holland Silences Cardinals Rangers tie Series
Game five would be memorable for one inning, the eighth when it appeared that Tony LaRussa lost his managerial mojo and the Rangers scored a comeback win despite a strong performance by Chris Carpenter. This time the St Louisbullpen imploded aided by on field miscues and errors, malfunctioning bullpen phones and perplexing managerial decisions by LaRussa. The Rangers won the game 4-2 to take a 3-2 series lead into St Louis.
Where has the Managerial Mojo Gone? LaRussa Manages the Worst Inning of his Career as Rangers go up 3 games to 2
It was the most amazing World Series game ever played but the first few innings would not have indicated this. They were marked a combined 5 errors and poor pitching and it looked like the Rangers were on their way to winning an unremarkable game six on their way to their first World Series championship. The Rangers led 7-4 with back to back solo home runs by Adriane Beltre and Nelson Cruz in the 7th inning and the Cardinals were down to their last six outs. But that changed in what became the greatest game in World Series history. The Cardinals came back 5 times in the game, a World Series Record. They were down to their last strike down by two runs twice and they won on a walk off home run in the bottom of the 11th. They used two pitchers as pinch hitters and somehow they still won 10-9 to set up the deciding game seven.
Padre Steve’s live Game Six commentary on Facebook
8:31 PM World Series Game 6 after an inning Cardinals 2 Rangers 1… 9:46 PM It’s a comedy of errors as Texas leads 4-3 in the top of the 5th inning…10:38 PM 4-4 bases loaded for the Cardinals, can’t believe 5 total errors in the game so far…10:36 PM Ogando is now O gone do another walk bases loaded again, Napoli saved the run by picking off Holliday. If the Rangers win the Series I spell MVP “NAPOLI”…10:44 PM The long ball, to solo home runs for Texas, Beltre and Cruz 6-4 Rangers… 10:58 PM 7-4…1100 PM 7-4 and the inning is done….Rangers now 9 outs from winning their first World Series….11:08 PM 2 outs bottom of the 7th…Pujols last stand as a Cardinal?…11:09 PM and he is out 0-4 tonight….unless the Cardinals get some base runners his St Louis career could end not with a bang but a whimper…11:19 PM 7-5 home run Allen Craig off Derek Holland…not done yet…11:27 PM 2 on 2 out are the Cardinals coming back?…11:28 PM bases loaded top of the order….Jon Jay gets his first hit since game 6 of the NLCS…11:29 PM Furcal bounces out…7-5 going to the 9th Pujols will bat again….11:43 PM Top of the 9th Neftali Feliz on the hill and top of the order up…11:43 PM 1 out…11:44 PM Pujols steps up and has a stand up double, tying run at the plate…11:46 PM four pitch walk 2 on 1 out winning run at bat…11:50 PM Craig strikes out Rangers one out away from history…11:52 PM one strike away…11:54 PM Freese doubles, tie game, home town boy makes good…11:54 PM make it a triple, winning run at 3rd…11:54 PM extra innings….wow…12:01 AM 1 on 1 out and Josh Hamilton has his first HR of the post season Rangers lead 9-7…12:09 AM Down 2 Cardinals are again down to their last 3 outs with one aboard…12:11 AM 2 on with none out, and a pitcher pinch hits because the Cardinals have no position players left…12:12 AM tying run in scoring position with 1 out…12:20 AM 9-8 Rangers, runner on 2nd Pujols coming up and an intentional walk Berkman will come to the plate…12:22 AM down to the last strike again…12:24 AM Tie game Berkman singles, Pujols is winning run on third…can you say amazing?…12:25 AM to the 11th we go…12:30 AM Napoli up… one out…base hit…Murphy coming to the plate…12:34 Rangers out in the 11th Cardinals coming to bat…12:40 AM Walk off home run David Freese, game 7 tomorrow! Do you believe in miracles? Cardinals win 10-9 Holy Cow!
Holy Cow! Do You believe in Miracles? Padre Steve Does… Cardinals refuse to Lose
When gave six was over I knew that the Rangers were done. Once again it was a combination of Chris Carpenter and the Cardinals bullpen shutting down the Rangers and the clutch hitting of David Freese and Allen Craig which sealed the Rangers to a second consecutive World Series loss as they went down to a 6-2 defeat at the hands of the Cardinals. They had come so close. They were a great team but lost to a team of destiny. That is little comfort to Rangers players and fans, but some things seem almost destined. The Series MVP was local favorite David Freese who finished the postseason with a record 21 runs batted in and tied the postseason record with 25 hits. Freese is the first position player to be named both League Championship Series MVP and World Series MVP since Darrell Porter did so for the Cardinals in 1982.
The Cardinals lived on the edge for two months a time when every game mattered. Their effort was a true team effort. When starting pitching faltered the bullpen got it done and when needed the starting rotation anchored by Chris Carpenter got the job done. They overcame adversity to accomplish a feat that very few said they could do. They are Major League Baseball’s 2011 World Series Champions. Their feat was epic and will long be written about and spoken of by anyone that loves the game of Baseball.