At the end of the season, I planned on putting together a top-10 list of my favorite moments from the year. I never got around to it, but since spring training is nearly upon us, here's a hastily thrown-together compilation of some of the moments I most enjoyed from last regular-season. These are not all about the Cardinals winning, nor are they all important to how the season turned out. They're just some plays that I particularly enjoyed, but am likely to forget if I don't put them here for safe-keeping. I'm sure I'm forgetting some, but, well, consider this unofficial. In chronological order and with too much commentary about some, and not enough about others, here they are. Please let me know if you spot any errors.
April 8 @ SF: Ryan Theriot hits a game-tying and go-ahead 2 run single off Brian Wilson in the 9th. Regular members of the front page and game thread commentariat know about the complex nature of my feelings toward Ryan Theriot. For reasons now obscured by the foggy haze of history, I liked him when we signed him, and thought that he'd be a good player for us. While I was horribly, horribly wrong about that, he did sport a decent OBP for us for the first half of the year, before his offense caught "up" with his defense, and we started running Decalso out there prior to Furcal coming over and saving the world (more on that later). Anyway, this hit early on was an example of what I thought he could do for us: work the count and slap singles. While he was a terrible player for us overall, he did have several key at-bats late in games against power closers. Here's the first of them.
April 8 @ SF: 7-2-5, The Five Man Infield. This was my favorite play of the year. If someone told me 12 months ago that 2011 would be the last time I'd see Tony La Russa AND Albert Pujols wearing the Birds on the Bat, I'm not sure I would have believed them. Had they then told me that of the two, I'd be saddest about Tony's departure, I absolutely wouldn't have believed them. Yet, somehow, that is the case. I totally understand Tony's many detractors, both from Cardinals fans and from those of our rivals. Tony's in-game decisions, particularly his propensity to sac-bunt at every opportunity, often left me feeling extremely frustrated. But, I always knew that whatever Tony decided to do, he considered every possible option before he decided. More than any baseball manager that I'm familiar with, Tony would think through every available solution to try to make the best decision. He tried Skip at 2nd, Craig at 2nd, and Albert at 3rd. He batted the pitcher 8th and made endless lineup machinations. He would use the media as a chess piece to try to game our opponents and our own players. His willingness to be unconventional with the bullpen was a key factor in our success this post-season, and in 2011, he left his comfort zone and gave some key innings to rookies. None of this is to say that he was an ideal manager. At times I hated his decisions, and his personality was not always easy to take. But, looking back, I'm glad he was our manager, and I'll miss him. Goodbye Tony, and thanks for doing things like this (also, ALLEN CRAIG! WOOOOO!):
April 13 @ Ari: Lance Berkman hits a grand-slam. It seems like a long time ago now, but Lance looked rough in the pre-season, and then the Cardinals' offense sputtered to start the year. Through April 9th, we had scored more than 3 runs just once (4 against the Giants in the above game), and Lance had just 1 RBI.. Between the 10th and the 16th, we put up 6,8,8,15,9,11, and 9 runs. In that stretch, Lance Berkman had 6 home-runs and 12 RBI's. This was in the middle of that, and it was his fourth homer in 3 games. It was the beginning of 2011 being The Year of Our Berk.
May 3 vs. Fla: Daniel Descalso hits a go-ahead home-run in the 7th inning. I love when light-hitting middle-infielders hit home-runs. So there you have it.
June 5 vs ChC: Albert Pujols hits his second walk-off homer in a row against the Cubs. I don't think much commentary is needed. Adios, Albert. I'm not exactly bitter that you left, but I can't say I'm entirely happy with how it all went down. However, in the end, what I'll be telling my grandchildren about will be things like what happens in this video. Thanks for the memories.
June 19 vs. KC: Skip Schumaker hits a walk-off home-run. See note for May 3.
July 20 @ NYM: Gerald Laird puts us ahead with a bunt single. One of my favorite things about baseball is that due to its slow pace and the relatively long length of the game, surprise events seem somehow more surprising than they do in other sports. This was one of the most memorable surprises for me in a year that was full of them. Another surprise is this: Prior to the 2012 season, Gerald Laird has 38 career hits in 70 career bunts (sacrifices not included).
August 2 @ Mil: Rafael Furcal saves the game, which we would go on to win, by running down a ball in left-field.
Everything about this play made me happy. At the time, it felt like a key game in the playoff race (and in retrospect, it was--just not in the way I thought). This was just Furcal's third game as a Cardinal, and we knew we needed him to be good for us after the horrible play of Theriot. And here he showed what he could do in dramatic fashion.
That's all I have for you. From here on out, it felt like the playoff race, and a "key moments from the 2011 playoff race" post would be lovely, but it won't be from me. And the playoffs, with all of their drama and glory, have already been sufficiently memorialized.
Thanks for reading! I'll just leave this here.