Congratulations to the St. Louis Cardinals, your 2011 World Series Champions! I feel really weird just typing that.
That’s because this year’s Cardinals are the most unlikely team to ever win the World Series. They shouldn’t have even been in October. Albert Pujols should have been thinking about where he was going to play next year. Most of the team should be playing golf in Florida right now. The Cardinals were ten and a half games out of the wild card with thirty-one games to play. No way they can make that up, right? Then they were eight and a half games out with twenty-one to play. At that rate of making up two games in the wild card per ten games played, they would still finish 4 or 5 games out of the wild card spot.
Then, all of a sudden, they were only three games out as the Atlanta Braves were having one of their worst Septembers in team history. However, there were only five games left to play. Come on, no way this is gonna happen. Then the Cardinals won four of their last five, while the Braves lost five straight to end the season, completing the biggest September collapse in baseball history, with the exception of that major collapse in the American League (cough, cough, Boston Red Sox).
So the Cardinals improbably made the playoffs. Their future, though, seemed bleak, as they had to face off against the Phillies, the best team in the majors during the regular season. The Cardinals battled throughout the series, but in Game 5 had to face the man who last postseason threw the first postseason no-hitter since Don Larsen threw a perfect game in the 1956 World Series, Roy Halladay. Then an extraordinary thing happened: the Cardinals own ace, Chris Carpenter, outdueled Halladay who only gave up one run in eight innings. Carpenter threw a complete game shutout, torpedoing the Cardinals into the NLCS to face off against the team with the best home record in baseball, the Milwaukee Brewers. The Cardinals then handled the Brewers in six games, clinching the series at Miller Park. Then in the World Series, the Cardinals were down to their last strike, not once, but twice, in two innings.
In the first 106 World Series, only one team had been down to their final strike and came back to win the Series. That team was the magical 1986 New York Mets. In Game Six, David Freese was down to his last strike with runners on first and second. He then hit a game-tying two-run triple to keep the Cardinals alive. Then in the tenth inning, after Josh Hamilton hit a two-run homer for the Rangers and Ryan Theriot’s ground-out made it a one-run game, the Rangers decided to intentionally walk Pujols (which for all we knew at the time could have been his last plate appearance as a Cardinal) with a man already at third to face the comeback player of the year, Lance Berkman. Down to his last strike, Berkman smacked a single into center field, once again tying the game. Then, in the eleventh, Freese, who had saved the Cardinals’ dreams two innings ago, came up big again, ripping a solo home run to dead center, forcing a Game 7.
Riding the momentum from the night before, it was pretty obvious that the Cardinals would win Game 7. There was absolutely no way that Tony LaRussa was going to let his team lose after the heroics the previous night. There will be people who will argue that the Cardinals wouldn’t have been in the postseason in the first place despite their great September if the Braves didn’t implode as they did. To that, I think that is very possible. Had the Braves even played .500 baseball in September, they still would have won the wild card. That, however, was too much to ask for, as seen by what actually happened. But nothing can explain the Cardinals improbable run this postseason besides a deep trust amongst themselves that started before they were in the postseason. When really no one believed in them, when they were ten and a half games out with thirty-one to play, the Cardinals believed they could and would do it, and they did. Again, congrats to the St. Louis Cardinals! You guys well deserve a championship.
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