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NLCS Game 7: Random Thoughts And Stuff

Let me get this out of the way:

Was the season a success?

Yes.

In the context of being a win away from the World Series with the losses going into the season and the losses experienced during the season…I think if you would have asked Cardinal fans if they would’ve taken seven playoff wins…you’d get a resounding yes.

But, that will not---and I think it cannot---be the focus of the discussion today.

Because the context has to be provided.

The 2012 Cardinals---going into this series---were a better team than the 2012 Giants---going into this series.

The 2012 Cardinals were one win away from the World Series.

And, in their final three games after getting to one win away from the World Series, the 2012 Cardinals scored a total of one run.

That’s horrifying.

It really is.

The series turned in the bottom of the second in Game 5. Second and third, nobody out. And Barry Zito gets out of it unscathed.

The Cardinals were never the same offensively after that moment.

But, you know what is just incredibly difficult to understand?

The starting pitching and the defense going to hell in moments necessitating standard performances…not even clutch performances…just standard performances.

Lynn’s throw.

Freese’s bobble.

Kozma’s kick.

Lohse’s bobble.

Kozma’s entire third inning.

Lynn’s starts.

Carpenter’s starts.

Lohse’s Game 7.

The combination of all of those things---every single one of them---were self-inflicted wounds.

That’s why I don’t go batshit about the offense.

The Giants have great pitchers.

I’m beyond perplexed by Barry Zito’s performance in Game 5, but after the second inning, he was outstanding. It may have been a fluke, but he was legitimately good. Hell, great.

Ryan Vogelsong may not get discussed by Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser, but baseball fans know this guy has been killing it over the last two seasons.

And, Matt Cain, who was incredibly vulnerable early on in Game 7, is one of the best in the game.

For those guys to slow the Cardinal offense down…it makes sense. For them to completely shut it down? Pfff. Never would’ve thought that was going to happen. But, I could see it considering the talent of Vogelsong and Cain in particular.

Howwwwwwwwevvvvvvvverrrrrrr, the starting pitching from Lynn, Carpenter, and Lohse…and the defense from well…just about every Cardinal position player…were self-inflicted wounds.

Listen, Marco Scutaro owned the Cardinals. Just fucking owned them. I can’t imagine the dipshittery will churn out the story that Holliday’s slide turned this series around…considering the Cardinals won the next two games after the slide…but I wouldn’t rule anything out past the dipshittery and the goal of getting back to some divorcees at the hotel bar.

But, Scutaro just fucking raked. It was a clinic, and I can’t help but tip my cap to the way he worked the Cardinals’ pitchers over.

But, so many of the Giants runs were products of the Cardinals pissing themselves by either the pitchers just badly missing location or the defense doing things they normally wouldn’t do.

You can’t defend that.

And, if it weren’t for the absolutely ridiculous run that this team has given its fans from September 2011 through October 18, 2012, you could throw the word “choke” around.

I can’t do it.

When you stare baseball death in the eyes as many times as everyone of these guys have---and overcome it---they aren’t chokers.

But, they didn’t play the kind of baseball they had played for so much of this season when they were just one win away from the World Series, and that is something that will haunt many of them for the rest of their lives.

Trust me…when Brian Jordan was on the show yesterday talking about the 1996 Cardinals blowing their 3-1 lead to the Braves, it didn’t sound like he was over it…16 years later.

And that brings me to the obvious comparison being made between the 1996 Cardinals and the 2012 Cardinals.

First-year Cardinal manager in Tony La Russa. First-year manager in Mike Matheny.

3-1 series lead. 3-1 series lead.

Holes plowed in Games 5, 6, and 7. Holes plowed in Games 5, 6, and 7.

And, that’s where the similarities end.

This one is worse.

The 1996 Cardinals were a good team…but their talent level wasn’t in this team’s ballpark. They had to send Donovan Fucking Osborne to the mound in Game 7. The infield was Gary Gaetti, Ozzie Smith in his last game ever, Mike Gallego/Luis Alicea, and John Mabry.

The 1996 Braves were defending World Champions and sent John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine out there in Games 5, 6, and 7.

