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Pan fried

it has been a while since the cardinals and their fans were this exhilarated by an open date . . . .

from our old friends at etymology online:

panic (n): "mass terror," 1603, as an adj. (with fear, terror, etc.), from Fr. panique (15c.), from Gk. panikon, lit. "pertaining to Pan," the god of woods and fields who was the source of mysterious sounds that caused contagious, groundless fear in herds and crowds . . . .

Doomsday (n): O.E. domesdæg, from domes, gen. of dom (see doom) + dæg "day." In medieval England it was expected when the world's age reached 6,000 years from creation, which was thought to have been in 5200 B.C. Bede, c.720, complained of being pestered by rustici asking him how many years till the sixth millennium ended. There is no evidence for a general panic in the year 1000 C.E. . . .

but here in 2006 C.E., the signs of a general panic are starting to mount. how long has it been since our boys got their asses handed to them like that in a regular-season series? almost three years, i reckon. but before we give in to the contagious, groundless fear incubating within our herd, let's just ask: did we really learn anything new from this sweep at the hands of the reds? i'm not so sure we did. we already knew, even before albert went out, that the 2006 cardinals were flawed. and we knew that without him they're not merely flawed, they are eminently beatable.

and boy, did the reds beat 'em.

we had been hoping that this amazing team would amaze us again, as they did last summer when they kept playing .625 ball with half of the roster on the disabled list. and for the first 17 innings after albert hit the DL, it looked like the cardinals might do just that. but it's now time to give that fantasy up and accept reality. the cards aren't gonna start printing their playoff tickets at the all-star break in 2006. they're gonna have to fight to get into the postseason. they might make it; they might not. pretty typical circumstances for a baseball team in early june.

once we accept that, and let go of the premise that a 6- or 7-game lead on the division is part of the natural order, it's possible we'll get through this summer without letting Pan singe all of our synapses. we might even find that his province -- the woods and fields of a pennant race -- isn't so scary. on the contrary, it can be kind of beautiful.

we have been here before, and not that long ago. just two years back, on this very date, the cardinals woke up in 2d place, a game behind -- guess who? -- the reds. see for yourselves -- the standings are here, just scroll down to the bottom of the page. that cardinal team, much like this one, was finding its way through the early part of the schedule with a retread at 2b, a bunch of nobodies sharing time in left, a journeyman free-agent signee in right field, a rag-tag bench, and a bend-don't-break starting rotation. the team was a game out of first, and only a few games ahead of 5th-place milwaukee in a very tightly bunched division -- yet we were reasonably happy, because we hadn't yet formed the expectations we have now.

let the expectations go; be happy.

if nothing else, be happy the cardinals won't be on autopilot for the entire 2d half of the schedule. be happy their flaws got exposed early enough in the season that the front office will be forced to confront them with a sense of urgency. be happy that the 2d half of this season probably won't be an interminable slog through one meaningless series after another, as last year's was.

that bastard Pan is gonna be making his racket all season.