I was living in Los Angeles in 2004. When the Cardinals and Dodgers faced off in the NLDS, it was the first time I ever saw a postseason game, but also the start of an era when the two teams would become frequent playoff rivals.
Their postseason meetings haven't been as memorable as the clashes with the Killer B's era Astros or the heartbreaking NLCS losses to the San Francisco Baseball Giants. But this year marks the fifth time the Cardinals have faced the Dodgers in the playoffs - more than any other National League team - and their fourth meeting since 2004.
The 2004 Cardinals were the Gold Standard of the MV3 era, winning 105 games. The Dodgers won the NL West powered by Adrian Beltre, who had what was probably only the greatest season ever by a third basemen. I can't write any of his numbers here because it would get this post flagged as pornography. He still lost the MVP to Barry Bonds.
Like the early 2000s Cardinals, the Dodgers were returning to what would become fairly regular postseason appearances after nearly a decade out of the race.
The Cardinals won the first two games in St. Louis, both by a score of 8-3. In the first, El Birdos got home runs from Edmonds, Pujols, Matheny, and two from Larry Walker. (Note to younger readers: The Cardinals used to hit home runs.) In Game Two, the Win went to a promising young reliever named Dan Haren.
As the series shifted to LA, the Dodgers got one back on a Complete Game Shutout from the late Jose Lima. In the last gasps of his absurd career, the pitcher and sometimes National Anthem Crooner had become something of a folk hero, giving a ray of hope to the Dodger faithful.
I remember Dodger Stadium reverberating with the sound of those damn Thunder Sticks for Game 4... until a 3-run homer by Pujols in the 4th put the Cardinals in the lead to stay.
Let's be honest: The image we all remember from this series is a knuckling line drive to left field, the potential final out of Game 2, missing Matt Holiday's glove and hitting him square in the fellas. But like the ball that got by Buckner or the Steve Bartman play, it wasn't quite "the moment we lost the series" that the average mouth-breathing talk radio caller would have you believe.
While Holiday's error in the 9th prolonged the inning, Ryan Franklin would go on to give up two singles, two walks and a wild pitch, which, you know, is really bad. One of the two Cardinal runs on the board also came off a solo blast from Mr. Holiday's bat.
The moment is probably so salient for Cardinal fans because there is little else worth remembering from the series. That Game 2 lead was the only lead the team would have in the entire series. Two days later, the series would move to St. Louis and the Dodgers would finish the job with a 5-1 win.
That final game is also notable as the last Major League appearance for John Smoltz, who worked two innings out of the Cardinals bullpen. He gave up a run on four hits over his two innings, but recorded five of his six outs via strikeout.
While the scores would remain close throughout, like the other recent meetings of the two clubs, the series was ultimately not hotly contested. The Cardinals won the first two games at home, and then maintained at least a one-game cushion until clinching in Game 6 back at Busch. Carlos Beltran did what Carlos Beltran does in the postseason and powered the offense. The Cardinals got solid starts out of Wainwright, Wacha and Lynn, with the only shaky outing coming from Joe Kelly.
Much of the broadcaster chatter would focus on Yasiel Puig, who even just at the tail end of his rookie season already represented either the future of baseball or Everything That's Wrong With The Game, depending on your point-of-view. Already riding a September-long slide, Puig often looked lost at the plate, and his two throwing errors in Game 6 further emboldened the "Turn Your Hat Around" segment of the population.
Greinke, who started Game One for the Dodgers, was solid in both of his starts. Kershaw pitched well in Game 2, but gave up the lone run that would ultimately earn him the loss. Coming back on short rest for Game 6, he gave up seven earned and failed to get out of the fifth inning.
The Dodgers lineup was weakened by injuries, and significantly less potent that the lineup they bring into this year's series. Only Adrian Gonzalez was a consistent threat with the bat. Hanley Ramirez played through injury but struggled. Matt Kemp was out altogether.
For two great franchises that have become frequent postseason opponents, the series has been a little limp. Here's hoping this year's encounter is more lively, or at least it's one of the years the Cardinals jump out front and never look back.
Correction: This post originally misstated the 2004 NL MVP winner. It has been corrected.