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Let’s Watch Some Old Baseball: 21st October, 2004

A trip in the wayback machine, to one of the great nights in our team’s history.

St. Louis Cardinals’ Scott Rolen (L) tags out Mont
I also miss the Expos.
Photo credit should read SCOTT ROVAK/AFP via Getty Images

Morning, all. Hope you’re keeping well, and no one is sick. Due to my own designation as an “essential worker” (which is completely comical, by the way), I am still dragging my carcass out into the deserted streets day after day. I’m not going to complain about the overtime pay involved, though I do occasionally get these pangs in which I feel a bit like a war profiteer, cashing in extra while so many other people are seeing their incomes evaporate.

I’m working on the first post of an ongoing series at the moment, but as is so often the case the subject I chose is actually more time-consuming to research than I expected. It’s not complicated research, mind you; just one of those things that takes longer than you think it’s going to. Therefore, what we have today is the second installment in an ongoing series I began last offseason, then forgot to ever go back to.

And actually, this is barely even a column. What this is is a bunch of people, many of whom are more or less trapped in their homes and all of whom are, I assume, starved for baseball, taking the flimsiest pretense as a valid excuse to some baseball.

The baseball we are going to watch today is, in fact, one of my three favourite baseball games I’ve ever seen. It is game seven of what is probably my favourite postseason series, the incredibly overlooked 2004 National League Championship Series against the Houston Astros. This series should be mythical, widely recalled as an all-time great postseason tilt, yet the fact it was happening concurrently with the three games to none comeback by the Boston Red Sox over the Yankees basically ensured there was absolutely no air in the room to devote to the NLCS.

The 2004-2005 Cardinals were the pinnacle of Walt Jocketty’s team building. No one was better in the late 90s and early 2000s than Jocketty when it came to utilising the financial muscle he was afforded by a rather generous ownership group to bring in players other clubs were looking to trade just before they got expensive, or who had for one reason or another worn out their welcome in their previous city. Jim Edmonds was seen as a diva, and unworthy of a big contract extension. Scott Rolen was seen as a diva, and slightly more worthy of a big contract extension, but still, screw that guy. Jocketty picked up Larry Walker at the trade deadline, bringing in a longtime Cardinal crush at the tail end of his career to fill in a weak spot in the lineup. Edgar Renteria was firesale’d off by the Marlins in exchange for future middling closer (and eventual very bad starter), Braden Looper. Add in a couple of very shrewd free agent signings in Reggie Sanders and Jeff Suppan, along with a classic Dave Duncan reclamation project in Chris Carpenter (oh, and not to mention the unimaginable luck of drafting Albert Pujols in the 13th round), and you had a recipe for one of the greatest teams of my lifetime, and probably yours as well.

That club would eventually go on to lose to the Red Sox in depressing fashion, getting swept out of the park in four games. The Cardinals were, I believe, the better team in that series, but the fact was they were just out of gas by that point (particularly the starting rotation, which was missing Carpenter due to a late-season nerve issue in his throwing arm), and the Sawx were rolling off the emotional high of slaying their great dragon in the first 3-0 series comeback in MLB history. And thus, the best Cardinal team of the past 30 years fell in ignominious fashion, becoming a footnote to the wider baseball world.

The NLCS that year, though, was a true classic. This was the series in which Carlos Beltran established his reputation as the most feared hitter in postseason baseball. It was the series Brad Lidge became the boogeyman, at least for a little while. It was also the series of Jim Edmonds hitting a walkoff homer and creating perhaps the moment of his career: The Catch. It was, I believe, the greatest postseason series no one remembers. Well, except for plenty of people here, I would imagine.

via MLB Vault:

Some thoughts:

  • I’ve always found it curious this stands as one of my very favourite postseason games to ever watch, because it was started by Jeff Suppan. In general, I always found Jeff Suppan starts utterly torturous to follow. No idea why, exactly, but I hated watching him. Even more than I hated watching Jason Marquis, honestly.
  • I still react with audible agony when Larry Walker pops up that 3-1 fastball from Clemens in the bottom of the first. I literally cannot not make that punched in the stomach sound when he misses that pitch.
  • I miss old Busch Stadium. The new one is a much, much nicer stadium. I still miss Busch II.
  • I know that nothing can ever touch David Freese’s Game Six heroics, but for my money the series Jim Edmonds had in the ‘04 NLCS really deserves more attention. He hit .292/.357/.625 with two homers, seven runs driven in, and a catch that almost certainly saved both the game and the series. To be fair, he actually had the worst batting line of the MV3; Rolen’s OPS in the series was 1.044 and Albert’s was an absurd 1.563. Without Edmonds’s twelfth-inning walkoff and The Catch, though, the Cardinals never would have had the chance to, um, get humiliated by Boston. So...yeah.
  • Jeff Kent can still eat a bowl of dicks.
  • Speaking of the MV3, all three of them posted OPS’s over 1.00 for the regular season. Edmonds posted a 1.061 in the best overall season of his career (8.3 WAR), Pujols checked in at 1.072 (7.8 WAR in his first season as a full-time first baseman), and Scott Rolen put up a 1.007 OPS as part of a 9.0 win campaign that absolutely should have garnered him at least strong first-place MVP consideration, if not for his own teammates splitting the vote and the embarrassment of late-career Barry Bonds still going on at the time.
  • I always forget that Tony Womack was ever a Cardinal, and was such a big part of that 2004 team’s success. This was during the era of Jocketty and LaRussa deciding they would just fill in at second year after year, which often worked (Mark Grudzielanek), and sometimes didn’t (the ghost of Junior Spivey). Tony Womack is just one of those guys who slides off my brain.
  • Tony Womack also looks a lot like a guy I used to buy cocaine from years ago.
  • I am not at all certain it was not, in fact, Tony Womack I was buying cocaine from.
  • I’m glad Jason Isringhausen got his red jacket and into the Cardinals’ Hall of Fame, because this was the closest he ever got to a title in reality. He has a World Series ring from the ‘06 team, of course, but that was also the season he lost his closer job and ended up on the Disabled List while a lanky young curveball specialist finished out the games which mattered most in October. Sending the team back to the Fall Classic for the first time in seventeen years was probably the greatest moment of Izzy’s stint with his hometown club, I have to think.
  • I miss baseball.

Have a good day, everyone. I’ll see you all again soon, and we’ll talk then about another World Series losing ballclub.