In almost every form of entertainment, we know what we are going to get. With rare exceptions, we know that the detective in the book or movie or TV show will wind up apprehending the suspect by the end. We know that the guy gets the girl in a romantic comedy (or just a romantic work in general). We know that things will end more or less satisfactorily in whatever kind of media we watch. Even music does this--it's a strange song that doesn't resolve chords or just ends in what seems to be the middle of everything.
Sports is the one true venue where you really don't know what's going to happen. It's the only true reality show, not edited or filtered or scripted at all. While you can predict based on the past, based on what has happened to other teams in other situations or what these teams have done before, when you sit down to watch a ball game, you don't know what you are going to feel like on the other side.
I think you can forgive Cardinal fans if they've forgotten this aspect of things. Since the new stadium opened, postseason play has almost seemed to be a scripted affair. How else do you get a Game 7 in 2006 in the rain in New York, with a ninth-inning home run from the (at the time) light-hitting catcher, then a bases-loaded strikeout from the rookie closer? After that, seeing their team upset a heavily-favored Tigers squad and being able to win it on their own brand-new field had to seem like it was touched with the Hollywood brush.
Then last year, you had a remarkable Game 5 in the NLDS plus the impossible Game 6 in the World Series. You had all the numerical stuff of 11 wins to get to their 11th championship in 2011. And all of that was on top of a September run to just make the postseason that will be written about time and time again and used as a rallying point as long as baseball is played. How could you not think that things were always going to work out the way we wanted?
This year was the same thing. Most years they'd have been out of contention by middle of August, but that new-fangled second wild-card seemed like the thing you see in the sequel that gives everything a twist. We got to saw a dramatic infield fly (perhaps the first one of those in baseball history) and the team took that game, then came back from 6-0 against the best team in the division to win in the last inning and move on. There was no doubt that we knew what the endings would be. The post-season had become that show you were excited about seeing return from hiatus every year, wondering what the twists would be but feeling assured that they couldn't kill off the main lead.
Then they met San Francisco.
Early on, it seemed like the script would hold. The Cards got out to the 3-1 lead and all it took was one more win. One more win. Surely this team could do that? Surely this team of grinders and scrappers, this team that had made their reputation as a team that you couldn't kill, surely they could take just one more game from these Giants.
There are a lot of places to put the blame, of course. This was a pretty systemic failure on the part of the Redbirds, which isn't surprising given the lead that they blew. Two things can be singled out, though--the offense didn't hit and the Cardinals couldn't stem the damage from the Giants.
It's sad when you only need one win to move on to the World Series and instead you can only muster one run. In the entire series, the Cards plated 19 runs, which is a low number anyway but even more so when six came in Game 1 and eight in Game 4. In their four losses in the series, they scored a grand total of two runs. Even Bob Gibson's not going to win you games with that kind of support.
It goes without saying that the Cards were unable to sustain any offensive production. Only once in the series did they have an inning where they scored more than two runs. By comparison, the Giants scored four or more runs in an inning in five of the seven games. Even when the Cards did look good, in Game 4, it was four innings of two runs that got them there. That's fine, as long as you can put together a lot of those innings. For the most part, St. Louis couldn't.
While a lot of the credit for that goes to the San Francisco pitching staff, who know what they are doing and are formidable opponents, we've seen this offense beat up on good pitching. They were able to score often on Washington, who even without Stephen Strasburg had an exceptional staff. In this series, though, it seemed like more and more often any rally the Cardinals might have going wound up happening with the eighth and ninth place hitters up. That's the quickest way to turn a no-out or one-out rally into a snuffed out rally.
One of the biggest reasons for that was the off series by Allen Craig. Craig only had three hits in the seven games, meaning that often he'd end an inning or bring up Yadier Molina with two outs. It's bad enough when there's a hole anywhere in the lineup, but right in the middle can have the dual effect of ending rallies and making sure that, if a rally comes next inning, you have to rely on Pete Kozma and the pitcher to keep it going. Craig's had a fine year and you can't put the whole thing on him at all, but not having his bat be live was a big factor in the series.
