St. Loius' Carlos Beltran is congratulated by his teammates after scoring in the ninth inning of game five of the National League Division Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. on Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Photo By David Carson, firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON • Game 5 was supposed to be over early, already put on ice, just like the cases of champagne in the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse. It was only the third inning, and the home team had already achieved one conquest by battering Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright for three homers and a 6-0 lead. The celebration was but a mere formality.
Let there be fireworks, dancing in the streets, and Game 1 of the NL championship series on Sunday in D.C. Let this be the official rising of a new generation of baseball stars, the young and abundantly talented Nationals. May the weary defending 2011 World Series champions go back to St. Louis, and rest in peace.
This NL division series was over, you see, but no one bothered to tell the Cardinals. No one informed the team with the strongest and most unbreakable heart in pro sports, that it was time to stop competing, time to end the fight, time to pack and say goodbye until the first dawn of 2013 spring training.
It was supposed to be closing time for the Cardinals at Nationals Park, but go ahead and just try to make this team quit before they've used up all of their energy, all of their will, and their 27th out. Just try to make the Cardinals hang their heads and go home for the winter.
On a bracing Friday night that felt chilled and charmed, just like the enchanted autumn of 2011, the Cardinals gave us one of the all-time shockers. It was something out of the imagination, a baseball fable that couldn't be real. Except it did really happen, and if you closed your eyes and listened intently, you may have heard the echoes of the late Jack Buck barking "Go crazy, folks. Go crazy."
In one of the most amazing, improbable, remarkable, miraculous, incredible, unbelievable, astonishing and stupefying comebacks in MLB postseason history, the Cardinals came up with the 2012 version of Game 6.
This was another October, in a new year and in a different city. The retired future Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa wasn't here to push them on, and the menacing Albert Pujols wasn't waving a bat at the Nationals, playing his customary role of enforcer. None of it mattered during this 3 hours and 49 minutes of mayhem and madness. The Cardinals are still the team that wouldn't die.
Resisting the inevitable, not ready to concede the throne, the Cardinals ambushed the hapless, awestruck Nationals with four ninth-inning runs, pulling off a 9-7 victory that will never be forgotten in St. Louis or D.C.
The winning blow, a two-run single by rookie shortstop Pete Kozma, left the Cardinals jumping and screaming in their dugout. That one base hit sapped the energy, the life, the tingling anticipation of joy from a sellout crowd that was pumped for Washington’s biggest party since the last round of presidential inaugural balls.
These are the Cardinals, and this how they roll.
Do you believe in miracles?
Do you believe in TWO miracles?
The first on October 28, 2011.
And now this ridiculous, crazy, someone-is-making-this-up encore on October 12, 2012.
"It was surreal," Cardinals GM John Mozeliak said. "Last year we were down to our last strike, and now here we are again."
The Cardinals were down to their last strike — but not their last breath. And there will be more baseball, more sweet and wonderful baseball.
I don’t think anything will ever top Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, but the fifth and deciding Game 5 of the 2012 NL division series was just as unlikely, just as insane, and easily scrambled the brain waves of ball fans from coast to coast.
Especially in St. Louis, the best baseball town in America. A place where the fans and the team are one, united in their love of the game and their unique bond. A place that never runs out of hope when it comes to the Birds on the Bat. A place that knows that it’s wise to never count the Cardinals out.
This 2012 team has claimed a special spot in the St. Louis baseball pantheon. It proved to be as enduring as Stan Musial, as intense as Bob Gibson, and as spirited as Ozzie Smith.
"We knew we had a shot," third baseman David Freese said. "We had to just keep going."
St. Louis is a tough city that has the hardest, most determined, most resilient baseball team that you’ll ever find. There’s simply no way to properly compliment the Cardinals on their competitive character, or the fullness of their hearts.
I wonder what the Cincinnati Reds were thinking as they watched this?
I wonder what Pujols was doing on Friday night?
The Cardinals once again summoned major-league baseball’s most persistent stubborn streak, by doing what they always do: they rallied. They buckled up. There would be no retreat, no surrender, no standing down. The champs launch the cardiac comeback, one more time, to make their record 6-0 in elimination games over the past two Octoberfests.
The Cardinals were down 6-0 but kept chipping away, badgering the Nationals, wearing out Nats starter Gio Gonzalez and forcing manager Davey Johnson to burn up his bullpen. The Cardinals scored one run in the fourth, two in the fifth, one in the seventh, one in the eighth, and four in the ninth inning of all ninth innings.
There's always a different baseball hero with this team. In Game 5, second baseman Daniel Descalso homered in the eighth, and smoked a two-out, two-run single off the glove of shortstop Ian Desmond to tie the game at 7-7. And then came more karma from the improbable, instant-legend phenomenon known as Pete Kozma. Mr. September put in a claim for Mr. October with yet another extra-large hit, a soft line to right that bounced the Nationals from the NLCS.
There was Carlos Beltran, who reached base in all five of his plate appearances. He began the ninth-inning uprising with a double. There were the calm, crucial, ninth-inning walks by Yadier Molina and Freese. There was the bulletproof bullpen — Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal, Edward Mujica, Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte — that kept Washington at six runs until the Nats got a seventh run home in the eighth.
This was all too much to absorb, and to savor it, you'll have to rewind it and play it again, just like Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, or Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.
After the Cardinals put four runs on the board to win this, how many of you think you may need a quadruple bypass? Actually, the pain in the chest area may have started sooner when the Cardinals were stranding nine runners and going one for their first 12 in at-bats with runners in scoring position. The frustration mounted ... and then the fun began, with the Cardinals dashing around the bases in the ninth.
Does this team ever run out of time?
Does it ever run short of magic?
We’ll get our next answer to that question when the NL championship series begins Sunday in San Francisco.
I’m thinking that, after Game 5, the Cardinals were able to fly there without an airplane.