Down 1-0 in the series and 4-0 to Cliff Lee and the Phillies in Philadelphia in the NLDS in game 2, the 2011 postseason looked like it was going to be a short one. My thinking at that time was that at least some of the key pieces of the future in David Freese, Allen Craig, Jaime Garcia, Fernando Salas, Jason Motte and others were going to get some postseason experience for the future. Chris Carpenter had just been lit up on his first start on short rest in his career. The Cardinals found a way to climb back in game 2 and tie it 4-4 to start the 7th inning. As we look back on it now, it makes it seem as though the baseball gods jumped on the Cardinals bandwagon from there on out. To start the 7th inning, Craig tripled just off the glove of Shane Victorino. Albert Pujols then came to the plate and would deliver his most important hit of the postseason, a single that drove in Craig for what would be the winning run. Cards win the game 5-4, tie the series 1-1 and put a dent into the old adage that good pitching beats good hitting every time.
It’s great to look back on the little things like that now, and realize how important they were. The Cardinals would go down 2 games to 1 to the Phillies, but Edwin Jackson would win game 4 and Freese would get his first postseason HR. Carpenter would then face off against Roy Halladay and pitch the best game of his career in the most important game of the year. A first inning RBI by Skip Schumaker to score Rafael Furcal would be the only run the Cards needed, as Carpenter pitched a 3-hit complete game shutout, and the Cards beat the unbeatable Phillies 3 games to 2.
At that point, the Cards still had quite an uphill battle. They had to go on the road to play the Milwaukee Brewers, who had the best winning percentage at home in MLB in 2011. Once again the Cardinals would drop game 1 but come back to win the series against the Brewers, taking two games in Milwaukee. I’m not sure about most of you, but I actually think with the way the playoffs are set up for home field advantage it often leads to an advantage for the road team. The 2-3-2 format is only beneficial to the home team if you can get it to a game 7. I feel like the pressure if off the road team, in that they only have to win one of the first two games on the road, and then come home knowing they only have to win 2 of 3. For a true home field advantage, I think something more along the lines of a 3-3-1 would more fair, but I’m definitely not going to complain in 2011.
On to the World Series now, the Cardinals did have home field advantage, but they finally had a team where they wanted them, starring straight down the barrel at Carpenter in game 1. Carpenter did his thing again, and the Cards took the 1-0 series lead. Garcia then pitched the game of his life in game 2, tossing seven shutout innings, and left in line for the win. It wasn’t until the top of the 9th that Ian Kinsler got a lucky hit to fall in to left center. Kinsler would steal second and be safe, and then Elvis Andrus hits a line drive single to CF. Jon Jay then made awful throw and Pujols failed to cut it off, leaving runners at 2nd and 3rd with no outs. Both Kinsler and Andrus would each score of a sacrifice fly, and the Rangers would win 2-1, and tie the series at one game. This was a game that really upset me, but I’m not going to get into that today. This was the first time the Cards would not have a happy flight in 17 attempts. This is also where again, I think the road team has the advantage. Texas knew if they took two of three at home they would be in good shape, or so they thought. I thought the same way.
The Cards went to Texas and stomped them in game 3. Pujols made history by hitting 3 HR’s in one World Series game, tying Reggie Jackson and Babe Ruth as the only ones to do so. Up 2 games to 1, the Cards feel flat in game 4, getting beat by the umpire Ron Kulpa who gave Derek Holland the biggest strike zone in World Series history. Lance Berkman would be the only Cards player to have a hit, and he had both of them. Cards lose 4-0. Like I said before, I don’t like complaining about umpires hardly ever, but I think Kulpa was trying too hard to make up for the blown call on Holliday in game 3. The Cardinals could have adjusted as well, but they didn’t.
On to the pivotal game 5, which at that time I thought the Cardinals had to win. At that point, it would have been Carpenter’s final start of 2011, but a rally squirrel and the baseball gods would change that fact. Once again, Carpenter pitched like a champ, going 7 strong innings and only giving up 2 runs. Carpenter had a chance for another WS win, but Octavio Dotel had one of his few hiccups as a Cardinal, and the Cards lost 4-2. The Cardinals went 1-12 with RISP in game 5, and Texas now had the upper hand, going back to St. Louis up 3 games to 2. Once again, no happy flight because of the Texas Rangers.
