The St. Louis Cardinals’ 4-2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies Friday night was big for several reasons. They gained a full game on the Atlanta Braves, who lost, in the Wild Card race. They kept pace with the Milwaukee Brewers, who won, in the NL Central race. And the Cards did it by beating the best team in the league against a rookie pitcher who has owned almost every team he has pitched to this season. But how the Cardinals won also cannot be overlooked. It was a game that, by all accounts, they should have lost. And a month or two ago, they probably would have.
It has been a running theme all season: the Cardinals play questionable defense and employ a suspect bullpen. And after battling the Phillies to a 1-1 score after seven innings, Tony LaRussa turned the game over to the relievers. Breaths were held all across Cardinal Nation.
But then the Cards took the lead 2-1 in the top of the eighth, and all seemed well. Marc Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel held the Phils at bay in the bottom of the frame. All the Cardinals needed was Jason Motte to come in and shut the door, as he had been doing so well since taking “unofficial” hold of the role of closer a few weeks back.
After getting the first two batters out with relative ease, Motte gave up a double to Ryan Howard, bringing up Carlos Ruiz with a chance to tie the game. And since right fielder Corey Patterson was kept from catching the final out of the game because the ball Ruiz hit bounced off his glove, tying the game is exactly what Ruiz did. Motte was then lifted for Arthur Rhodes, who got the final out of the inning and sent the game into extras.
This story sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The Cardinals have a slim lead, and get let down by the defense, the bullpen, or some combination of the two. Running theme…maybe running joke is a better descriptor of the situation.
But these September Cardinals have something earlier versions didn’t have. They’re resilient. They don’t get down; they battle. They showed it in Pittsburgh after the disheartening loss Monday night, and they showed it again Friday in Philly. It didn’t take power from the big guns, just some well-placed solid base hits to give the Cards a 4-2 lead in the top of the 11th inning. And who else could come in for attempt #2 at closing this game but Fernando Salas? He took care of the Phillies in the bottom of the 11th to nail down the victory and keep mathematical (as well as emotional) hopes alive.
Maybe it is just one game, but it seemed like a statement win by the Cards Friday night. They’re not afraid of the mighty Phillies, they’re not afraid of the adversity they face to make the playoffs, and they’re not afraid to overcome their own mistakes. Even if the Cardinals fall short of the postseason this year, at least they found a way to beat down some of their demons. It was not that long ago when the very idea was borderline ridiculous. But the Cards are now 3.5 games out of the Wild Card. They have 12 games to play; the Braves have 11. It may still be a longshot, but it’s not over. And at least it’s entertaining.