:: Tuesday, October 04, 2005 ::

Cardinals fever!

It's that time of year again. Time for me to show how geeky and uncool I really am, and how much I love the most tedious game in all of sportsdom, baseball, and in particular, my beloved St. Louis Cardinals.

Yes, the Cardinals are playing in the post-season yet again this year. The NL Division Series begins at noon CDT today, with the Cardinals taking on the San Diego Padres, the team with the best record from the worst division in the Major Leagues. It's a bittersweet time, and the best and worst of times to be a St. Louis Cardinals fan. Here's why:

  • Busch Stadium's days are numbered. After this season, Busch Stadium, home to the Cards since 1966, will come down and make way for a new Busch Stadium. The new stadium promises to have more of a retro ballpark feel to it. Old Busch is the last of a dying breed of concrete behemoths, a multipurpose arena that was home to the football Cardinals for years, and also hosted soccer games and those "stadium jams" of yore. I can remember seeing the Pretenders open for the Who in Busch Stadium, circa 1980, and before that, when the rock'n'roll dinosaurs roamed the earth, I saw a pre-Van Halen Sammy Hagar perform there with Foreigner and Judas Priest. But the stadium, anachronism that it is, is an architectural landmark. Designed with its miniature arches -- reflections of the Gateway Arch to the east -- Busch is a ballpark like no other. I'm going to miss old Busch when it goes away. I'm hoping for a good, long Cardinals run in this post-season. What better way to close out the old ballpark than with a World Series Championship? And what worse way than to fall short of that goal?

  • Last year's World Series. For the past year, Cards fans have been dealing with our humiliation at the hands of the Boston Red Sox in the 2004 World Series. We lost to a team that was legendary for losing in the clutch. It had been 86 years between drinks for the Bosox, and they really whipped up on my beloved Cardinals, leaving no doubt in the minds of unbelievers that this series win was a fluke. The burden on Cardinals fans has been heavy. I feel we're starting to develop an inferiority complex, like Cubs fans -- or, more to the point, like those Red Sox fans of seasons past. Has the curse been reversed? Transferred to the 2004 NL champs? We desperately need to redeem ourselves before our psyches are forever altered.

  • Bad mojo. Speaking of the Cubs, Chicago fans have long talked about their team's "bad mojo" -- about how bad things happen to the Cubs at critical points in the season. The Cubs have their share, no doubt. But the Cardinals have struggled with bad mojo around playoff time. There was 1985, when Vince Coleman was eaten by a roll of tarp during the NL Championship Series. Then in 2000, right after the Cards clinched the NL Central Division, Cardinals catcher Mike Matheny (who is now with the Giants) was playing around with a fishing knife at the end of the season and cut himself, ending his season before the playoffs. This time around, our most reliable middle reliever, Al Reyes, hurt himself in the final game of the season and is out of the playoffs picture.

  • We look good on paper, but... The Cardinals pitching staff finished the 2005 regular season with the lowest ERA of any NL team, and perhaps in all of the Majors. But our starting pitching for the first three games against San Diego is suspect. Chris Carpenter, our ace with 21 victories, has struggled in September, with one loss and a ballooning earned-run average. Mark Mulder, scheduled for game 2, has also struggled. And let's not even talk about Matt Morris, who's scheduled for game 3. Our bullpen also makes me nervous, especially now that Reyes is out. Middle relief is weak, and our closer, Jason Isringhausen, is the luckiest closer in the Majors. He's registered something like 38 saves this year, but he's blessed with a solid defense behind him that pulls his ass out of the fire more often than not. We also have the best record in baseball, with 100 wins. But that means nothing from here on out. Case in point: we had 105 wins last year, but lost four in a row when it really counted.

  • Offensive timing. Offensively, Albert Pujols has been rock-solid all year, but slumped in September before turning it on again during the final series at Busch. Starters Reggie Sanders and Larry Walker appear to be healthy again, but this year has been salvaged by solid play from our bench. So Taguchi in the outfield and Abraham Nunez at third base have had terrific seasons -- Taguchi filling in for Sanders and Walker during much of the season and Nunez filling in for Scott Rolen, whose season ended, for all practical purposes, last spring.

  • The Padres. The Padres have one ace pitcher, Jake Peavy. He leads the league in strikeouts and has had St. Louis' number this year. The Padres also won the regular season series against us, 4-3. The Cardinals can take nothing for granted against this team. If we do, winter could come early to Cardinals nation, and it could be a long one.

    So, yes, I'm nervous. I'm fretting. I'm worried about Matt Morris's state of mind. I'm worried about a Chris Carpenter meltdown in Game 1. I'm worried that Pujols will ground into a double play with the game on the line. I'm worried Tony LaRussa, who is a genius manager who plays the stats more than his gut, will leave Ray King in for too long. I'm worried that Izzy will blow a lead in the ninth inning.

    None of these are far-fetched scenarios for this Cardinals team. Then again, neither are these: A clutch hit by David Eckstein to start a rally or win the game. Rookie John Rodriguez -- J-Rod, as he is known -- delivers a game-winning home run. Jim Edmonds makes a game-saving catch at the center field wall. Pujols -- or Edmonds, Larry Walker or Reggie Sanders -- flex their offensive muscle just in time. LaRussa calls a squeeze play to win the game.

    I guess we'll just have to wait and see how it all turns out. But we won't have to wait much longer.

    , , , ,

    :: Andrew 09:10 + ::
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