Game 6 may go down in the history books as one of the greatest World Series games of all time. It will never reach that status in Boston, but then again, the Cardinals could have come back from 10-0 in game 6 and the east coast would have still said it was no big deal. Speaking of the east coast, how many people in Philly, Boston and New York jumped off a bridge recently? A lot of records were set in game 6, and they all went in the Cards favor. I couldn’t even write after game 6 because my emotions were out of whack, and the anticipation of game 7 made it that much harder. I didn’t have the words, was worried about Carp going on short rest again, etc.
I’m not sure how many of you turned off your TV or went to bed early in the late hours of Game 6, I’m guessing a lot of people did. I didn’t turn the game off, but there were a few times I thought it would take a miracle. How can you really explain what happened 9th, 10th and 11th innings?
In the bottom the 9th, the Rangers closer Neftali Feliz got Ryan Theriot to strikeout to start the inning. Pujols then came to the plate and got his second biggest hit of the postseason, a double to the left center field wall. Berkman came up and did what he does best by working the count and taking a walk. Craig then came to the plate and had a strikeout looking. Then, the legend of David Freese was about to be born. Yes, he won the NLCS MVP, but for him to come up in that situation, on a 1-2 count, and hit a pitch where it’s pitched (like he always does), off the right field wall for a triple, was just unreal. I’m not sure if Freese is going to see many pitches the rest of his career on the outside corner, but that’s ok, because he can hit to all fields. The Rangers were one strike away, and Freese ended their dream at that point. The champagne that was on ice was removed in their locker room.
The 10th inning made my heart sink. Josh Hamilton hit a 2 run HR in the top of the 10th on his aching groin, and the Cardinals were about to come up in the bottom of the 10th, with Daniel Descalso, Jay and the pitchers spot in the bottom of the inning. A pitcher had to hit in that spot because the Cardinals were out of bench players. I turned to my wife and declared the season over during the commercial. No way it’s even possible, right? Not again, no way. The Cardinals had just blown what Freese had done. Once again, the champagne was on ice and the plastic was up in the Rangers locker room.
Well, needless to say, I was never happier to be wrong. Descalso led off the inning with a bullet to right field for a single, and once again, the baseball gods came out and touched Jay’s bat, allowing him to get a hit in no man’s land that fell just out of reach from the 3B, SS, and LF’er. Kyle Lohse was then called upon to deliver the bunt. I was screaming at Tony to pull back Jackson and get Lohse up there, and he did. Great call by Tony to use Lohse in that spot, as he is by far the best bunting pitcher on the team. With Adrian Beltre rushing in to try the wheel play on the bunt, Lohse pushed it over his head and made Andrus field it, which made sure his only play was to throw to first base to get Lohse.
Theriot was up next and hit a groundball to Beltre that scored a run but gave Texas what they wanted, the second out. Next up was Pujols, and I was never happier to see Pujols get walked, and no, not because I think the Cards signing him will be a mistake. I was happy because I would rather have Freese or Berkman up more than anyone at this point. So there’s Berkman up, and once again the Rangers are one strike away from celebrating. So what does the Big Puma do? Berkman delivered the game tying hit to center field doing what he does best as a hitter, hitting the ball where it’s pitched.
At that point, the feeling went from the Cardinals can’t possibly win to one of that they can’t possibly lose. Jake Westbrook finally got to see some World Series action, and aside from the hit by Mike Napoli, pitches a great top of the 11th and keeps the game at 9-9.
The Rangers brought out Mark Lowe to start the bottom of the 11th, and Freese takes him deep on a 3-2 count to center field. Cards win 10-9. Freese does it again, unbelievable. Series tied 3-3.
I told those who would listen that I would rather lose with Carpenter on the mound in Game 7 than take the chance with anyone else. Without the rainout on Wednesday night, it’s not possible, but it did rain, and Carpenter did pitch game 7. I was a little nervous about it because of all the innings he had pitched throughout the year, and all the pitches thrown. At that point, Carpenter had thrown more innings and pitches than anyone in MLB in 2011. I love what Tony LaRussa said about his conversation with Dave Duncan, in that they were going with Carpenter and hung up the phone on him.
