One benefit of working on SB Nation United all weekend: I didn't have time to be totally heartbroken about the St. Louis Cardinals 1. losing Chris Carpenter's gutsy, slightly-less-ribsy comeback game 2. to the Cubs 3. in extra innings, which is about as bad as a regular season loss can get that doesn't lead immediately to the Cardinals falling out of contention or the extended absence of a star player or that New Madrid earthquake I was terrified about in the fourth grade.
Because that game delivered heartbreak, box-score-visible heartbreak, even outside those three obvious markers. The Cardinals had already gotten out of additional bullpen trouble, when Sam Freeman picked up Shelby Miller; they'd just finished building up a lead that was, if not insurmountable, seemed somewhat difficult to surmount; they'd just brought in a guy, in Fernando Salas, who was coming off a game-saving bases-loaded performance with a leverage-index over six; and the loser just had to be poor Joe Kelly, who is now a rare 5-7 Busch Stadium hero.
I dredge all this back up only to suggest that in our yearly debate over the maximum momentum a non-clinching, non-injury, non-earthquake heartbreaking loss can generate, this seems like a pretty good exhibit A; in addition to all those in-game sad-makers, it also stopped dead the Cardinals' Era of Good Astros-Related Feelings.
I get the appeal. That I don't buy most of them hasn't kept me from noticing that the Cardinals, here on September 22, are a narrative-spinner's dream—and were even before this potential Season-Changing-Loss came to us courtesy noted 5-bWAR second baseman Darwin Barney.
9-10, now, in September, with a slight Wild Card lead and two potential teams of destiny 10 games over .500 in their last 20, the Cardinals are probably going to be affected by a late-season surge or collapse in some direction. They might end the season strong and put to rest any doubts about their worthiness; they might falter a little more visibly and generate a bunch of beginning-of-the-end hindsight columns in November about how Chris Carpenter's return was too little, too late; the Brewers or the Phillies might just continue streaking and pass them.
The creative writing book I'm teaching with this year—Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular, which is the only "craft" book I will ever recommend—has an extremely short chapter that's stuck with me for 10 years now titled "The Inevitability of Retrospect."
To get really reductive, it's the idea that an author should appear to open up avenues and choices for his protagonist as the story hits its inciting moment and careens toward its climax—that's the entire movement of the story, being offered decisions and making them. When the reader looks back over the story, though, it should give the impression that the character only ever really had one option—that what seemed like a fertile, vibrant moment in the character's life was actually predetermined by his, uh, character, as it's represented in the story and the choices he made.
In fiction it's a very neat trick, and one that successfully represents a certain way of understanding reality, or at least realist fiction.
In baseball it's just lazy—it's the November historians' propensity for forgetting all those other inflection points that weren't in favor of the one that finally did immediately precede an appropriate slump or surge. This is a good couple of weeks for sportswriters, and a nervous couple for fans, because something's almost certain to happen. But for future sportswriters' reference, I'd like to make it clear that I, at least, have no idea what it is.