When the Cardinals and Braves began game 162 of the season, both were tied for the National League Wild Card lead. And while both had their ace on the hill in the most important game of the season, the two teams arrived at this same point via incredibly different routes.
On Aug. 25, St. Louis was considered dead in the water. They were 10 games back of Milwaukee in the National League Central, and 10.5 games behind Atlanta for the Wild Card. The chances of the Cardinals making up a double-digit deficit in just over a month seemed implausible, if not impossible. But from that point forward, the Birds went a sizzling 23-9 while the Braves sputtered to an 11-20 record to close the season. The result was one of the greatest comebacks, and collapses, in baseball history.
“Something historic needed to happen,” Skip Schumakersaid. “Atlanta needed to fall. We needed to have the best month we’ve ever had since I’ve been here as a Cardinal, and it happened. Finally, it happened. We thought it could happen every single month, and it just never did. We’ve taken hit after hit all year, and we deserve this. This is more gratifying than anything to me.”
Chris Carpenterwas dealing all night in a game that meant the world to his club. He finished with a complete game, allowing just two hits while striking out eleven. The ace even added to the offense, contributing an RBI single. He certainly saved his best for last.
“My stuff was good,” Carpenter said. “No question. I was commanding my cutter pretty well, commanding my fastball really well to both sides of the plate, keeping it down. I was able to throw my breaking ball when I wanted to. When you work ahead and get ahead against some of these young guys who are obviously trying to prove something to their guys over there… you can make them swing. I was able to do that.”
The Cardinals had to wait over an hour in the Minute Maid Ballpark locker room to see the result of the Atlanta-Philadelphia game. After Hunter Pence gave the Phillies the lead in the top of 13th, rookie Freddie Freeman grounded into a double play to end the game. Instantly the beer and champagne were flowing in Houston.
A big reason for this historic run was a controversial trade and the acquisition of a legit shortstop. On July 27, general manager John Mozeliak traded highly regarded centerfielder Colby Rasmus, along with pitchers P.J. Walters, Trever Miller and Brian Tallet to Toronto. The return was starter Edwin Jackson, relievers Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski, and outfielder Corey Patterson. While Patterson has essentially been a nonfactor, the others have had a big impact…
Jackson w/ Cards: 5-2, 3.58 ERA and 1.46 WHIP in 78 innings (12 starts)
Dotel w/ Cards: 3-3, 3.28 ERA and 0.85 WHIP in 24.2 innings
Rzepczynski w/ Cards: 0-3, 3.97 ERA and 1.46 WHIP in 22.2 innings
Then four days later there was the Rafael Furcal trade. The veteran stumbled a bit defensively a few games down the stretch but has definitely been a positive contributer…
Furcal w/ Cards: .255/.316/.418, with 7 homers, 11 doubles, 16 RBIs, 4 stolen bases and a .958 field percentage with 4.86 range factor
Now manager Tony La Russa has until Saturday to set his National League Division Series pitching rotation against Philadelphia. There are many options to choose from for Game 1 including Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse or Jackson. The club is also hopeful the two days off will allow Furcal and Matt Holliday to recover from their nagging injuries.
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