They had Chipper, Javy, The Crime Dog, Klesko, Grissom, and Dye.

The 2012 Cardinals were done in by Marco Scutaro, Brandon Belt, and Brandon Crawford.

The 2012 Cardinals would have beaten the 1996 Cardinals 162 games straight…unless Tony Fossas were allowed to pitch every inning of every game.

I can live with having trouble scoring runs off the Giants’ pitchers. That’s how they won a World Series two years ago…and that’s their only shot against the Tigers.

But, I have a real tough time with what happened to the Cardinal starters, the Cardinal defense, and the Cardinal fundamentals in Games 5, 6, and 7.

Just because Cardinal fans have been fortunate---beyond fortunate---enough to experience three World Series since 2004 doesn’t mean these opportunities come around too often.

Just because it looks like the Cardinals are loaded with pitching, it doesn’t mean that these young arms will continue their upward trend and/or be healthy when the time comes next year.

As much as I’d love to say the future is bright---and I certainly believe it is---only two teams get to the World Series every year…and you’ve got to be firing on all cylinders to dodge the LDS and LCS…and the shame of the whole fucking deal is the Cardinals were that team once again.

And then it just stopped.

One win shy of the Fall Classic.

Inexplicable.

This one is going to smart for awhile.

I don’t know if the pain will be appreciated---if that is the right word---for a few years though.

Maybe this will help convey what I’m saying:

I recall standing on the sidelines of the Rams-Panthers’ playoff game in January 2004. The Rams had been in the playoffs in 1999, 2000, 2001, and now here they were again in the 2003 season.

NFL Playoffs were becoming a regular and expected occurrence around here…and a fan base that had either suffered through the Big Red or no NFL at all was starting to expect success.

The Rams were down big to the Carolina Panthers…and they had come back and were driving down the field with a chance to win the game. A field goal would tie.
A touchdown would win.
And then, in a clutch moment…in a high-pressure moment, Mike Martz does something he hadn’t done since becoming offensive co-ordinator and head coach: he sat on the ball…went conservative…and kicked a field goal to tie and send it to overtime.

About a half-hour later, The Dome was emptying out as Steve Smith celebrated a game-winning touchdown…and Jason Sehorn’s jockstrap was blazed into the turf at The Dome.

At the time, it hurt. No question.

But, also at the time, after all of the success that had come in 1999, 2000, 2001, and the regular season of 2003, I think fans expected the team to bounce back and deliver more of the same in 2004.

Well, Steve Smith’s touchdown was the last postseason NFL play we’ve seen in St. Louis.

Barring a miracle, the soonest we’ll see one is January 2014…10 years later.

The run the Cardinals have been on since the 2000 season is second to none in the National League…and comparable to the Yankees.

They’ve been competitive every year…even the down seasons of 2003, 2007, 2008, and 2010.

They’ve been in the NLCS in 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2011, and 2012.

But, at some point, the run will end.

Looking at who they have coming back and the young pitching, it’d be hard to imagine it’ll be next year.

At the same time, looking at the match-up the Cardinals had going into Game 5, it’d be hard to imagine we’d see them score one more run the rest of the series.

Whenever that run ends…whenever that time comes…many fans will look back on these three games in October 2012 and wonder not “what if,” but “what the hell happened?”

The Cardinals have now blown four 3-1 series leads.

No other team in baseball has done it more than once.

In 1968, Flood slipped.

In 1985, Denkinger blew it.

In 1996, the Braves woke up.

In 2012, well, what the hell happened?

I don’t know the answer to that one right now. I’m not sure we’ll ever have a real simple, tangible answer.

But, I do know this…of all of the playoff losses over the years…this one will be up there. Not necessarily in terms of pain…although I’m sure it hurts quite a bit right now for the players, management, and fans. I assure you it would hurt more if it were similar to what the Rangers experienced last year.

But, it will hurt in terms of a huge missed opportunity.

Another National League Pennant was nine innings away…with 27 to play.

And the Cardinals didn’t play Cardinal baseball when it mattered most.

Log-in to post your comments, or you can email me at tmckernan@insidestl.com.

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