After losing three consecutive games while only 27 outs away from back-to-back National League Pennants, the St. Louis Cardinals entered the 2012-13 offseason wondering what could have been.
Two consecutive League Championships and a chance to repeat as World Series Champs is unthinkable in most MLB cities, but the majority here in St. Louis fully expected the Cardinals to accomplish that task. Destiny began to sit in by the time 10:30 came around on October 18th, after Adam Wainwright had shut down the San Francisco Giants on the way to an 8-3 victory and 3-1 series lead.
Things went downhill quickly after that promising Game 4, when Barry Zito, who had been a punch line in most baseball circles throughout the majority of the last half decade, pitched like it was 2004 for 7 and 2/3 SHUTOUT innings in a must win game for his team, ending any chance of the Cards clinching a NL pennant in St. Louis. The series returned to San Fran where the Giants treated the Birds like Juan Manuel Marquez treated Manny Pacquio late in the sixth round of their title fight, leaving the Cardinals wondering what happened after a 9-0 knockout blow in Game 7 capped off a 20-1 run over the final 3 games to close the curtain on the 2012 NLCS.
Although the painful finish, the fact the Cardinals made it so deep into the postseason one year removed from two franchise icons departing (Tony La Russa and Albert Pujols) is a testament to the greatness of the St. Louis Cardinals franchise.
Watching Albert Pujols emerge out of the dugout and into the bright lights in Anaheim donning an A instead of an STL on his hat was hard to swallow for most of Cardinal Nation, and hearing Tony La Russa say he was hanging it up after a legendary run that included 3 NL Pennants and 2 World Series Championships dampened expectations even further. His retirement signaled an end to an era, which firmly established La Russa as one of the greatest managers ever. Pujols established himself as a first ballot Hall of Famer. Both vacancies brought a sense of anxiety and concern in St. Louis that was non-existent in recent years. On top of that, hiring a rookie manager who hadn’t had an inning of professional coaching experience further questioned whether Championship caliber ball would continue at the rate it did under Don Tony.
However, out of all the change and uncertainty came a team that won 88 games, discovered they had the best nucleus of young arms in franchise history, and continued their October magic from the year before by winning two win or go home games.
Most importantly, they proved no matter who comes or goes, the Cardinal way of playing the game the right way will live on. This franchise will find ways to reload no matter how harsh and demoralizing certain departures may seem. They will continue to feed off the fervent fan base that ignites a city from April through October, and the city will continue to feed off of them. Players and coaches will come and go, some great, some legendary, some average, but the fact remains that the St. Louis Cardinals are THE model franchise of MLB and will continue as a threat to anyone with championship aspirations year in and year out.
2013 Redbird Preview coming soon……