There's a certain buzz the city of St. Louis gets come playoff time when the Cardinals are involved. Random people standing in line at the supermarket want to talk about the game last night. Those who had to be up early for work and missed the latter innings go about asking strangers to recap the end of the game. (Or else they just stay up and grin ruefully as they purchase yet another energy drink at 5 am. Totally worth it.) The slightest piece of Cardinal-themed clothing is an instant ice breaker anywhere you go.
It's a good time to be a Cardinal fan, local and ex-pat alike. But I can't help feeling those members of Cardinal Nation not currently residing in the holy land are missing out a little bit; trying to explain to the cashier at Dierberg's why Kyle McClellan should have been left off the LCS roster may or may not sound like fun, but it's kind of special all the same.
The availability of the games, whether through the television or on the internet, have made it far easier to follow a team from afar now than at any other point in even just my relatively short lifetime. But a huge part of the sporting life isn't just the team; it's the cam
araderie with the people you see every day, whether shared joy or commiseration. You may see every pitch of every game, and you may read every bit of analysis available, but the Starbuck's in Flagstaff, Arizona is no place to bask in the reflected joy of your fellow fans. There's something missing.
You all probably think I just come here to vent my spleen and tell stories about fruit/vegetable- or small-kitchen-appliance-assisted sex, and you would be partially right. The other part, though, is all those people who love the Cardinals as much as anyone but don't have the benefit of a city similarly in love surrounding them. I come back week after week because I want to write something that means something to someone who may not have had that feeling otherwise. When you see that unbelievable play, or that dramatic home run, there's nothing better at that moment than turning to someone, screaming out, "Did you just see that?" and knowing they feel the same way. This place may be a poor substitute for the real thing, but it's the best we can do. It is my hope those of you in so many far-flung places have gained a little of that connection from the efforts here. It's the only real reward we get for this.
Well, except for Dan, who receives big canvas sacks of SBN money with dollar signs on the side like a cartoon bank robber.
Cards and Brewers, knotted at one game apiece. By stealing one from Milwaukee at home the Cardinals have given themselves home field advantage, and I'm actually starting to feel pretty good about their chances. I never felt good about the team's chances of beating the Phillies; I kept waiting for that rug to be yanked out from under my feet even as I acknowledged it was a tougher matchup for Philly than they would have liked. But here we have a team we know oh so well, and the Brewers simply are not the same team on the road they are at home. Why that might be I would not venture to guess -- and far be it from me to drudge up some of the suspicions which seem to have swirled around Miller Park this year -- but the fact is the Cardinals have taken away Milwaukee's single biggest edge in the series.
It's easy to be confident when your team looks as good as the Cardinals did Monday night. That being said, I still worry. I worry about voodoo curses and possible clubhouse-localised outbreaks of Legionnaire's Disease. (Though on further reflection I should probably worry more about widespread outbreaks of Legionnaire's Disease and less about very confined ones.) I worry about South Africa and Belgium going to war, with the cities of Milwaukee and St. Louis being drawn into the conflict. I worry Fox Sports will get Dan McLaughlin a spot driving one of the vehicles in a celebratory parade as part of his severance package, resulting in thousands of casualties.
Most of all, though, I worry about the team itself. As good as they look now, we've all seen the dark side of this team too. They played close to .700 ball in September, but I'm sure we all remember the .423 June. This team has played Sybil once too often for my tastes, or, at least often enough I'm still living in fear of all that could go wrong.
So, in no particular order as part of my court-ordered baseball therapy, I present you with the four things about this team that still scare the living crap out of me.
- Holliday and Berkman -- It's easy to have missed it, what with Albert going berserk and beating the Brewers almost single-handedly, but the other two big pieces of the Cards' offensive engine haven't had great postseasons. Berkman hit the homer off Halladay early, but has struggled badly since. Holliday looks to be getting his timing back since his finger injury, but he hasn't exactly been bashing the ball either. I wouldn't be surprised if Albert has seen his last hittable pitch of the NLCS, and if so the onus will fall squarely on the shoulders of Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman to prove that a bad strategy. If those two can't provide the production, the offense could stall. We've seen David Freese and Jon Jay step up and do much of the heavy lifting; it's time for the big boys to make their presence felt.
- The Lefties -- Look, Arthur Rhodes has been a great pitcher in his time. Forget the strikeouts of Ryan Howard in the divisional series, I remember seeing him make Robin Ventura flat-out stupid this one time. Problem is, Robin Ventura is now managing the White Sox and Rhodes is still pitching to left-handed hitters, just not all that well. Really, between Rhodes' tightwire act and the intermittent control problems Marc Rzepczynski seems to be prone to, I don't have complete confidence either one can come in and get one huge out when they need to. Fortunately, the Brewers are so heavily right-handed the issue is mitigated somewhat, but there's no huger left-handed out in the game right now than Prince Fielder.
- Jaime -- Jaime Garcia's next start is set to come in game five, which has the potential to be either a clincher or a survival game, depending on how the next two contests sort out. Luckily for all of us, it will be a home start for Jaime, which has typically meant much better things in 2011. Unfortunately, the inconsistency and vulnerability to big innings almost completely without warning are both still definite issues.
- Jason Motte -- Watching Jason Motte pitch is a little like playing through Bioshock on Easy; you keep waiting for the moment when, "You know what? I'm just gonna walk over there and smack 'em with a wrench," stops being a viable strategy, and that moment just keeps on not arriving. Sure, you can talk all you want about Motte's second pitch, but that 91 mph thing he throws that really doesn't do anything except go slower than his fastball isn't exactly awe-inspiring. As a Cardinal fan who has lived through the sad ends of both the Isringhausen and Franklin Eras, I have a strong predisposition toward fear and distrust of the guy closing games out. It's nothing to do with Motte and everything to do with firsthand knowledge of how badly things can go when the man at the back of your bullpen can't be counted on to do his job. Please oh please oh please, at least wait to break our hearts until next April, Jason.
Oh, and one more thing: I worry about the weather. Don't be fooled by the blue skies in the title; it's probably going to just rain its ass off today. I worry about that playing all kinds of havoc with the schedule, the travel, and possible pitching shenanigans the Brewers could pull against our beloved boys in red. So if anyone knows some kind of anti-rain dance I would greatly appreciate them starting it up. Or, failing that,a poorly-conceived business from the dustbowl era specialising in making it not rain we could go and hire using my time machine. Either way.
You know what I don't worry about? Chris Carpenter in a legendary pitching matchup. Carp vs Yovani Gallardo, tonight, Ree-Verse Rainmakers, Inc. hire permitting. Enjoy.
"A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes" - Leonard Cohen
"True Love Leaves no Traces" - Leonard Cohen (I know I'm recycling both the Cohen tracks from a recent list, but I never got it uploaded and linked; plus, both of them actually feel appropriate to me right now.)
"Mr. Tough" - Yo La Tengo (my favourite YLT song ever)
"You Can Have it All" - Yo La Tengo
"Wildcat" - Ratatat (to inspire a big Berkman performance)
"Tropicana" - Ratatat
"The Neighbors" - St. Vincent
"Just the Same but Brand New" - St. Vincent