Wild Cards

I'm sitting here and I literally have no idea where to start. How do you begin to describe what will in all likelihood be one of the benchmarks for how exciting and unpredictable and amazing and gut-wrenching and mind-blowing and pulse-pounding and terror-inducing and sweat-producing and brain-exploding (the list goes on for a while) sports can be?

This is like me watching sports. Except I'm usually throwing something. Or crying.

Already we thought we saw it all: a team come from an all-but-guaranteed seat on the playoff sidelines and secure the wild card berth on the last and most improbably entertaining day of the season. That same team beat the overwhelming favorites in the National League, thanks especially to a pitching performance worthy of a Homerian poem. That team send their bitter-in-2011 rivals back from where they came.

The Wild Cards.

I wish I'd thought of that moniker first, but I have to give credit to a writer in Sports Illustrated. The pun induces a grin because the St. Louis Cardinals, or Cards, were in fact the wild card team.

But it does so much more in describing what the boys in red and white did this year, especially in the month of October.

We rejoin our heroes as they ride the A-train (A = amazing/awesome/astounding/whatever you want) back to St. Louis, where by virtue of a National League victory in the All-Star Game, the Cardinals had home field advantage. Four of the possible seven games would be played in the shadow of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (better known as "The Arch"). Advantage: Cardinals (a delicious morsel of irony: the game-winning home run in the All-Star game was hit by Prince Fielder of the Brewers - whom the Cardinals had just beaten - on a pitch from C.J. Wilson, who would start Game 1 of the World Series for the Texas Rangers).

I'ma make this short: Games 1-5 were each interesting in their own right with highlights worth remembering. But they ain't what baseball fans are talking about and will continue to talk about for generations to come. I mention them briefly here:

Game 1: Decent starts by Wilson and Chris Carpenter gave way to a battle of wits between Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa and Rangers skipper Ron Washington. LaRussa, ever the Grand Master of baseball strategy, gains the upper hand when pinch-hitter Allen Craig hits a go-ahead (and eventually winning) run off Alexi Ogando, who until now had been nigh-unhittable in the playoffs. Cardinals win 3-2, and Washington learns a valuable lesson: Never trust an Italian when a World Series game is on the line.

Or a Sicilian. But what do they know about baseball?

Game 2: Much of the game features a classic pitcher's duel between starters Jaime (pronounce HY-may) Garcia for STL and Colby Lewis for TEX. A sick feeling of deja vu settles over the Rangers dugout when, in the seventh inning, Craig hits a go-ahead single...again...off Ogando...again. But so-far-stellar-and-officially-unofficial closer Jason Motte gave up two singles, and two sacrifice flies later (coupled with a Pujols sort-of error) the Rangers had stolen the lead. Three Cardinals outs later and the Series is even 1-1 going down to Arlington, TX.

Game 3: You might as well call this one the Albert Pujols show. It started innocuously enough - Craig hits a home run, the Cardinals get four more, the Rangers battle back, yadda yadda yadda the Cardinals are up 8-6 after five innings. Enter The Machine. Palbert, who had been hitless thus far in the series, knocks a towering three-run home run off, who else, Ogando to put St. Louis up by five. The next inning, Albert hits another home run, and in the next inning Numero Cinco does it again, making him only the third person ever to hit 3 home runs in a World Series game (Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson are the others). Cardinals dominate 16-7.

Game 4: That mustache.

It's like a wispy mess of eww.

Yeah, that's the one. I'm convinced it unnerved the Cardinals so bad, they couldn't even score a run. Derek Holland and his horrific mustache went nearly the whole game, only giving up two hits. The Rangers win 4-0, and even the series at 2-2.

Game 5: It's Carpenter v. Wilson again. Carp starts strong while the Cardinals tag C.J. for two to go up early. But a pair of home runs by Mitch Moreland and Adrian Beltre evened the score. Jump forward to the eighth inning: Cardinals southpaw Marc Rzepczynski (zep-CHIN-skee) has the bases loaded with right-handed (and World Series MVP candidate) Mike Napoli coming up. LaRussa goes to switch Rzep for Jason Motte, but thanks to a technical difficulty with the phone to the bullpen, Motte never warmed up. Rzep has to stay in, and promptly gives up a two-run double to Napoli. The damage is done, and faster than you can say "I said Motte!" the Rangers are one game away from their first ever World Series title.

That's the look of a man who has no idea what the heck just happened.

(Take a bathroom/drink break - that first part was long, and I can't promise the second part won't be just as long/even longer. I'll even break it up into two entries to give you an excuse to stand and stretch)


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