Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Lone Cardinals Fan's World Series Perspective

A lot of people ask me why I'm such a big Cardinals fan. I'm from the San Francisco area, and I go to school at UC Santa Barbara, not exactly Red Bird territory. However, my dad is from the midwest, so he's been a Cards fan since he was a kid. A lot of his friends were fans of the Cubs, but he liked the birds on the bats and some of their players. Thus, I grew up a Cardinals fan my whole life just like my dad.

Still, being from the Bay, the A's were naturally my American League team, and I supported the Giants as a secondary team. That changed in 2002, though, when the Giants faced off against my beloved Cardinals in the NLCS. I became alienated from my friends who naturally supported the Giants, and I ended up rooting for the Angels in the ensuing World Series. The Cards were my team no matter what.

The 2004 World Series was a heartbreaker, losing a $5 bet when they got swept by the Red Sox. Five bucks is a lot to an 8th grader!

I really thought they'd get back to the Series in '05 before Carlos Beltran went HAM for the Astros in the NLCS. I still held hope when Albert Pujols changed Brad Lidge's career forever with his game winning homer in Game 5, but Houston regrouped after the travel day and took care of business in Game 6.

Revenge was sweet in 2006, though, when a rookie Adam Wainwright froze Beltran to end the epic Game 7 of the NLCS before going on to win the Cardinals 10th World Series title, the most in National League history. I didn't care that that team was only 83-78 and almost had to play a make up game from a rainout against the Giants, of all teams, in order to make the playoffs. They were coming off back to back 100 win seasons, so it was sweet justice that they finally broke through during an injury riddled season.

There are a lot of similarities with this 2011 championship team. Coming into spring training, I knew this could possibly be both Albert Pujols' and Tony La Russa's last season with the club and could make it count with one more championship run. Then Wainwright had to undergo Tommy John surgery before the season even started. Then the team was up and down with some nagging injuries but still in the race. I knew the midseason trade  of Colby Rasmus put the team in a better position to win now, but I didn't really agree with it. The minor trade for Raphael Furcal to become the every day shortstop was outstanding, however.

Then the Brewers went on a hot streak and clearly separated themselves from the rest of the NL Central. Expectations are a funny thing, though, because suddenly the team was playing loose and having fun while winning games. Thanks in part to a Braves collapse, the Cardinals suddenly overcame a 10.5 game deficit to claim the Wild Card on the last day of the season.

I was afraid to admit it, but I knew that if they got past the Phillies in the first round, they could win it all. I was extremely confident once they won Game 1 of the World Series since that is a strong indicator of who will win the Series. I was crushed when they blew winnable games in each of their losses. Their magical season was on the brink of coming to an end. Then Game 6 happened.

The most epic game many of us have ever watched was a roller coaster of emotions. Garcia wasn't sharp and the Cardinals should've been down more early, but they kept coming back. After they tied the game (yet again) but failed to capitalize for more (yet again) in the 6th, rookie Lance Lynn, who had been stellar, gave up back-to-back home runs. Ian Kinsler continued the rally by later bringing in another run to make it 7-4.

Filling in for Matt Holliday, Allen Craig's solo shot in the 8th brought some life to the team, but the 2 run deficit still seemed daunting. That is, until Pujols blasted a double with one out in the 9th to start the comeback. Following a Berkman walk, I thought Craig would come up with another huge hit, but he got caught looking on a hanging slider after a great at-bat.

David Freese had his back, however. Freese, the hometown kid who has constantly dealt with injuries in his young career but can plain hit. Freese, who, like this David, is a huge batman fan and has likely been called Mr. Freese countless times because he's come up clutch with ice in his veins time and again. Freese, who set a postseason record for RBI's and total bases and won NLCS MVP the previous round. Of course he tied the game. A pure hitter who isn't afraid to go with the pitch and drives the ball to all fields, of course he blasts an opposite field triple that right fielder Nelson Cruz maybe should have caught. 7-7 in the bottom of the 9th.

I hoped so much that Yadier Molina would have a typical Yadi single to win the game with Freese just 90 feet from home, but no, we had to go to extras. And as if the moment wasn't intense enough, Josh freaking Hamilton, everyone's hero over adversity, crushes a 2-run homer despite playing injured. Emotions are now back the other way. But the Cardinals rally back with a string of unlikely hits and tie it with Berkman's single up the middle! Craig makes the last out of the 10th, but Jake Westbrook shuts the Rangers down in the top of the 11th. Who's the leadoff batter in the bottom half of the frame? David Freese, of course.

Did I say to my buddy Alan that he'd end it right away with a walk off? Yes. Did I expect it to happen? Kind of. Not really. But I knew off the crack of the bat that it was gone. We will see you tomorrow night. The hometown kid was living the dream. Just like Jim Edmonds, the man he was traded for, he was rounding the bases after an extra inning walk-off in the post-season.

Of course, he tied the game in the first opportunity he got in Game 7, knocking a 2-run double in the 1st. Craig, the other hero in these games, broke the tie yet in the 3rd with his 3rd solo homer of the Series. Carpenter settled down after that rocky start and, together with the lights-out bullpen, shut the Rangers down the rest of the way. And in a nice, boring final game, the Cardinals were once again World Series champions. #11 in '11, the perfect start to my best Halloween weekend ever. And yes, I wore my Pujols jersey to class for the umpteenth time on the actual Halloween day.

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