Local media cheerleaders pulled mightily for the snorting, stomping, stampeding Red Sox to catch the Dodgers in baseball’s annual grand finale, but it’s far more appropriate that it should be the Cardinals.
When baseball is the issue, St. Louis versus Los Angeles is no contest for me. But most of my erstwhile sports-media brethren tend to prefer the joys of TinselTown to the starch authenticity of the de facto capital of Middle America and if there’s one thing a lifetime in the dodge teaches you it’s that the Boys on the Bus will always root for the best road trip.
Plus, beating up on the Dodgers would have presented the priceless opportunity to spend two more weeks excoriating Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and the increasingly irrelevant Josh Beckett while celebrating the monumental deal that quite miraculously flip-flopped your pets from worst to first. With LA the foe, there might even have been sightings of the infamous McCourts. Now, there’s a loathsome prospect.
Thanks to the Cards, we’ve been spared all that. To them fell the honor of exposing the Dodgers as the mere pretenders they often prove to be. They did so merrily. It was better that way. We were lucky, although it would have been amusing to sample Red Sox Nation’s reaction to Yasiel Puig.
Instead, we get the Cards. Be thankful. Of all the NL teams the ancient and honorable team from St. Louis has been far and away the one we’ve had the most history with; all of it rich. They are blood brothers.
In our – if I might politely suggest – acute sense of our own great esteem, we hereabouts like to think of this New England being the seat of baseball as well as intellectual and literary pre-eminence, as if all three go together. But in vast stretches of the Republic, including all of the heartland, St. Louis is the ultimate baseball town. If the Yankees bow to no one when it comes to sheer success in the modern baseball age, second-best are the Cardinals. More important, no team has done it with greater character and style. There’s a certain unmistakable élan about Cardinals’ Baseball.
Boston versus St. Louis! It’s always been an argument worth raising to yet another epic level. And so we will.
In 1946, the Red Sox were brinking on post-war dominance after a quarter century wandering the wilderness only to have the underdog Cards unravel them on Enos Slaughter’s mad dash. Somewhere out in the Great Beyond, Johnny Pesky is thankful he won’t have to deal with all that, yet again.
In 1967, the Red Sox as the wildly sentimental favorites of an entire nation had their impossible dream crushed, principally by Bob Gibson. Poignant if sad, it more importantly launched our Baseball Renaissance now cresting yet again.
In 2004, the 86-year Biblical siege of folly, frustration, and failure fancifully ascribed to a silly “curse” came to a merciful end as the Bosox, having rid themselves of the Yankees’ perverse spell, mowed down the Redbirds. That punishing sweep was the most embarrassing rebuff St. Louis Baseball has endured in eight decades and you can bet the bloody ranch, Bunky, they haven’t forgotten it. As for us, we’re just thankful we don’t have to talk about it anymore.
In 2013, might redemption be something of an issue; or revenge, if you prefer? This Cardinal team is capable of delivering all that. Before this is over, the Red Sox may wish they’d caught the Dodgers instead, the Cards being significantly the better team.
You know your Red Sox. No amount of drum-beating here can add to your intelligence on them. What they have accomplished this year is the marvel of all baseball. Like that of the Cardinals, the smart performance of their front office and farm system is deemed a model for others. Even the Yanks are said to be envious.
The Cardinals – ever the more laid-back team – again came quietly out of the pack to close fast, as is often their way. You doubtless know much less about them. So here are some thoughts.
After six games with Detroit, this series will be a bit of a baseball culture shock for Boston. The Tigers and Cardinals don’t come from the same baseball planet. Few teams are less alike. For openers, the Cardinals will simply not beat themselves as the passive, lead-footed, much too polite Tigers so amiably did.
This St. Louis team plays smart baseball both ways. This team is spirited. This team won’t lose games on wild pitches, botched double plays, and bone-headed base running. It’s a team devoted to fundamentals that runs the bases brilliantly, knows how to bunt, and takes the extra base ravenously. In the Cardinals’ lineup you’ll find no Prince Fielders wandering glassy-eyed and bemused. They’re healthy, now getting Allan Craig, a .315 hitter, back.
No team these days manufactures runs more adroitly. They don’t waste chances, don’t swing at pitches bouncing two feet out of the strike zone. They had MLB’s highest batting average with runners in scoring position. They are alert, aggressive. You’ll find no bloated big-boppers who play “trick or treat” in this lineup. They hit homers but don’t rely on them, recognizing that power rarely dominates the post-season. But pitching always does and they have even more of that most precious commodity than Detroit, with none of Detroit’s calamitous bullpen shortcomings.
You’ll be intrigued by their starters; all rangy kids save for the mainstay, Adam Wainwright. There are four more – three of them rookies – and they average 25 years in age and 6-foot-5 in height and all feature heat. Such is their rotation’s depth they have a 15-game winner, rookie Shelby Miller, who never got to pitch against LA. The best is probably dart-throwing Michael Wacha (22 and 6-6), MVP of the LCS.
It is with an understandable confidence that Jim Leyland might have killed for what Manager Mike Metheny goes to in his bullpen where, among several others who do the job well, a certain Carlos Martinez resides. A stringy rookie from the Dominican, Martinez is 22. Against the Dodgers, his fastball touched 102 MPH. In a fierce free-agent battle rife with bitter controversy, Boston lost him to St. Louis, so when he appears you can expect the Red Sox brain trust to collectively bristle.
By the way, young Metheny will also impress you. Successor to legend in his own time (and mind) Tony LaRussa, Metheny is bright and bold. He’s done a nifty job integrating a batch of rookies (also including three infielders) with a veteran core (the Beltrans, Molinas, Hollidays et al.) The Cardinals have long had the knack for revamping on the fly. They regularly rebuild while never falling much off the pace. This will be their third Series visit and sixth time reaching at least the LCS in eight years with three quite different teams. No other team matches that. In Metheny, they have in charge a total product of their elite system.
So, what does it come down to? It’s an interesting fact that the Tigers played mediocre, ill-disciplined, plodding, fairly dumb baseball under the direction of a manager who frequently seemed in a trance. In the end, poor Jim Leyland, ever the likeable fellow, was reduced to mere banality before announcing earlier this week that he will be stepping down as Detroit’s manager.
And yet the Tigers still almost beat the Red Sox, probably should have, and maybe would have if they’d been capable of a simple bunt or sac-fly at key moments, let alone had a remotely adequate bullpen. The Cardinals, on the other hand, simply outclassed the Dodgers.
This does not – I repeat: not – constitute a prediction of the outcome. I don’t do them, prophecy being the least of my skills. But if the Cardinals in this World Series do not prove a much more formidable foe than the Tigers were in the LCS my name is Smead Jolley.