Saturday, October 28, 2006

which is Algonquin for "the good land"

The Saint Louis Cardinals have won the NL Central AND the NLDS (Cardinals 3, Padres 1) AND the NLCS (Cardinals 4, Mets 3) AND the World Series (Cards 4, Tigers 1).

Tonight has been a LONG time coming! In fact, I've been waiting for this night since 1985!

The Cardinals have a rich history with some great players, but it's been a while since a World Series victory ... 24 years, in fact.

In 1982 the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Milwaukee (that's Alquin for "the good land") Brewers. The Cardinals' closer Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter ended it with two perfect innings of relief in the 7th game.

In 1985 the Cardinals' Willie McGee was the NL MVP and the Cardinals looked like a sure thing up 3 games to 1 over the Royals. But the Cardinals were robbed by umpire Don Denkinger in Game Six and the heartbroken Redbirds lost the series 4-3.

Still stinging from that larceny, 1987 was promising, but the home team won each game in the World Series and Frank Viola and the Twins kept us disappointed as we lost 4-3.

In 1996 I was skipping my evening seminary classes to watch the NLCS against the Braves. Up 3 games to 1, things were looking up in Ozzie Smith's last season until they squandered another 3-1 series lead to lose in 7 games. This was Tony LaRussa's first season with the club and hopes were high to get back to the World Series.

1998 gave the Cardinals fans some excitement as McGwire battled Sosa for the home run record and McGwire got 70 homers, but it was Sosa who got to go to the playoffs.

But in 2000 the Cardinals lost the NLCS to Mets, getting close to the World Series, but no cigar.

In 2001 they actually took a step back, losing to the eventual World Series Champion Diamondbacks in the division series. They could beat Randy Johnson, but Shilling was just too much to overcome.

We were feeling good in 2002, but again lost NLCS, this time to the Giants, who lost to David Eckstein's Anaheim Angels. I was hoping to win it on the 20th anniversary of the previous win ... but not so much.

2004 looked to be the year, with 105 wins under their belt the Cardinals were favorites in the playoffs even though many picked them to finish third in their division before the season began. They won a spectacular series against the disAstros in 7 games (I still have Game 7 on my TiVo) and it seemed to be their year. But they ran into a red hot Red Sox team who were flying high after defeating the hated Yankees in the ALCS and Chris Carpenter was out with injury. Talk about disappointment ... they were swept in their first trip back to the World Series since 1987.

In 2005 they again won over 100 games and were favored by many to win it all. But they lost a disappointing NLCS to the disAstros, once again taking a step back.

In 2006 it looked as though the team was taking one more step back, maybe two. It was questionable whether they would even make the playoffs.

It was a season of ups and downs, including a plethora of injuries to key players (Mulder, Eckstein, Rolen, Edmonds, Molina, Pujols, Isringhausen) and 2 eight-game losing streaks and one seven-game losing streak.

The Cardinals had a a 7-game lead with 12 games to go, but they almost squandered that lead to the disAstros, who trimmed the lead to 0.5 games. If not for the Braves beating the disAstros on the last day of the season, the Cardinals would have had to play a make-up game against the Giants. Losing that would have necessitated a one game playoff ... in Houston against the red-hot disAstros.

On September 28 I would have been content with winning the NL Central Division, which looked doubtful, but what a difference a month makes. They did win the division (6th time in 7 years) and then they beat the heavily favored Padres (3-1).

The Cardinals went on to beat the Mets, getting revenge for 2000 (4-3). They won Game Seven in New York, much to the dismay of the baseball watching world. Having the worst record of the 8 playoff teams, few expected them to beat the team that been the National League's best all season.

Entering the World Series with only one day off, compared to a week off for the Tigers, I could find only one sports "expert" commentator on the national level who picked the Cardinals to win. Some predicted being swept by the Tigers, in fact. The Tigers had lost the first game in the ALDS to the Yankees, but then won three in a row and then swept the red hot Athletics in four games.

