“How did this happen?”

FOX Sports broadcaster Tim McCarver uttered those words after David Freese won Game 6 of the 2011 World Series with a walk-off home run in the 12th inning. Here’s another one: “One Last Strike.” It’s the name of Tony La Russa’s book, referencing the Cards being down with two outs and two strikes on the batter in the 9th and 10th innings of that game before tying it up with hits. Those events seemed impossible both before and after they happened, yet they were real and the St. Louis Cardinals prevailed.

Friday night’s NLDS Game 5 win was not quite as dramatic for the Cards, but it really couldn’t get much closer.

They were down 6-0 early, and starter Adam Wainwright was knocked out of the game. He couldn’t even get through three full innings; things looked bleaker than bleak. And then the Cardinals started chipping away. But bad at-bats killed each rally before it really got churning. A run here, a run there…but the game was getting late and the stout Washington Nationals bullpen was looming. And then…

What? Daniel Descalso hits a home run to lead off the 8th inning, and the Cards are suddenly within a run of the Nats. Then Jason Motte comes in and allows Washington to get an insurance run in the bottom of the frame. Drew Storen is coming in for the 9th and the Cardinals are almost certainly doomed. It was a valiant effort; a noble battle fought this night. And then…

What? The usually steady Storen gives up a double to Carlos Beltran, gets two outs, and suddenly falters. The Cardinals are—wait for it—down to their last strike, twice…but both runners get on base via walk. And then…

WHAT? Daniel Descalso rips a grounder to short. The play should have been made by Ian Desmond, but it wasn’t. The ball skipped off his glove and bounded towards center field, and the game was tied as Beltran and pinch runner Adron Chambers scampered home. That’s how fast it happens. Sure, it was a four hour game and the final two innings seemed to take up an hour of that time. But the 2012 Cardinals seemed to carry over some of the moxie of the 2011 Cardinals, and the never-say-die attitude produced new life late in Game 5 of the NLDS. The Nationals then allowed Descalso to take second base without a throw, and Pete Kozma’s hit to right field plated two more. Another comeback was complete. An uneventful bottom of the 9th sent the Cards to the next round, and sent the Nationals home to wonder how it all came to this.

Truth be told, the Cards may not have deserved to win Game 5 at all—especially after falling behind 6-0 after three innings. The questions were being asked before the 4th inning even started: Should the Cardinals have swept this series? Did Mike Matheny cost them Game 1 by bringing in Marc Rzepczynski? Should he have gone with Motte or Trevor Rosenthal in the 9th inning of Game 4? Where are the holes in the Cards’ lineup that keep them from scoring more than one and two runs in two of these games? Was the bullpen used correctly in Game 5? Is bringing Motte in for the 8th inning waving a white flag? What if Kozma was intentionally walked, and Motte’s spot came up with the bases loaded and the game tied in the top of the 9th inning of an elimination game?

All of those questions were rendered moot with Kozma’s hit and Motte’s slamming of the door in the bottom of the 9th inning. The Nationals and their fans were too stunned to put up much of a protest. Everyone in the stadium knew this was the St. Louis Cardinals, and everyone knew what happened in 2011. But lighting is not supposed to strike twice. And then…it did.

What took place Friday night cannot be explained with anything more profound than “well…it is the Cardinals.” Somehow, this team has found something that allows it to never say die. They simply never quit. Last year was not a fluke—not anymore; it was who these guys are. Now maybe some more magical things happen in this postseason and postseasons to come, and maybe they don’t. Maybe their remaining wins and losses are completely pedestrian. But the bar has been set, and this team can never be taken for granted again. They are always dangerous; they are always one pitch away from completely ruining other teams’ nights, series, seasons, lives.

One last strike? No problem. How did this happen? This is Cardinals baseball, and this is exactly how it happens. The Cardinals will lose more playoff games, and they will lose playoff series. But until that 27th out is secured, they will always have a chance. And apparently a chance is all they need.

Chris Reed also writes for InsideSTL Mondays and Bird Brained whenever he feels like it. Follow him on Twitter @birdbrained.

One thought on ““How did this happen?”

  1. Chris, actually McCarver utters and mumbles many words during the course of a game. I think he’s beginning to lose it. Last night he called Trevor Rosenthal, Trevor Hoffman.

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