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The Five Best Games of 2017

Counting down this year's most thrilling Cardinal winners

Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Another year, another journey around the sun. Evidently, 2017 wasn't a particularly enjoyable season for Cardinals fans. At FanGraphs, Jeff Sullivan polled fans of all 30 MLB teams asking them how they would "rate their overall 2017 season fan experience." On a 1-5 scale, the Cardinals ranked worse than the median with an average rating of about 2.5. Still, this past year brought too many memories–and 83 victories–for me to let go unacknowledged.

Rather than let the rankings that follow devolve into a series of selections based on my personal bias, I opted for a more scientific method: average leverage index, or ALI for short. Leverage index is the importance of a plate appearance based on the current game situation (i.e. score, inning, baserunners, outs, etc.). ALI is simply the average leverage index for each plate appearance in that specific game. A leverage index of 1.0 is considered an average-leverage moment, with a higher number signifying a higher stakes plate appearance.

Before we hop into the games, I should preface this article by saying that I only chose to include Cardinal wins because who wants their trip down memory lane to be full of losses?

For whatever reason, these games will live on in our hearts regardless of what the numbers say.

Honorable Mention: Cardinals 7, Phillies 6 (10 innings)

Date: June 21

ALI: 1.124

VEB Recap: Pham hits 2 HRs and saves two runs in 7-6 Cardinals comeback win over Phillies in extra innings

The one where our lord and savior Tommy Pham singlehandedly beat the Phillies. Through his historic ninth inning dramatics on both sides of the ball, Pham became the first Cardinal to tally a pair of home runs and outfield assists in the same game as the good guys scored seven unanswered to erase a 5-0 deficit.

Honorable Mention: Cardinals 8, Royals 5

Date: August 9

ALI: 1.130

VEB Recap: Cardinals are feline good after clawing back to an 8-5 victory

This game will forever be defined by one moment: the Rally Cat's claim to fame and Yadier Molina's ensuing grand slam. I was in attendance at this game and remember thinking to myself as the ball cleared the left field fence, Baseball is fun again.

Honorable Mention: Cardinals 6, Rays 4

Date: August 26

ALI: 1.240

VEB Recap: Cardinals Win on Tommy Pham Walk Off Home Run


Honorable Mention: Cardinals 3, Phillies 2

Date: June 9

ALI: 1.297

VEB Recap: Cardinals Score 50% More Runs Than Phillies, End Long National Nightmare

Following a winless road trip, the Cardinals halted an eight-game skid in their return to Busch behind Aledmys Diaz' go-ahead homer and one of the plays of the year from Tommy Pham.

Honorable Mention: Cardinals 8, Blue Jays 4 (11 innings)

Date: April 27

ALI: 1.358

VEB Recap: Carpenter walks it off in game one of the doubleheader in 8-4 win

Down to their final out, the Cardinals forced the opener of a day-night twin bill into extra innings with a two-run homer off the bat of Randal Grichuk. The battle of the birds continued with both sides swapping scoreless frames in the tenth before Kolten Wong's leadoff triple in the bottom of the eleventh preluded Matt Carpenter's walk-off grand slam.

Honorable Mention: Cardinals 3, Rockies 2

Date: July 25

ALI: 1.359

VEB Recap: Bader Debuts, Cardinals Walk Off

In what many expected to be Lance Lynn's final start in a Cardinals uniform, the bullpen ruined any chances of him going out with a winning decision by surrendering a pair of late runs to knot things up at two apiece. Harrison Bader, who was called up earlier that day, stole the show in the bottom of ninth, doubling for his first career hit before scampering home on Jedd Gyorko's game-winning sacrifice fly.

We were also treated to a classic post-game interview from Lance.

Honorable Mention: Cardinals 6, Marlins 5

Date: May 9

ALI: 1.500

VEB Recap: Sierra Shines, Cards Crawl Back for Fifth Straight

Miami battered Adam Wainwright and Brett Cecil for five runs before St. Louis posted a four-spot in the top of the eighth to even the score at 5-5. With one out in the ninth, Magneuris Sierra legged out an infield single before advancing to second on an errant throw. Dexter Fowler, nursing a shoulder injury that rendered him incapable of playing in the field, laced a pinch-hit into right field as Sierra slid under the throw by Giancarlo Stanton to plate the go-ahead run. Seung-hwan Oh locked down the save with a 1-2-3 frame in relief as the Cardinals maintained their lead atop the NL Central.

With my abuse of the honorable mention now complete, let's move into what you all came here for: the top five.

#5: Cardinals 4, Cubs 3

Date: April 2

ALI: 1.512

VEB Recap: Grichuk, Martinez power Cardinals to 4-3 win on Opening Night

This year's Opening Night had just about everything you could have asked for. Two arch rivals going at it in the national spotlight. A dazzling display of starting pitching. Questionable managerial decisions that made you want to bang your head against the nearest solid object. A heart-pounding eighth inning and a dramatic ninth-inning blast to tie the game. The first ever automatic intentional walk. RANDAL delivering in the clutch as the night's walk-off hero.

