Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cardinals Postseason Craze Is More Than Miracle


This is definitely not a phantasm, not even an illusion but a reality for baseball as the Redbird gang is the sphere of the game's utopia. In every conceivable way, the Cardinals are the biggest surprise this postseason, in the town where Midwestern values are distinguished from the wildest cult of fans surrounded by the banks of the riverfront and the nation's tallest monument.

Beyond all the pity and messes from the Steroid Era, a dreadful age in sports when many players were juicing their bodies with performance-enhancers, the Cardinals are the coolest fable. The hallucination has turned into reality, and St. Louis is largely in position to win the World Series.

They look like the team of miracles and imagination, but nevertheless it doesn't seem as if the Cardinals are the flukiest ballclub this postseason and may have justified by producing at the right possible time to become the hottest club that they are a menace, not to society but opponents in October.

Will the world ever realize that baseball is a game of momentum and awakened bats, a game of hot streaks, not the one game of probability and certainty?? Will the world ever realize that David Letterman is more hilarious than most people think? Will the world ever accept Lady Gaga for who she is?

It's hard to understand the variations of the mind, but it's not difficult to sense that the Cardinals are more than just a surprise. The local franchise is authentic and St. Louis residents actually believe in the Redbirds by now, and only did so after the Cardinals capped an astounding finish to clinch the NL wild-card berth that completed one of baseball's remarkable comebacks.

So before the Cardinals were fueled to string together a historic comeback, the ballclub trailed Atlanta by 10 1/2games, and then won 23 of the last 31 games to complete the unthinkable. The stunner came in the division series when the Cardinals beat the Phillies and eliminated baseball's best team from the postseason, which is probably why the miracle is more refreshing.

The sellout crowd was dressed in seas of Cardinal red and the foot-stomping, loud cheers from fans in the stands exploded at Busch Stadium, feeling the improbable run and imaginary dreams. The ballpark is an insane mental house, and the Cardinals have written a familiar tale with a rare playoff push that can encourage a person to embrace the wave of crazed postseason surprises. The mood is so similar, so common, so timing for the Cardinals, who have made life interesting and entertained fans by the eye-popping, heart-stopping fruition.

There are believers galore in St. Louis, but the Cardinals still have unfinished business in the NLCS. Face it, people. Baseball life in the Midwest is exciting, intense and more fun. From now on, it's about the Cardinals transforming into a believable World Series ballclub and producing in the most gratifying game that incredibly transpose all the momentum in the Cards' favor.

So what a curious, nice irony that the Cardinals, who would reach the highest point of the postseason before even clinching a trip to the World Series, are turning a surreal story into a true baseball anecdote. We trust Chris Carpenter in every start he appears, not as nervous when he face hitters, knowing that the Cardinals are usually untouchable if he's throwing the fastball and has a fiery mindset.

We trust he knows what is expected of him. If not for Carpenter, the Cards probably would not be in this position. But then again, maybe they are just that damn good. Every time Carpenter throws, though, he doesn't hold back his emotions and plays with intensity that normally results in a Cardinals victory, owning remarkable postseason numbers unlike any other pitcher.

As it stands, he is now 6-2 with a 2.94 ERA in 11 postseason starts and he has carried the Cards, and if you admire the beauty of the game, you're probably in love with Carpenter and the beautiful script the Cardinals have produced. The notion of this series brought a sense of aspiration and mastering a world championship is the Cardinals' top priority on their to-do list this fall, wildly standing as the invincible ballclub, a team to beat this postseason, a team no one ever imagined.

At the end of the night, after St. Louis secured a 4-3 win in Game 3 of the NLCS to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series with the next two games at home, the Cardinals are frazzled and drained but more importantly have seized home field advantage with the most productive hitters in the postseason.

"We are really not going to stop and think about it because there's so much to do yet," said manager Tony La Russa. "But if you stop and think, you may get distracted and you start walking around and digging yourself, and we don't want to do that."

His excellence began in the last series, long before the Cardinals climbed into contention, long before earning any credit, and long before the recent marvel in this alluring postseason. Carpenter, unhittable and gritty, is coming off two brilliant performances this fall. His finest outing was a three-hit shutout in a 1-0 win in Game 5 of the NL Division Series against Philadelphia on Friday, for one of the masterly pitching performances in the postseason since Bob Gibson.

