Cardinals' improbable run continues to NLCS
Redbirds continue to meet adversity head on and triumph
PHILADELPHIA -- For most of the summer, the Cardinals had to squint to see the names Hudson, Hanson and Jurrjens on the backs of the players sprinting toward the postseason. The Braves were too far ahead for anyone with an allegiance to St. Louis baseball to consider a National League Wild Card berth for the boys.
Then the resolute, resilient and resourceful Cards -- the primary baseball residents in the Show Me State -- showed 'em.
Their reward for implementing the Three Rs and succeeding was an engagement with the Phillies, the NL's foremost powerhouse, a challenge larger than the Arch and more powerful that the Mighty Mississip. No matter how many Rs the Cardinals deployed in the best-of-five NL Division Series, they weren't going to overcome Murderers' Ro-tation; not with the Phils in position to start their R, Roy Halladay, twice if needed.
The Phillies were going to advance because (fill in the blanks). Because, because, because. They were at full strength -- or what passes for full strength when a baseball season exceeds 162 games. The Phils had ample time to set their rotation and rest their bullpen last month. They had time to relax and watch the Cardinals sweat it. And they had more talent than the original cast of "My Fair Lady."
Instead, today the sweaty Cardinals are next on Milwaukee's menu. And the Phillies are asking the old Sixers how to deliver an IOU to the city soured by shortfall. The Cards advanced despite (fill in the blank). Despite, despite, despite.
For once, the survivor of a postseason series could say, "Nobody gave us a chance. Nobody thought we could do it," and not be charged with postgame perjury. Nobody -- at least, nobody in control of his faculties -- could have rightfully predicted this scenario. The Phillies' superiority wouldn't allow even frivolous debate.
No matter, what now is on tap is a reprise of sorts of the Beer World Series of 1982. The brewery doesn't own the Cardinals anymore. But you can buy a Bud almost anywhere in the 314 area code. And the Brewers, no longer the property of the Selig clan, still have a Bud on their side, whether or not the Commissioner declares his allegiance.
The Cardinals and the Crew now meet because Chris Carpenter channeled his inner Bob Gibson on Friday night and turned Citizens Bandbox Park into the spacious and forgiving Busch Stadium that was home to Whitey's Rug Rats in the '80s.
With the most meager offensive support, a few warning-track catches, a curveball that produced a few jelly legs, a three-hitter and drinks on the house throughout Missouri, Carpenter beat his Blue Jays buddy, buried the favored Phillies and finalized a baseball semifinals that exclude the Yankees, Red Sox and Braves, as well as the team that won a Major League-best 102 games. The East Coast is without a participant in the semis. And who saw that coming in August?
One man insisted he had envisioned the Cardinals still standing at this point as early as February. That was the image Adam Wainwright had about the time he also had his right elbow surgically reconstructed and his 2011 season eliminated.
"I said it. Yeah. And I took a lot of heat for [saying] it," Wainwright said in the midst of the madness that follows any and every clincher. His repaired right arm is healthy enough to throw pitches and pour champagne and to pat Carpenter on the back.
"I said 'Why not?' and I believed it," Wainwright said. "I went down, so what. I knew we had people who would stand up."
It was the day the Cardinals announced Wainwright's elbow had betrayed him that Carpenter expressed similarly-based confidence. "Somebody will stand up," he said. As if he didn't know who.
"I wasn't being specific. I wasn't talking about me," Carpenter said Friday. But it turned out to be none other than the man of the hour. And he turned out to be a few pitches better than Halladay.
For the Phillies, the score -- 1-0 -- was a homonym that told the story. They considered themselves "on a mission," one that gained a last name -- impossible -- Friday. They would, they said, have won nothing without a return to the World Series. When Carpenter was done with them, they had won nothing. All the becauses could offset the Cardinals' despites.
"Adversity is part of the challenge," manager Tony La Russa said, his eyes growing misty as he spoke. "We had adversity almost from the get-go in Spring Training. You can get used to it, though, to dealing with it. Can't let yourself say, 'Why us?' You say, 'Why not us?' instead."
The Cardinals have been through it with La Russa in other instances. He declines to compare the good times as he should, "because each team has its own qualities and challenges." The father of four compared his winners with sons and daughters.
"You don't judge one against the other," he said. "You just appreciate all of them for what they are."
Nice team, too; nice season -- so far. Another division leader is the next obstacle. The Brewers have their share of becauses. Wainwright won't be available of course. And Skip Schumaker strained his oblique. And the Brewers have the home-field advantage. La Russa needs only a few more despites.
Motivation is where you find it. Even in October.
Marty Noble is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.