Of course, it's not like anyone hit consistently. When Kozma's fifth on the team in average with a .227, there's a problem. The Cardinals hit two home runs in the first game, only one after that. We saw it all season long, when the famine came, it came hard. There was no storing up grain in preparation for it.
In Game 1, the Cardinals had a 6-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth. Marco Scutaro led off the inning with a single, but then Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey got out. With two outs and one on, this should have been a quick inning. Instead, six more men came to the plate. Those six included the eighth place hitter, Brandon Crawford, who doubled in a run. The Cards should have gotten out of that inning well before it got to that point. Neither team scored again and the Cardinals won, but it was a taste of what was to come.
In Game 2, the Cardinals trailed 1-0 in the fourth, with one out and two on and Crawford and the pitcher coming up. This is exactly the kind of situation the Cardinals would be in offensively so often, where rallies would be snuffed. The difference in the series was that San Francisco could do something in these situations. Crawford reached on Chris Carpenter's error, Ryan Voglesong was then able to bunt the runners over, and the lineup turned over. Three runs later, the game is out of reach.
In Game 5, similar thing. Tied at 0, two runners on with two outs though the heart of their lineup still up, and Lance Lynn throws the ball away as we all know. You could shake that off and say it's just one run, especially when Brandon Belt pops out. All you have to do is get one out from Gregor Blanco or Crawford, but instead Blanco walks to load the bases and Crawford, who was a pest all series, drives in two. Then Barry Zito drives in a run when he beats out a bunt. It was the bottom of the lineup over and over destroying the Cardinals as they couldn't finish off innings.
Game 6 saw an error by Kozma on a Vogelsong grounder that allowed a run and kept the inning going, an inning that saw the Giants score four again. At least in last night's game, the big inning came with no outs, which is at least a bit more understandable.
All in all, we as Cardinal fans learned one thing. The next time the Redbirds have a 2-1 lead in a series, let's hope they lose Game 4. This organization has now blown four 3-1 leads and they haven't done it artfully, either. Three of the top 5 biggest Game 7 blowouts are against St. Louis in those series--15-0 in '96, 11-0 in '85 and now 9-0 in '12. Who knows what '68 would have looked like if Gibson wasn't on the mound.
Let me say one thing, though. The Giants are a very good team and they earned this series win. There are also some great San Francisco fans that I follow on Twitter, so I know that the fan base is a good one. However, plunking Matt Holliday in the sixth and having their fans cheer? Bush league. The slide in Game 1 might have been some sort of turning point, might have been some sort of rallying cry, but it didn't make a difference. Marco Scutaro won the MVP, for crying out loud! Isn't it always said that the best revenge is beating the other guy? I mean, if Scutaro had been hurt, maybe, but even then, you've won the series. Holliday seemed more affected by the whole thing than Scutaro did! I thought that was a very low class thing for Matt Cain to do and even lower class for the fan base to cheer it. If it HAD been a movie, that'd been the turning point.
There are a lot of people I feel sorry for in Cardinal red today. Adam Wainwright missed last year's run and was so close to getting to have his own fun in the Series. Holliday is likely to get a lot of grief, to a level that isn't close to being deserved. However, there's no one that anyone feels more angst for than Carlos Beltran. For the third time in his career, the Cardinals have kept him out of the World Series. Unfortunately this time, he was wearing their colors. How frustrating might it have been for him, knowing that if he'd stayed in San Francisco, he might be getting ready for Detroit right now? (Of course, that's a big if--without Beltran in St. Louis, they don't win the second wild card, which means that the Giants well may have faced Washington and may or may not have moved on.) I feel for him and I hope St. Louis can put together another run for him next season, because he deserves it.
So now what, at least as it relates to this blog? As you know, this isn't necessarily the place for analysis and research projects, dealing more in the day-to-day of the baseball season. Still, it's not going to be a ghost town here. I'll be writing less often, probably, but will weigh in when rumors or situations warrant. The United Cardinal Bloggers will have a number of projects coming up, so you'll see those as well. Who knows, maybe I'll come up with some sort of blogging series to pass the offseason time with as well. Keep checking, because you never know when I'll be here.
Congratulations to the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals. You may not have flown as high as your predecessor, but you flew much higher than expected and that championship window is still wide open. Let's win 11 games to get #12 in '13!