Johnny Cueto is not a swine. He's the type of weasel who will attack a man from behind, kick him in the head with metal-spiked feet, and end his career. No, Cueto is not a swine because he has no spine. He's more akin to some sort of invertebrate, slithering in the gutter, waiting to attack.
After what Cueto did to Jason LaRue, it was an uncomfortable practice to shift to rooting for the Cardinals indirectly by way of Cueto. But a pennant race makes for strange alliances and the desire to avoid Selig's brutal wild card play-in game trumps many allegiances, and even morals-based dislike. And so on Sunday, with the Cardinals' magic number sitting at one, Cardinaldom by and large pulled for Cueto. A Pirates loss was just as good as a Cardinals win, and perhaps even preferable if one desired a relaxing Sunday afternoon as opposed to one fraught with tension against the backdrop of a potential division tiebreaker at Busch on Monday evening.
Early Sunday afternoon in Cincinnati, Cueto delivered for the Reds and, in doing so, for the Cardinals.
Cueto came at the Pirates from the pitcher's mound and the batter's box, dashing Pittsburgh's hopes at winning the Central division just as he handed the division crown to the Cardinals minutes before the Diamondbacks starter Josh Collmenter tossed the game's first pitch to St. Louis leadoff man Matt Carpenter. Cueto held the Pirates to just one run on a smattering of six hits with no walks and seven strikeouts over eight innings. After he rapped a grounder through the infield to give the Reds a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the eighth, manager Bryan Price pulled the Cincinnati ace for a pinch-runner—after all, he was now the pitcher of record, an Aroldis Chapman save away from his 20th pitching "win" of the season. Chapman was less than sharp but good enough to notch three outs in the ninth. The Pirates lost; the Cardinals' magic number fell to zero.
And so the Cardinals won the Central division outright on September 28, 2014, the season's final day, with 89 wins—fewer than the 90 wins it took the 2011 Cardinals to win the wild card but more than the 83 required in 2006 for St. Louis to win the Central—thanks in small part to Johnny Cueto, that most gutless of villains. I feel a bit dirty, but I haven't yet taken a cheering-for-Cueto-guilt-induced shower because I'm reminded of what my mom always says: All's fair in love, war, and pennant races.
Correction: The 2006 Cardinals somehow won the division with 83 wins, not 86 as the post initially and erroneously noted.