This morning on October 11, 2009 in a small town in South Korea, a Cardinal fan’s dream came to an end. The St. Louis Cardinals quest for another World Series title unraveled early in the 1st inning when Manny Ramirez doubled home Matt Kemp to give the Dodgers an early one-to-nothing lead. As soon as Mike Shannon announced the first score of the game on MLB Gameday Audio, this faraway fan knew from 55 years of listening and/or watching Cardinal baseball that the final knell had rung for Cardinal baseball this year. The premonition of defeat took root in the first inning and slowly choked out any remaining hope of victory.
The unfolding of the dreaded sweep began in the 1st game played at Dodgers Stadium. In that 1st game the Cardinal batters left 14 hitters on base while losing 5-3. Chris Carpenter, arguably the best pitcher on the Cardinals staff & Cy Young candidate, struggled to find his control. He went 5-innings, allowed 4 earned runs, and threw 105 pitches—63 strikes & 42 balls. That performance by the Cardinal ace was unlike his stellar year and past postseason performances. Losing the first game at Dodger Stadium made the 2nd game a must win for the Cardinals.
Adam Wainwright, a 19-game winner in the regular season & Cy Young candidate, started the second game of the series. Adam became a hero in the 2006 National League Championship game by striking out Carlos Beltran of the Mets with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 9th for the win & a trip to the World series, which the Cardinals won that year, their 10th. Pitching a masterful game at Dodger Stadium, A. Wainwright allowed only 1-run in 8-innings, throwing 109 pitches, 78 for strikes. In the 9th inning left-handed specialist Trever Miller started the inning and retired the one batter he faced. Ryan Franklin, the closer for the Cards, took over and retired the first man he faced. There were now two outs with only one to go, then the Cardinals fell apart. Lonely hits a line-drive to the Cardinals left fielder, Matt Holliday; in the video he comes in and appears to be unsure on how to position his glove for the catch and misses the ball as it hits him in the abdomen and squirts forward, allowing the runner to reach 2nd base. He said later that he had a good read on the line-drive coming directly at him, and at the last minute he lost the ball in the lights and hoped to catch it or stop it with his body. He felt “terrible” about the misplay. Twice, after the error, the Cardinals were one strike away from winning the game. To the Dodgers credit they took advantage of the opportunity provided to them and capitalized on the misfortune of the left fielder.
Now we go to the third game of the short series as the contest moved to Busch stadium. After Matt Kemp scored in the 1st, the Cardinals failed to respond to the Dodgers early lead as the hard-throwing Vicente Padilla retired the first three batters he faced. Immediately, with the last out in the 1st, a premonition of dread flooded over the faraway fan as he reflected upon the many missed opportunities the Cardinals had squandered in the other two games, and now the Dodgers took an early lead. With two games in the bag & a 1st inning lead, the momentum favored the Dodgers to wrap-up the series and send the Cardinals packin’ for the winter. Today’s game was far from over, but the first inning pointed to an onrushing outcome about to be written upon the pages of baseball history: The Dodgers sweep the Cards. The Dodgers had swept another Central Division team last year, the Cubs. Could they do it again? Despite seeing the defeat etched upon the wall, the faraway fan stayed glued to the streaming broadcast in the vain hope of victory.
Baseball, like luck & good fortune, runs in streaks; and like the 1971 hit song sung by Jerry Reed, When You’re Hot, You’re Hot, the Cardinals seemed cold during the last couple or so weeks of the regular season and into the first two games of the playoffs. After leaving 14 runners on base in the first game, losing the second game after two outs in the 9th, and allowing the Dodgers just now to score in the 1st inning today, it all added up to a strong likelihood of a Dodger sweep in front of the hometown fans. Still the faraway fan hoped for a win despite the mounting evidence that the Cards were in a losing streak and not playing their best ball. Were the fans at Busch Stadium feeling the same dread as the faraway fan in South Korea? When Mike Shannon observed how quiet the St. Louis fans were after the Dodgers scored first, did the former third baseman, now Cardinal announcer, hear a small voice whisper, “defeat in three.” Still, we all hoped to avoid the sweep and come back and win the series with a three game winning streak of our own, but it wasn’t in the cards this year, no pun intended. The fan in Korea wondered if those in St. Louis felt it to, the dread of watching a sinking ship go down, and all you can do as a fan is to watch it happen. The innings slipped by as the St. Louis team fell to the Dodgers 5 to 1.
When the final out of the ballgame came, the disappointed faraway fan lowered his head and remembered the missed opportunities and what might had been. He reminded himself painfully to give the Dodgers credit for run production with two outs and and making plays in the field that prevented the opposition from scoring. He knew the Dodgers deserved to win, but he still didn’t want to accept the fact that the Cardinals lost in the first round of the playoffs. To maintain interest in the playoffs, who would he choose to root for now?
The faraway fan will wait and see who shows up at the table before making his choice on what team to support in the World Series. As far as TV revenues are concerned, a Dodgers/Yankees series will bring in the most money. Imagine, Joe Torre returning to Yankee Stadium to face his old team! As my wise mother use to say when I was a boy, “What will be will be, if it never comes to pass.”
Hope springs eternal for the fans as they head for warmer climate early next year to watch Spring-training baseball and the battle of professional baseball players to compete for a spot on the opening day Major League roster. With a few tweaks here and there our Cardinal team can make the playoffs again next year and give us the thrill of seeking an 11th World Series Championship and the ring that goes with it. The faraway fan can’t wait to see what the Cards will do next year. As Sammy Sosa once said in an interview, “ that’s uh beisbol.” See you all at Roger Dean Stadium for the Card’s Grapefruit League opener.
Wayfaring Stranger: garland dale