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Once More, With Feeling

That's a really good picture.
That's a really good picture.

I had a column all cooked up in my head for this morning by the middle of the fourth inning last night. I was going to tell you about the time I bought a girlfriend a sweater for Christmas, but then broke up with her before Christmas came, and how that was like the wild card race. But then the Cards went and started acting like they actually wanted to win the damned thing, and suddenly my story didn't make any sense anymore.

I've been saying for two weeks I thought the regular season was going to end in a tie and we would be subjected to the heart-stoppingness of a one game playoff, and it looks like that's still a very viable option. Two teams win, tie. Two teams lose, tie. One team wins and one team loses, it's over. It's really all you could ever ask for from the baseball season.

Speaking of all you could ever ask for, wasn't there this huge din of complaint about a month ago over the lack of any real playoff races? In fact, I seem to recall it was the big impetus for the talk of realignment and playoff expansion cropping up again. No races, Yankees and Sox were both getting in, we need more teams in to create more excitement, blah blah blah. Well, here we are, on the final day of the season, and both wild card races are tied. Two teams have been historically collapsing, two other teams have been historically surging (well, sort of), and the whole thing has turned into one of the great finishes in baseball history. So much for nothing exciting down the stretch. I'm sure we'll still get some stupid rule change coming down the pipeline to dilute the season even further and turn baseball into an even more drawn out version of the abject misery that is the NBA and NHL playoffs. I'm so excited about it, too.

Even as the Cardinals have made their miraculous run toward the playoffs this past few weeks, I have to admit I've remained almost completely ambivalent toward this team. Unfortunately, I've come to the conclusion I just don't like this particular team all that much, and success doesn't change that fact. I'm more than a little disappointed to be suffering from this marked lack of enthusiasm, and I wish it were different. All the same, to use a rather tired sportsism, It Is What It Is. Much of this season has just left me with a bad taste in my mouth, and wishing it wasn't so hasn't made it go away.

However, I will give credit where credit is due, and I have to give credit to Tony La Russa for pulling Westbrook when he did. Don't get me wrong; he could have pulled him a batter or two earlier and I wouldn't have complained, but at least we weren't subjected to any of the usual shenanigans or weird rationalisations. Westy didn't have it, and Tony yanked him early enough in the game the team still had a chance to come back. La Russa managed the game the way it should have been managed, which is to say he managed it as if there was no tomorrow, and I have to give the man credit for that.

My own personal ambivalence doesn't mean this hasn't been a season with some real high points. For me, the highest point of the season was the series in Arizona early on, when Lance Berkman went berserk and hit six home runs in four at bats, driving in fourteen and creating a timespace paradox in the desert we have yet to fully understand. Really, Berkman has been the single biggest positive revelation for me this season; finally watching him flick low and away pitches over the left field wall for the Cardinals instead of against the Cardinals has been nothing short of pure joy. That early-season run of offensive ridiculousness was the most fun I've had this season; watching Rasmus-Pujols-Holliday-Berkman-Freese (and then Molina as the season went on and he got it going), was enough to make a new MV3 (or MV4), seem perfectly reasonable.

Probably the other big thrill for me this year was watching Eduardo Sanchez come out of the gate striking out literally everyone, and seeing him pitch effectively again last night was exciting. I have an inordinate amount of affection for that kid.

The ascent of Allen Craig from hard-luck line drive specialist to viable major league starter comes in a close third. And, on certain days (such as when he hits a three run homer or something similar), Craig might just jump up above Sanchez on my personal Baseball Crush-o-meter.

It's the last day of the season. One game to rule them all and in the darkness bind them. Well, maybe one game plus an extra, but that doesn't really work for the meter. Chris Carpenter should take the mound, and really, who else would you want? You know that game, where you ask the question, "If you had just one game that you absolutely, positively, had to win, who would you want to take the mound?" Well, we're actually going to play that game tonight, and Carp is that pitcher. It's pretty good to be a baseball fan right now.

I have no real analysis for you; tell me your best moment this season.

We've come to the end of the road, with just one more bend to go. Last game, and nothing is decided. We couldn't have asked for a better finish.

I'm sure everyone will be feeling chatty today, so I'm putting this thread up now, and I'll probably drop by around the middle of the day to see if we need an overflow. Enjoy the day, and enjoy the very best September baseball has to offer.

Go Cards. Go Rays. Let's finish this thing off right, shall we?

The Baron's Playlist for the 28th of September 2011 (click for 8tracks)

"Charly (Alley Cat Mix)" - The Prodigy

"Everybody In The Place (Fairgrounds Mix)" - The Prodigy

"Eat, Drink, and Be Merry (Tomorrow You'll Cry)" - Porter Wagoner

"Green, Green Grass of Home" - Porter Wagoner

"Jenny's In a Sleep World" - the Diodes

"Red Rubber Ball" - the Diodes

"Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites" - Skrillex (Turn this one up; if you have to find some headphones because you're at work so be it. All of Skrillex's catalog tends to sound better to me loud, but this one in particular demands to be played at enormous volumes, enough to make your eyes roll back in your head at about the 40 second mark.)

"Kill Everybody" - Skrillex