For the hottest ballclub, the Cardinals jumped out to a 4-0 first-inning lead, but couldn't maintain the huge advantage as the Brewers pulled back cutting the deficit to one run. They went from mediocre to winners, the Redbirds from the Midwest who came together on a mission in attempt to bring home the pennant.

What an amazing way, after they were cursed and blamed for their nonsuccess, for the Cardinals to reestablish themselves in the second decade of the 21st century, with the accomplished La Russa and the greatest revival. The melancholy has disappeared, the sputtering Cardinals' bullpen has suddenly awakened and St. Louis is not on life-support, suddenly recovering from all the weaknesses that burned the franchise.

For now, though, after the Cardinals were dead in September and suddenly came alive in time for the pennant chase, St. Louis refuse to surrender. The miraculous run is a formula no antagonist can defeat, unable to stop baseball's hottest team that has a monstrous, terrifying pitching staff when the Cardinals bullpen finished the regular season with a 3.73 ERA and ranked 17th in the majors.

That's assuming the Cards, who can win baseball's gorgeous prize, shimmer in the spotlight and try to spend millions on slugger Albert Pujols by the time he test the market this winter, are considered the greatest team given the adjustments from a much-improved bullpen. The game was hyped as a duel of aces, and Game 3 was critical for the Brewers, mainly because Yovani Gallardo started, but Milwaukee struggled badly and the Cardinals were stronger.

The bullpen, 11th in the NL in ERA during the regular season, was the difference as Fernando Salas, Lance Lynn, Marc Rzepczynski and Jason Motte combined to throw four perfect innings after Carpenter left the game. It's been a fun postseason, simply because the Cardinals have brought much drama, now that no team can defeat them, not even Gallardo who is now 1-8 in his career against St. Louis.

Worse, the Brewers rotation is declining when Randy Wolf, Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke are 1-3 with an 11.52 ERA in five postseason starts. The duel lasted only five innings for both pitchers, but Carpenter obviously had the better outing by expertly giving up three runs on six hits with three walks, while Gallardo surrendered four runs on eight hits and five walks.

It's one of the best products on the field in October, an element no one can replicate on pace to accomplish something special. As long as Carpenter is dominating, the Cardinals are giving themselves a chance to clinch their 18th World Series appearance with their power at the plate. He's obviously throwing well for the Cardinals, but not only is Carpenter the component.

There is Rafael Furcal, who has been a big leaguer for 12 seasons and has done well getting on base to move into scoring position. As such a point in the postseason that he is hitting .500, with two triples, two singles and a stolen base and three runs scored, Furcal is producing efficiently.

The same can be said for Pujols, who has been on base in eight of his nine appearances to the plate in the past two games, driving a shot into left-center to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead. It would be fatuous, not to mention irresponsible, to dismiss the red-hot David Freese after hitting a double to give his team a 4-0 lead and he is unbelievably 6-for-12 in this series, batting .367 with four doubles, three home runs and 11 RBIs.

"We have a bunch of premier hitters stacked one on top of another, and sooner or later, somebody is going to do something," Lance Berkman said. "It puts teams in a bad spot when everything's clicking, because there's really nowhere to go. It's like an American League lineup in the National League. It's the best offensive team I've ever been a part of in the National League."

Don't forget about the bullpen, too. This is not a mirage, but a genuine natural power.

"I don't consider this team a surprise," Berkman said. "I really don't. Take a step back and tell me which team in the National League has a better lineup than we do. We've got a bona fide ace [Carpenter]. And we've got a closer [Jason Motte] who throws 100 miles an hour, with a nasty slider.

I couldn't agree with Berkman more. This isn't a surprise team, but a championship-caliber team.

"So I mean, at this point, it really shouldn't be, 'I can't believe the St. Louis Cardinals are in the NLCS, making some noise.' That having been said, we're still a long ways from where we want to be. But the fact that we're here, to me, is not surprising."

For those who can't believe the Cardinals are in the NLCS on the verge of another World Series appearance, believe it.