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The Last Day of the Season

It’s been a season that has seemingly flown by, without ever really getting started. And yet the end is here. Maybe.

Pittsburgh Pirates v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

I was in my car the other night, and it was cold.

Not cold cold, you understand, but chilly. Probably in the low 50s, and while that’s certainly not cold on an absolute scale, I was wearing something with short sleeves, and it was the first time this autumn I noticed actually being cold.

So I did what I pretty much always do when it’s cold outside, at least until it gets to be actually cold: I rolled down the windows, and turned the heater on full blast. There does, of course, come a point when that is not practical, when the temperatures require an actual attempt to get warm, but until that point is reached, I tend to do the windows-down, heater-cranked thing pretty consistently.

I don’t know why I do this, nor do I recall at what age I began the habit. Sometime after I began driving, I suppose; up until that point I never had a car to myself to do this. As to the why, I guess what I enjoy most about it is the contrast; the way sitting by a fire is a completely different experience in the cold, or a rainy, chilly night makes a warm, snuggly bed partner an even more attractive proposition.

The other thing I forgot to mention in my scenario is the baseball game on the radio. But then, you probably just assumed that, didn’t you? I’m talking about driving somewhere in the evening in late September; the soundtrack was a baseball game, because of course it was. Once winter comes, and I have to keep the windows up and turn on the heat to actually get warm, there will be no baseball on the radio. But the month or so of autumn when I can roll down the windows and have to try to stay warm is baseball on the radio season.

What I’ve just described to you is one of my very favourite things in the world. And I’m not ready yet for baseball on the radio this year to be over.

Today is the day when all the narratives come together for one last hurrah. Immovable objects and irresistable forces all colliding all over the field. The 2016 Cardinals are utterly incapable of getting to ten games over .500; here they stand on the last day of the season at nine over once again. If they are going to force any further Cardinal baseball this year, they are going to have to break their own glass ceiling.

The Giants have even year magic working for them, and seem immune to losing at the moment. Then again, the Cardinals have every-five-year magic on their side, which admittedly is a much weaker spell, and makes one wish the Redbirds had allocated a few more points to MP at some point.

The Cardinals have been appalling at home. Today’s game will take place at Busch Stadium, and no matter how successful the Cards may be today, no matter how well they play and how staunchly they refuse to go quietly into that good night, they cannot end 2016 with anything but a losing record on their home field. That is not usually a recipe for success, and it’s a scary proposition, knowing this club has to win a game at home.

The Pirates just might want some revenge for 2013, for the Redbirds knocking them out of their first postseason berth in two decades. They might also want to pull the Cardinals down with them as they head home for a baseball-less October in the Steel City.

Adam Wainwright has been anything but the steadying ace he has been in the past, and at times this season has felt like the biggest problem with the pitching staff. Not the worst pitcher, mind you; the fact Adam was once the biggest of big game pitchers has made his coming up so small so many times this year seemingly take on outsize proportions. And yet here we are, game 162, and it will be the same Waino-Yadi battery on the mound today we saw a decade ago now, when the Cardinals won their first championship in 24 years. I won’t say it’s a chance for redemption; there is nothing about a pitcher in his mid-30s beginning to slow down that requires redeeming. But this is a chance for another moment of October glory, a chance to forestall the clock and one more time carry the team forward a step closer to the promised land.

This has been a strange, frustrating season. I was on the sell boat all the way back in May, when I thought the Cardinals had an opportunity to reshape their roster with a strategic step back. Actually, I was hoping for that soft reset as far back as the offseason, I suppose, considering I was stumping for Trevor Rosenthal, as that most overpriced of luxury items — the Proven Closer — to be dealt for the kind of talent haul we saw elite relievers generate in 2016. And then yesterday the season needed saving, and Trevor Rosenthal, having lost his closer’s job and torpedoed his value this season, stepped up and saved it.

Do I still wish the club had gone into sell mode this year, and looked to the future? My head does. My head thinks that would have been remarkably smart, considering where the club is, what the market looks like in terms of both free agents and potential trades, and where the farm system is. My head thinks this was the year to reset and reshape, and in the end I think my head is probably right. There was an opportunity there, and it wasn’t taken, and I think it would have been good if it had been.

My heart, though.... No matter how much I might think my head is right, the heart wants what it wants, and my heart wants more nights of baseball on the radio with the windows down and the heater on, as October does its October thing. My heart is not ready for the season to be over just yet. I want more baseball beyond today.

Whether that is in the cards or not, though, is anyone’s guess. The best we can hope for is a game 163, and there’s a little bit of luck needed to even get that far. For now, though, for this Sunday morning, all we can do is wait, and cheer, and then hope. Wait to see which version of this maddening team will show up today, cheer our hearts out just in case we have to wait six months to do so again, and then hope that baseball is kind, and gives us another chance. It is frustrating to be here, and yet it is hard not to love it all the same.

It is October in St. Louis, and there is baseball to be played.

At least one more game, anyhow. And then we’ll see.