Welcome to October

This wasn’t supposed to happen.

Before the season even began, Adam Wainwright heard the three words that every pitcher fears: Tommy John Surgery.  The Cardinals best pitcher was out for the season.  He would be replaced in the rotation with middle reliever Kyle McClellan.  An aging Chris Carpenter and a still-green Jaime Garcia would become the anchors in an increasingly unstable rotation.

Brendan Ryan, perhaps the best defensive shortstop the Cardinals have seen since Ozzie Smith, was shipped out due to issues with management.  He was replaced by Ryan Theriot, who could only theoretically still play the position.  For the first month of the season, the team clung to washed-up closer Ryan Franklin, who did his best to hasten his own retirement.

Everything seemed lost.

This wasn’t supposed to happen.

One month ago, the Cardinals were 10.5 games out of first place.  Fans and columnists wondered if the team should start thinking about the wildcard.    Even that seemed silly.  Atlanta and San Francisco were in the way. The bullpen was unstable as ever.  Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman were out so often they barely played in the same game.   Jaime Garcia was faltering and barely looked like the same pitcher who carried the team early in the season.

Four days ago, we were supposed to watch Albert Pujols’s last home game as a Cardinal.  Maybe he would re-sign but with the numbers being floated around, there was no reason to hope.  Maybe they’d pull it out and catch up to the Braves, but it wasn’t likely.  The fans at Busch gave him a proper send off, letting him know how much they appreciated the decade he spent wearing the birds on the bat.  It was over.  We all knew it, one way or another.  Even if we were hopeful, we feared the worst.  We suspected the worst.  The Cardinals were done.  Pujols was done.  This was the end of an era.  Right?

This wasn’t supposed to happen.

But it did.

Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down

After 161 games, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves are tied in the NL Wild Card race at 89-72.

I haven’t posted in over two months.  There are reasons for that.

Some of my reasons are good: I was in the process of studying for, then taking, and finally agonizing over the bar exam.  I was also writing a novel.  Posting my thoughts about baseball on the internet took a back seat to other things.  It’s really too bad, as there have been so much drama and intrigue over the last few months.  The Colby Rasmus trade alone, along with the performance of the involved players after the move, would have given me plenty to write about.

Some of my reasons are bad: I haven’t been following the team as much as I did earlier in the season.  It’s been forever since I’ve paid this little attention to a Cardinals team.  I’ve been distracted, but it’s been more than that.  Up until this month, the Cardinals have been a frustrating mess that I simply couldn’t deal with.  Because of this, I felt rather unqualified to make any intelligent observations about them.

I’ve been watching over the last few weeks, however, and I’ve seen a Cardinals team with a new lease on life.  Over the season, they have turned victory into defeat.  Tonight, they turned defeat into victory.  That’s been this year in a nutshell.

No matter what happens, the comeback to tie for the wild card was amazing.  But, at the same time, it is something of a disappointment.

The fact that the Cardinals managed to get this far only underscores everything that went wrong.  Where would this team be with a healthy Adam Wainwright?  Where would they be if not for the persistent, random injuries to Matt Holliday?

And where would they be if not for some atrocious management early in the season?  One game is one game, and the Cardinals gave away several games this season.  If not for Tony La Russa’s fanatical devotion to Ryan Franklin, game 162 might just be a tune-up for the playoffs.  If not for a mind-boggling infield of Ryan Theriot and Skip Schumaker behind a groundball pitching staff for half the season, many of us Cardinals fans would already have our NLDS tickets in hand.

I don’t know what will happen tomorrow.  The Cardinals deserve to be in the playoffs.  The Cardinals front office and management staff…maybe not so much.  But it doesn’t matter.  It’s almost like a whole new season.  One day, two games, and everything will be decided.

Or not.  If the Cardinals and Braves both win or lose, we’ll see game 163.  Wouldn’t that be something?