3 Down. 8 To Go.
Oct 2013 10

That curveball. I’ve seen it somewhere before.

Oh yeah.

Oh yeah.

Watching Wainwright face down Alvarez in the ninth, once he got him 0-2, everyone knew, just knew, that filthy curveball was coming.

I bet you even Alvarez knew Uncle Charlie was coming to pay him a visit. And even so, he whiffed worse than I do when I ask for a girl’s number at the bar.

It’s interesting for the Cardinals to be the bad guy. The last two decades, the most hated team in baseball has been the New York Yankees thanks to their exorbitant payroll and their ability to win at all costs.

It’s been different the last few seasons, though. I guess success breeds envy. Envy breeds hatred. And so it seems everyone outside of St. Louis (not including those Cardinals fans who’ve migrated) has been hoping praying for the Cardinals to stumble. Someone even set up a Twitter account to poke fun at the Best Fans In Baseball title.

Ok, granted, some of the people whose posts are on that Twitter probably aren’t the most intelligent examples of fans.

But that’s ok. Every team has that fan.

This team doesn’t have the nation’s support like the Pirates did? Fine.

What do they have?

All they have is Matt Adams, filling in for injured All-Star first baseman Allen Craig, hitting .316 in the series and slugging .526. His ohmygodhowfaristhatonegoing shot in Game 5 gave the Cardinals some much-needed breathing room.

All they have is David Freese, who’s gone from hometown hero to afterthought a season after he hit 20 home runs. All he did was hit the game-winning home run against Gerrit Cole, the NL’s Rookie of the Month in September.

All they have is Carlos Beltran, who very nearly won Game 3 on his own. 2 HR and 6 RBI in five games? I’ll take it.

All they have is Pete Kozma, the hero from last year’s NLDS who was much-maligned this year for his dearth of offensive production. All he did was hit .400 in the series and lay out for a Web Gem-esque catch.

All they have is Michael Wacha, who’s flirted with two no-hitters his last two games.

His line from his last two starts?

16 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 4 BB, 18 K

Not too shabby.

Oh, they also have Adam Wainwright. All he did was pitch 16 innings and surrender two earned runs, including (to date) the game of his life tonight. Exorcising his demons from last year’s NLDS Game 5 with nine innings of superlative pitching. No big deal.

[Sidenote, I do want to say congratulations to the Pittsburgh Pirates and their fans on a terrific season. Considering how miserable the last two decades have been for a once-proud franchise, as a baseball fan, it was exhilarating to see them have a little bit of success. Don’t overlook the Pirates next year. They’ll still have one of the best outfielders in the game (Andrew McCutchen), one of the top young arms (Gerrit Cole), and a third baseman who can drop some bombs (Alvarez). I salute you, Pirates, and say congrats for making it this far.]

It’s funny how expectations can change from year to year. In 2011, 90 wins in the regular season was just enough to get into the post-season. As a result, 101 wins earned that team a World Series title. Now, in 2011, the Cardinals have won 100 games so far this year, and it’s just the beginning. This team’s built for long-term success. It’s scary to think that next year’s team could be even better, with a full season of Wacha in the rotation, a more developed Shelby Miller, and the prospect of having Oscar Taveras making his way to the majors. But that’s a topic for a later time.

There’s a reason other teams have publicly stated how the Cardinals are a model franchise and are building themselves around the Cardinals’ success. The Mariners, the Pirates, even the Cubs. Hell, half the Astros’ staff and front office used to work for the Cardinals. Just look at how Adams stepped in when Craig went down. Or how nicely Wacha and Kelly have filled the rotation in when Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook got hurt. This team takes the concept of “the next man up” to a whole new level.

And so now we go on our third consecutive NLCS to face the Dodgers, who ran through the Braves in four games. Sure, they may have the best pitcher on the planet right now, Clayton Kershaw. They may have a number two in their rotation that would easily be a number one on half of the other pitching staffs in the majors. They may have the most polemical, most exciting player in the game right now, Yasiel Puig. They may have the hottest hitting shortstop in the game, Hanley Ramirez.

But they don’t have home field advantage. They don’t have the best catcher in the game calling the shots. They don’t have Kevin Siegrist coming out of the bullpen, who had the lowest-recorded ERA among relievers who appeared in at least 40 games in history. They don’t have Matt Carpenter, who I fully expect to emerge from his slump and hit .300 the rest of the way.

Our team may have few peers. We may not have other fans cheering for us.

Enough of that for now, though. Let’s enjoy it.

Unlike 25 other teams right now, we have a tomorrow in our season. And for now, I think that’s enough.

3 down.

8 to go.


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