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St. Louis Cardinals bring playoff thrillers to 2012

The St. Louis Cardinals played some of the most exciting, tension-filled playoff baseball of all-time in 2011 that included three win-or-go-home victories and resulted in a championship. That’s a tough performance to follow, but the 2012 Cardinals finished the first scene of the sequel by beating the Atlanta Braves 6-3 in a crazy game that brought back many of the emotions associated with the 2011 postseason.

The Cardinals fell behind early after starting pitcher Kyle Lohse gave up his seemingly mandatory two-run homer to back-up catcher David Ross in the second inning, but the Cardinals stormed back with three runs in the fourth to take the lead for good.

The Cardinals held a three-run lead through the late innings of the game, but the Braves kept charging back with runners in scoring position. They had the tying run at the plate in three consecutive innings. That will make for some heart-pounding baseball for both teams’ fans.

Then there was the disputed infield fly call that kept the Braves from scoring at least one run in the eighth inning. That caused the Turner Field crowd to throw trash all over the field, resulting in an 19-minute delay.

It also brought back memories of Aug. 29, 1998 when Mark McGwire was thrown out in the first inning for arguing balls and strikes. Fans at Busch Stadium threw trash all over the field that Saturday afternoon, causing a 10-minute delay. Interestingly, the Cardinals played the Braves that day and lost 4-3.

Aside from the extracurricular ruckus, the game had several do-or-die moments that tilted the game dramatically in favor of one team depending on what happened.

For example, Braves third baseman Chipper Jones came to the plate in the bottom of the seventh with runners on second and third and the Braves down 6-3. The script was supposed to say Jones would get a big hit to put his team back in the game, and he would represent the tying run on base.

But Cardinals postseason games don’t go by the script. Instead, Jones grounded out weakly to second baseman Daniel Descalso.

The Cardinals’ playoff games the last two seasons are similar to the two Super Bowls the St. Louis Rams played in about 10 years ago. No matter what happened, the final minutes of the game were guaranteed to have folks pacing back and forth in front of their couch screaming at the TV.

Some might say people would get used to tight games packed with pressure after they’ve experienced so many in the last 13 months, but Friday’s game felt as intense as Game 5 of last year’s NLDS against the Philadelphia Phillies and nearly as intense as World Series Game 6, although no game can top that one for the generations of Cardinals fans who saw it.

Are these types of games fun? Heck yes they are. Sure, they might cause blood pressure issues and fans to say things that would offend their company in any other setting, but that intensity is what makes the games so rewarding.

Thankfully for Cardinals fans, they’ve experienced only the joy of those types of games in the last two years. Hopefully they don’t experience the other side of those games, the crushing, depression-inducing loss that makes people want to either punch through a wall or cry.

Even if not this year, the loss will happen. That’s the cycle of sports life. Even the Yankees have suffered tough-to-swallow losses in recent years. But for now Cardinals fans can keep living the dream because these postseason rides are as fun, and stressful, as it gets.

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