So here we all are, and it’s game 7, and Chris Carpenter is on the mound on short rest. Kinsler leads off the game with hard single to LF. Then, something I think is being overlooked, happened. Molina picks off Kinsler, who slipped trying to get back to the bag at 1st. That was important because Carpenter walked Andrus, then Hamilton and Michael Young both doubled. 2 runs score in the inning, as Carpenter strikes out Beltre and Nelson Cruz grounds out to 3rd. That pick off by Molina which went down officially as a caught stealing allowed for not only the first out, but it kept Napoli on deck with 2 on. The Cards were down 2-0 to start the game, but that’s all the runs that Carpenter would surrender. In the bottom of the first, the Cardinals got 2 runs on one hit because of the hero David Freese. It was apparent that Texas was making a conscious effort to pitch Freese inside, but he made them pay anyway. Freese showed Texas he has power to all fields. It’s really amazing what kind of a hitter Freese is, and it’s exciting to think about what he can become. As long as John Mozeliak can keep him in a room that is fully padded like he’s joked about before when speaking of Freese, hopefully we are all just seeing the beginning. The bottom of the first for the Cards was a big one, putting a dent into the minds of Texas, and not letting them sit on that 2-0 lead for long.
Carpenter was as tough as nails after the first inning. He bent a few times here and there, but he never broke. Craig hit what would be the game winning HR in the bottom of the 3rd inning. The Cardinals played the bottom of the 5th the way I love watching. They scored 2 runs without recording a hit. Patience was the key, and it looks like the presence of Berkman combined with that of Mark McGwire is starting to pay off in that regard. There are few things I can’t stand. Swinging at 3-0 counts is at the top of the list. I’ve been hearing all the reasons for it for years from TLR, but I just don’t buy it. You’re going to get a pitch to hit on 3-1 just like you would on 3-0, and you also make the pitcher throw at least one more pitch, usually more. No negativity here today though, so I’ll stop there.
In the bottom of the 7th, Berkman singled on a ball hit to the SS and barely beat the throw. Berkman beat the throw because he busted his ass down the line, like always. The hustle of Berkman followed by a walk to Freese allowed for Molina to drive in Berkman on a single to center. That run allowed all of us to breathe a little better and start to feel the dream unfold. TLR did a good job of using Arthur Rhodes, Dotel, Lynn and Motte to finish it off. Cards win game 6-2, series 4-3 and become the World Series Champs for the 11th time.
For just a few more thoughts, I really thought that Carpenter deserved to get the WS MVP. He pitched 3 great games against a team that no one thought we had a chance to beat, just like the Phillies and the Brewers. As long as it went to Carpenter, Berkman or Freese, I was OK with it. I just think that Carpenter deserved it a little more. With this season being a bit of the exception to the rule in that good pitching beats good hitting every time, in the end, pitching won us games 1 and 7, and it was Carpenter both times.
I’m not going to get into why I still think the Cardinals should let Pujols walk now, or bash TLR in any way. TLR had his finest season as a manager, made a lot of moves that had a lot of us scratching our heads, but they worked more times than not. In the end, he left no doubt that he is one of the greatest managers of all time. I can no longer call the Colby Rasmus trade a failure, because without the pieces we got in return, we don’t win it all. I hope to see TLR back in St. Louis next year now. The Cards are World Series Champions. In the end, that’s all that matters. Congratulations to the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals, it really was like watching a dream come true.
For one final thought, I want to say Fuck You to the Philadelphia Phillies fans, because, after all, you said it to me many times when I was stationed Maryland in the military and went to numerous games to watch the Cards in Philly. You guys wanted to be the New York Yankees of the National League. You have the second highest payroll in baseball, and even I was surprised to see that this year’s payroll for your team was ahead of the Red Sox. So while most Cardinal fans are calm, passionate and applaud other team’s great play at times, we also stray away from the nonsense like throwing D batteries at players, booing Santa Claus, cheering when opposing players get hit in the head, pointing lazer lights in the eyes of opposing hitters, booing HOF’er Mike Schmidt, etc. There should be books written about how you truly are the worst fans in sports. I guess you’ll just have to get by with the Sports Illustrated naming the Phillies and Eagles fans as the worst. You guys forgot that the games had to be played. You may very well win 2 or 3 WS with the team you have, but not this year.
In fact, the curse of signing Michael Vick by the Eagles may have doomed not only the Eagles, but the Phillies, Flyers and Sixers for years to come. Sorry, I just couldn’t cheer for a guy who did what he did to dogs, and not for money, for pure enjoyment. Vick was the highest paid player in football, and used that for dog fighting because of the evil in his heart. Sure, he can say all the right things now, but I’m calling BS. You had 2 dream teams in 2011, and will win zero championships. I would have given you a pass, but more than a couple of Philly fans had to come on to my blog and talk shit. Well, just as they were deleted, so were you. Isn’t it ironic that the real “Rocky” is Chris Carpenter, and he ended your season.