But a Cardinals rookie pitcher shocked their team by picthing 8 great innings in Detroit as the Carinals took Game One. Game Two was "dirt gate" where Kenny Rogers was observed with a "questionable" substance on his pitching hand that many thought looked like pine tar. Regardless, he made the Cardinals hitters look silly. They actually loaded the bases in the top of the 9th down 3-1, but couldn't pull it out. Close, but they'd have three at home to try again. They won all three games at home, thanks to great pitching (including the bull pen which had been their biggest weakness in the season), good defense, and doing "just enough" at the plate (4.4 runs per game for the Cardinals and 2.2 runs per game for the Tigers). Adding it up meant they beat the team (prematurely) labeled the Team of Destiny.
"We beat the team with the best pitching (San Diego). We beat the team with the best hitting (New York). And we beat the team with the best story (Detroit)," said reliever Randy Flores.
Before tonight's game they were up 3 games to 1, but I was still pretty nervous, since they had squandered such leads in the '85 World Series and also in '68 ... to the Tigers, but tonight would be different.

The Cardinals were called tonight the "losingest team to ever win a World Series", having only won 83 games during the regular season (.516 winning percentage). However, it wasn't until the playoffs that LaRussa finally got all of his regulars on the field, in varying degrees of health (except pitchers Mulder and Izzy, both out for the season).
The St. Louis Cardinals entered the playoffs as the coldest team, but finished as the hottest. Despite winning just 83 games during the regular season, they won the 11 games needed to become champions.
A most unlikely hero on the mound for Game Seven was Jeff Weaver, picked up by the Cardinals in July. He was cut by the Angels (who did not make the playoffs) to make room on the roster for his younger brother. He pitched 8 strong innings, giving up just one earned run.

With Albert Pujols only batting .200 in the World Series, the MVP was perhaps unlikely and certainly the shortest MVP in World Series history, David Eckstein at five-feet seven inches. He got timely hitting and his hustle on the field sparked the team many times.

Just like Sutter 24 years before, rookie closer Adam Wainwright got a strike out to end the game in St. Louis. However, Wainwright got to do it at the new Busch Stadium in its first season, giving the Cardinals the second most World Series championships in all of baseball with 10.

Saint Louis is often referred to as the greatest baseball city, for the Cardinal Nation with its red-clad fans make life great for the home team.

It was HARD to say goodbye to the old Busch Stadium, which brought great sorrow. The New Busch Stadium in its inaugural season was a place of joy as the Cardinals won the 2006 World Series at home, making St. Louis "the Good Land" where baseball is concerned.

P.S. I took my boy on a road trip to Tulsa (1/23/2007) as the World Series Championship trophy was on tour.

Hopefully, this will not be a "once in a lifetime" photo opportunity.

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At 30 October, 2006 07:56, Blogger Rev. said...

Party on, Gunny!

At 31 October, 2006 10:26, Blogger GUNNY said...

Oh ... I will ... like it's 1999!

At 01 November, 2006 01:13, Blogger GUNNY said...

Hey, Rev, check out these happy Cardinals fans right after a World Series victory!

Not only happy, but pretty good looking, I might add.

At 01 November, 2006 13:11, Anonymous Rick said...


Just a note: The Cards did win game 7 in '82 at home. I was not at the game, but made my way downtown soon thereafter for quite a celebration.

Great post!

At 01 November, 2006 14:44, Blogger GUNNY said...

I did some research and you're right!

I'll make the change in the post. Thanks so much for the gentle kick in the teeth.

I'd always assumed all these years they were on the road because of the video shots of Sutter wearing their road blue jerseys when he recorded the last out of the series.

Any idea why they were wearing those uniforms?

At 04 January, 2007 10:55, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the walk down memory lane! '85, '87, and '04 were heartbreakers.

My big beef with the media coverage this year was their trashing of this team as they came into the Series, saying that they didn't belong there and that they were the worst team to ever make it to the WS. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that this team was basically the same team that won 205 regular season games in '04 and '05 (more than any other team in baseball) AND had won 307 games since Opening Day of 2004 (going into the '06 WS). Again, more than any team in baseball. If the Cards were based in NY or LA, we would have heard more respect.

BTW, we have a lot in common: lifelong Cards fan, Reformed Southern Baptist, expository preacher, father of 4, pastor of new church plant......alas, I'm not an Aggie, but I almost was. Good to make your acquaintance!

At 04 January, 2007 13:35, Blogger GUNNY said...

Yeah, the media really beat me down.

Hey, don't forget about '96. Up three games to one on the Braves in Ozzie's last season. That hurt ... bad.

I'd be curious as to your vote on the greatest Cardinal.

Great to meet your acquaintance as well!

I'll give you a Gig 'em just the same.


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