These are my thoughts and a few stories about Game 4 of the NLDS. Tonight was far and away the most fun I've ever had at a baseball game. Sadly, I forgot my camera on this trip to St Louis, so there are no pictures.
-I was wearing my "Do it for Torty" shirt, and it got a lot of comments and questions. Walking around the concourse before the game, I saw a woman with a big poster referring to Master Allen with a picture designed by our own tomsteele. So, kudos to VEB!
-While washing my hands in the restroom before the game, I looked up to see Craig Sager (looking quite dapper, indeed)! I said, "Hi, Craig!" and he smiled. Another guy complimented his tie and said, "How's it going, Mr. Sager?" He replied, "Really well. This series is going 5 games," and he walked off. What a man!
-I wouldn't characterize the crowd as nervous before the game, but it was definitely not very confident. They weren't terribly loud during introductions, and after those first two runs came across, there was very little energy (though the strike 'em out, throw 'em out combo got rousing applause). Certainly there was cheering when we scored in the bottom of the first, but it sure didn't feel like much of a different atmosphere than a regular season game. Until it did. After Holliday got hit in the 4th following the Berk walk, the stadium really started to come alive. The chant of YADI, YADI, YADI was the loudest I had heard a crowd at Busch III. It reached a full boil as he batted, fell to a simmer after Pence's catch, and absolutely erupted when Freese doubled. From that point on, the stadium was just buzzing with energy, and it grew more and more amplified throughout the night. The stadium shook, and the noise was incredible.
-On one level, the "best fans in baseball" thing is not only wrong, but a bit destructive. Other fanbases are rightfully annoyed by the title, and we certainly don't always live up to it. On the other hand, while the fans tonight certainly performed some of the stupid and obnoxious rituals of fans everywhere, it is worth noting how much more polite we are to our opponents, and grateful we are to our team, than many other teams in baseball. I don't know if we're the best, but we were good fans tonight.
-There was a very loud, obnoxious Phillies fan in my section. As the crowd hushed with Rollins' lead-off double, he gleefully cheered. After the second run came across with nobody out, he yelled "That's two!" as loudly as he could. Nobody in the section said a word to him, and I was trying to think of what I'd say the next time he yelled. I was leaning toward letting him know that his mother must be very proud that he can count so well, what with his mental limitations, but we don't need his help. If that didn't work, I was going to call d-dee to come beat him up. That's the best I could do. Thankfully, there was no need. He got quieter as each inning passed, and I didn't hear from him after the fourth. I love chatting with opposing fans at games, and I think it's great when they show. However, taunting those who came to cheer on the team they love is not something that is very kind. So, in turn: He was really ugly, and his girlfriend looked irritated that she had to be there with him. Poor guy... I'm not one for schadenfreude, but I can't help but hope that he's miserable tonight. I suspect that he is.
-I don't know what sort of shot you all got on the television, but Jay absolutely just couldn't see Rollins' ground rule double. From where I was sitting, I think he catches that ball 95% of the time with even an average jump. He didn't start moving until the ball was half-way through its flight.
-Even if we advance, that was likely the last game I'll attend this year. I was keenly aware throughout the night that there's a reasonable chance this was the last game I'll see Albert in a Cardinals uniform. In person, I've seen him hit multiple homers in a game, and I've seen him steal a base he had no business stealing. I've seen him hit countless doubles, and I've seen him hit a game-winner, and I've seen him spear liners with feline reflexes. Yet tonight, I think it's fitting that his biggest contribution (and one of the key contributions by any player) was an act of boldness, of guts, and of an extraordinary baseball IQ.
My dad was watching the game on tv, and he told me that as Furcal's throw came in, the camera cut to Albert. He couldn't see Utley rounding 2nd, and was shocked and appalled to see Albert step so far off the bag. He was relieved to see how the play finished, and was left tremendously impressed. His is a good, dramatic account of the play, but it missed the whole beauty of the thing.
Sitting way up above the first-base bag, the whole play unfolded in front of me like some sort of morality play, with clockwork machinations leading to an inevitable conclusion. Utley was off with the pitch, and I saw him dig in as soon as Furcal released the throw. Albert saw the throw, Utley, and Freese all at once, swiftly repositioned himself, and cut down Utley. It was extraordinary, yet considering Albert's difficult to quantify baseball genius, it was not surprising. Utley should have known. Thou shalt not succeed if you attempt to be better than Albert Pujols at baseball.
-I can't remember the last time I was so thrilled to see a closer come into a game. It felt like a foregone conclusion that Motte would take care of business, even after the first batter got to 3-0.
-It's going to be torture waiting for Friday. I don't know if we'll beat the Phillies, but we are an exciting, sometimes brilliant team, and if we do beat them, we'll have deserved it. I loved this team all year, even in the frustrating moments (and there were many); it is so rewarding to see them bring it all together in such dramatic fashion.
From here on out, nothing would surprise. I adore the 2011 Cardinals, and tonight's ballpark atmosphere, the distinctly memorable moments from the game, and the way the whole evening unfolded will be the touchstones of my memories and affection for this group.