As we prepare for the finale of this exciting series, and its marquee Game 5 matchup of two former Cy Young Award winners, let us take a walk down memory lane, and look at the Cardinal history in Game 7s (and Game 5 for the NLDS).
St Louis is the preeminent franchise in the National League, second only to the Yankees in terms of World Series wins. All that success means the team has had multiple occasions to play a one game, winner-take-all contest. For example, the Cardinals played seven consecutive World Series Game 7s from 1946 to 1987. How did they fare in those opportunities?
The Early Years (1926-1967)
Their first World Series appearance went seven games. The Cardinals won that game, which ended with my personal favorite game-ending play for any World Series, namely Babe Ruth getting thrown out trying to steal second. Can you imagine the amount of ink, hot air, and bandwidth that would be consumed dissecting that decision if it happened in 2006 instead of 1926?
Having started well, the Cardinals kept rolling. They defeated the Philadelphia A’s to win the Fall Classic in 1931, and took out Detroit in Tiger Stadium to win the Series three years later. Enos Slaughter’s mad dash home secured the 1946 title in front of the home town fans, and Bob Gibson wrestled those mighty Yankees into submission 18 years later in front of those same fans. The Boston Globe learned the price of publishing a great headline prematurely (‘Lonborg and Champagne’), as Gibson extended Cardinal dominance and Boston angst with a 1967 Game 7 win at Fenway.
So six Game 7s had come and gone, and the Cardinals had won all six. They were invincible when all the chips were down. No one wanted to play them in those situations, no matter where the game was to be contested.
The Desert of Futility (1968-2001)
Was it Curt Flood’s slip? Was it Lou Brock getting thrown out at the plate two games earlier? Was it the law of averages finally catching up to them? Probably some combination of the three. The Detroit Tigers, led by Denny McLain, beat St Louis at home in that 1968 Game 7. After that, Cardinal dominance in Game 7s ceased. They continued to win the Game 7s played at home, clinching the World Series against Milwaukee, defeating both Los Angeles and San Francisco in the LCS.
But on the road they were hapless. The Cardinals blew a 3-1 series lead in 1985, dropping Game 7 in Kansas City. They blew a 3-2 lead two years later, losing to the Twins in the Homer Dome. Then, when they returned to the post-season 10 years later, even their home mojo disappeared. They blew another 3-1 lead, getting embarrassed by the Atlanta Braves and losing the NLCS for the first time. Finally, to conclude their first best-of-five playoff series that went the distance, they lost a heartbreaker in the Arizona desert.
Return to Normalcy (2002-present)
They needed a great play or seminal moment to change their luck. They got one, and it occurred in a Game 7. The Cardinals played their next winner-take-all game to close out the 2004 NLCS against Houston. The Astros looked poised to take complete control of the game when with two on and one out, Brad Ausmus hit a fliner into the left-center field gap. Jim Edmonds ran it down, making a spectacular diving catch to keep the runners at their respective bases. St Louis went on to win the game and the National League.
They played another Game 7 two years later, and thanks to a Yadier Molina HR in the top of the ninth, St Louis beat the Mets 3-1 at Shea. It marked the first time since the 1967 World Series the Cardinals had won a Game 7 on the road.
Over 85 years of playoff baseball, the Cardinals have played 15 Game 7s and 1 Game 5. They are 7-1 as a franchise at home in those games, and 4-4 on the road. In comparison, the Philadelphia Phillies have never played a Game 7. They have played 2 Game 5s, winning the first, beating the Astros in extra innings to win the NL in 1980. But, they lost the second, to the Dodgers a year later* in the same situation.
What does it all mean? No Phillie on the current roster has ever played in a Game 5/7 for that franchise. The Cardinals have 4 men left from the 2006 playoff run: Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, and … Chris Carpenter, tonight’s starter. Additionally, tradition here has to favor St Louis. Plus, the veterans who played in those games of yore – men like Lou Brock, Gibson, Red Schoendienst, Willie McGee, even Stan Musial – keep that tradition alive by being a part of the locker room during spring training, and passing that tradition on to the current generation.
Everyone looks for even the slightest edge in games like this. Only in games like this can intangibles play a role. Experience and tradition favor the Cardinals. That has to count for something. It might be the last straw they need to break the Phillies back.
* Editor’s Note: It should be noted that this game five in Phillies history in 1981 was the first ever division series. This series was mandated by the players strike that year.