#4: Cardinals 4, Pirates 3

Date: September 22

ALI: 1.515

VEB Recap: Cardiac Cards Make Zombie Comeback, Beat Bucs 4-3

St. Louis got off to a hot start with two early runs in the series opener before once and future Cardinals legend David Freese burned his hometown team with an RBI-double, leading the charge as the Pirates tied the game in the bottom of the fourth. Both clubs traded empty frames until the home-half of the seventh, when Ryan Sherriff yielded back-to-back hits before a Paul DeJong throwing error gave Pittsburgh its first lead of the game. Facing the electric southpaw Felipe Rivero, the Cards rallied for two runs in the ninth while Juan Nicasio shut the door with two perfect innings of relief.

#3: Cardinals 4, Diamondbacks 3

Date: June 28

ALI: 1.517

VEB Recap: Wainwright pitches gem, Cards barely hold on in 4-3 win

A scoreless affair out in the desert began slowly before a seven-batter, three-run top of the fourth put the Cardinals ahead early. The Diamondbacks got one back in the bottom-half of the inning and another in the seventh to pull within one. Jedd Gyorko responded with his second RBI of the game–this time in the form of a two-out double–in the eighth and Brett Cecil fanned All-Stars Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb to retire the Diamondbacks in order. Just three outs away from victory, Mike Matheny called upon Trevor Rosenthal to protect a 4-2 lead. In the most Rosenthal-esque fashion possible, the following sequence transpired:

  • Line-drive single
  • Wild pitch
  • Flyout
  • Walk
  • Groundout
  • Wild pitch
  • Walk

If you're keeping score at home, that's one run in with men at the corners for Arizona's final hope: David Peralta. On the 29th pitch of the inning, Peralta rolled a ground ball over to second, which Kolten Wong tossed to Matt Carpenter to seal a 4-3 win.

#2: Cardinals 4, Marlins 3

Date: July 6

ALI: 1.555

VEB Recap: Cardinals Edge Marlins 4-3

In what quickly became a duel between Marcell Ozuna and Luke Voit, the former opened the contest by whacking an RBI-single into right field to score Dee Gordon. Unlike Gordon, who singled, stole second, and tagged up to third before crossing the plate, Voit had no interest in manufacturing his way to a run, crushing an 0-2 curveball from Tom Koehler into Big Mac Land. In the third, the Marlins played small-ball once again with Gordon before Ozuna drove him in with another base-hit. Voit picked up two more RBI with a double in the bottom of the third, at which point Koehler and Michael Wacha began to settle in. Randal Grichuk homered in the sixth, a run the Marlins snatched right back in the following frame as Ozuna plated–you guessed it–Gordon for his third RBI-single of the day.

The 4-3 score held up the rest of the way, but only after an eventful ninth inning that saw Seung-hwan Oh put two on before striking out Martin Prado to wrap up a St. Louis winner.

#1: Cardinals 6, Braves 4 (14 innings)

Date: May 7

ALI: 1.606

VEB Recap: Pham swats a pair as Cardinals sweep Braves

Eyeing a weekend sweep in Atlanta, Matt Carpenter opened the scoring with a first-inning bomb off R.A. Dickey. Tommy Pham homered in the third before doubles by Kolten Wong, Randal Grichuk, and Jedd Gyorko extended the Cardinals' lead to 4-0. Michael Wacha was cruising until his third trip through the order, surrendering two runs in the sixth before he stopped the bleeding with a crucial 3-6-3 double play to end the threat. Dansby Swanson knocked home an RBI-single against Matt Bowman as the game shifted to the bottom of the eighth with the Cardinals clinging to a one-run lead.

With two outs, Freddie Freeman yanked a game-tying solo-shot off Brett Cecil before Trevor Rosenthal worked a perfect ninth to ensure free baseball. With two on and two out in the bottom of the tenth, Matt Kemp swung through a Jonathan Broxton fastball to strand the winning run in scoring-position. Moving to the eleventh, Seung-hwan Oh loaded the bases with two outs for Ender Inciarte, who grounded the fifth pitch of the at-bat along the first base line. Ranging back, Carpenter shoveled the ball to Oh, who edged Inciarte in a footrace by the slimmest of margins. The Braves would challenge the play only for the out call to be confirmed.


Now on to the twelfth, a base-hit and error preceded a Matt Kemp double play, which left men at first and third after Sam Tuivailala issued an intentional walk to the next batter, Nick Markakis. With the winning-run just 90 feet away, Kurt Suzuki whiffed at a 1-2 curveball to strand Atlanta's seventh and eighth baserunners over the past three innings alone. By the thirteenth, pitchers were pinch-hitting for other pitchers as the Braves left another runner out to dry.

In the top of the fourteenth, Magneuris Sierra dribbled a weak grounder that the second baseman Jace Peterson bobbled, giving Sierra more than enough time to reach first base safely on an E4. In stepped Tommy Pham, who launched a go-ahead homer into the left field overhang at SunTrust Park for a 6-4 lead. Kevin Siegrist breezed through the bottom of the frame, finishing the ballgame with a strikeout of Freddie Freeman.

So there you have it. 2017 was a year far from being void of frustration, but a memorable ride nonetheless. If this is my final post before the calendar flips to the new year, I want to take the time to thank each and every one of you for what has been an incredible year at Viva El Birdos. As somebody who had been reading and fanposting here for a while, I knew I was going to enjoy every second of this opportunity when I joined this incredible team back in July. You have made this experience everything I ever could have imagined and more.

Here's to 2018,