To see the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series is nothing short of amazing.
On August 24, after getting swept in three straight games by the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Cardinals had lost five of six games, and seven of their last nine. They were 67-63, 10 games behind Milwaukee in the NL Central and 10 1/2 games out in the NL wild-card race, trailing Atlanta.
The came the surge.
St. Louis went 23-9 in its last 32 games, winning nine of 10 series, including sweeps over the Brewers and Braves; two of three in another series against Milwaukee, and three of four over Philadelphia.
“For two weeks in August, we started mugging games left and right and we had to say, hey, look, unless we go about this better, we’re going to ruin everything we accomplished as far as respect,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. “And we started winning a little bit. An literally played every game like it was the last game of our life.”
After that sweep by the Dodgers, the writing was pretty much on the wall for St. Louis. But La Russa wanted his club to play hard the rest of the season, if nothing more than to finish with a little dignity.
And then came the series with Atlanta. St. Louis swept the three games at Busch Stadium to climb back into the wild-card race, 4 1/2 games behind the Braves.
Of course, if it wasn’t for Atlanta’s epic collapse, the Cardinals wouldn’t have reached the postseason.
“We had nothing to lose. We were already out of it,” Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter said. “People were telling us we were done. We decided to go out and play and not embarrass ourselves an do what we can. We played ourselves back into it.”
St. Louis made deals at the trade deadline in July, sending center fielder Colby Rasmus to Toronto for pitchers Edwin Jackson, Marc Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel, and acquiring shortstop Rafael Furcal from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The moves didn’t have immediate impact, but proved to be key down the stretch and in the playoffs.
Of course, veterans Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday contributed to the Cardinals drive to the postseason. And Carpenter threw a complete-game, two-hit shutout over Houston on the last day of the regular season as the Braves lost to the Phillies.
That clinched the wild-card for St. Louis, and the best was yet to come.
Truly a Cinderella story, the Cardinals then upset the pitching-rich Phillies in five games in the NLDS, with Carpenter outpitching Roy Halladay in a series-clinching 1-0 win in Game 5 at Philadelphia.
Then they upended the Brewers in the NLCS, outscoring them 43-26 in the six-game series, 19-7 in the last two games. Third baseman David Freese, the NLCS MVP, hit .545 with three homers and nine RBIs in the series.
“It’s kind of surreal that we’re here,” Freese said. “But this team deserves what we’ve been rewarded. We believe. I think that’s what you’ve got to do in this game. We got a group of guys with some talent, desire, and just a ton of heart.”
The bullpen was also a key for St. Louis. La Russa called on his relievers 28 times in the NLCS, and the Cardinals became the first team to win a postseason series without a starter reaching the sixth inning.
Behind Fernando Salas, Rzepczynski, Dotel, Lance Lynn and Jason Motte, they went 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA in 28 2/3 innings pitched.
“It’s crazy to be where we are right now,” Dotel said. “I don’t know how to explain it. The only thing I know is we’re here and we’re looking forward to keep winning games.”
Copyright © 2011 Bob Hurst. All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Hurst Sports Media.