Two months ago, if you asked me what would happen first — snow in October or a Cardinals World Series title — I would have said snow. No brainer.
Okay, so I was off by one day. Truthfully, the snow falling in New York today is not nearly as shocking as what the Cards pulled off against Texas, even though St. Louis won a Series just five years ago and New York has seen just 18 October snow days in the last 125 years.
Consider this: at the start of September, the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies were the best teams in baseball. The Cards were more than ten games back in the wild card, looking nothing like a contender. Nobody outside of St. Louis could have picked newly-minted heroes David Freese and Allen Craig out of a police lineup (presumably for stealing baseball uniforms and posing as major league ballplayers).
So what happens? The Yankees make a first round exit, a familiar occurence over the past eight years. Roy Halladay somehow gets outpitched by Chris Carpenter, sending the Phillies home early and making me very happy. Sad endings for the Yanks, Phils and Braves this fall. It really wasn’t such a bad year for Mets fans, was it? And the Red Sox completely implode, going from model franchise to the new poster boys for dysfunctionality — supplanting the Mets, at least for the moment. Again, not such a bad year for the Flushing faithful.
And all the Cardinals do is fight and scrap their way to one of the most improbable titles in history. When they lost Adam Wainwright for the season back in spring training, you knew it would be difficult for them to recover. Until September, that’s the way things played out. But some wise albeit modest trades in August and a Braves meltdown that matched the Red Sox for gaggability gave the Cards new life. All it took was one win in game two of the NLDS against Philly to provide Tony La Russa’s squad with the confidence it needed.
I gave La Russa grief earlier this week, along with a few million other armchair managers, but what can you say? I though he did a masterful job in 2006 when the Cards limped into the postseason and then caught fire behind the likes of Jeff Weaver, Jeff Suppan, and David Eckstein. This time around, it was Carpenter, Craig, and the hometown hero, Freese (who will be pinching himself all winter if not the rest of his life) –and of course, one Ruthian-Jacksonian effort by Albert Pujols.
Is there any manager in the game who could keep his team focused and confident, when not once, but twice, they are down to the last strike of their season and the World Series at stake? What happened in game six — the latest in a long line of otherworldly game six’s — was spectacular, as good as World Series theater gets. It wasn’t quite as bizarre and shocking as Buckner-Mookie Wilson. but in some ways, it was more incredible as the comeback unfolded over three innings before its mind-blowing conclusion. The Buckner inning was over and done in a matter of minutes, although Sox fans will tell you it’s still playing out 25 years later. For all his bumbling in this Series, La Russa accomplished what a manager or coach must do to pull off such an unlikely feat: he made his team believe, even under most challenging of circumstances.
I’m a bit envious of Cardinals fans. They’ve enjoyed two unlikely runs to the World Series in the last six seasons –once at the expense of my Mets. But they’re great fans and deserve this moment. Maybe the Cards feed off the positive energy of Redbird Nation. Mets fans are great, but we don’t exactly emit positive energy. Quite the contrary.
As for Texas fans, I feel your pain. You’ve never won a Series and now you came so very close — within one strike in consecutive innings! — only be be denied in such a cruel and agonizing manner. After getting to the Series last year for the first time, this just seemed like your year. It had to be. But then at the last second, someone came in a changed the script. Oh, well. Did you really think the Mavericks and Rangers would win titles in the same year? Not possible. It’ll snow in June before that happens.