Finally, our long national nightmare is over. The St. Louis Cardinals are no more, and with their elimination comes a feeling of satisfaction I didn’t know was possible from a baseball game.
I’m not exaggerating.
All over the world, people are raised with an irrational, irreversible hatred for certain creeds, religions or ethnicities. Fortunately, my parents raised me in such a way to avoid falling in to such a trap. Unfortunately, I chose to fill that void in my human nature with a hatred for the Cardinals.
Granted, it’s not like it was escapable. Even after the Cubs clinched the NL East title in 1989, my great-grandmother was crying after a loss to the Cards in the final series of the regular season.
“Grandma, it’s OK,” my cousin reasoned. “They’re still going to the playoffs.”
“But it’s the Cardinals,” was her response.
And so it was on. Those bastards made my 89-year-old great-grandma cry. They would always inhabit a dark place in my heart. I just had no idea of knowing how dark it would get.
A younger, more naïve version of myself figured the nadir came in 2006 when the Cardinals became the worst team in history to win a World Series. Combined with the Cubs NLCS collapse in 2003, the Red Sox winning in 2004 (the Cubs long-time partner for ineptitude) and White Sox winning in 2005 (cross-town rivals with an even more checkered history than the Red Sox), I tried to chalk up the fact an 83-win Cardinals team was next in line as proof God had a twisted sense of humor. Maybe all that pain was just setting us up for a really good payoff.
That plan seemed to be coming in place when the Cubs improbably won the NL Central in ’07. At least until they were swept out of the playoffs by the Diamondbacks.
Destiny was calling even harder in 2008 when the Cubs finished with the best record in the NL. At least until they were swept out of the playoffs by the Dodgers.
A younger, more naïve version of me figured THIS was the nadir of my Cub-fan existence.
And then came along the 2011 Cardinals.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t too worried about that bunch. They went into the season without the services of their latest Cy Young candidate, Adam Wainwright. In order to match his production, they’d need Kyle Lohse to step up in the rotation. Ha! Kyle Lohse. A guy who went 4-8 with a 6.55 ERA in 2010. Good luck counting on production from that has-been.
Much to my dismay, Lohse was putting up excellent numbers all season. But not even that seemed like it was going to be enough to get this team into the postseason. By early September, their playoff hopes looked as lifeless as Tony La Russa passed out at a stoplight. The Brewers had control of the Central, and the Braves led the wild card race by 8.5 games on Sept. 6.
And then the Cardinals went off and did their Cardinal ********, overtaking Atlanta for the final playoff spot on the last day of the season. Naturally, the Cubs played a vital role in a Cardinal miracle.
On Sept. 24, the Cubs took a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth. Their own season long over, fans were just paying attention because the possibility of spoiling St. Louis’ season loomed large.
It was a tense inning. Closer Carlos Marmol got the first out, then allowed a Matt Holliday single. Because Holliday runs with the speed of a funeral procession, Tony La Russa put Tyler Greene in to pinch-run. Greene stole second, then got to third on a bad throw by Geovany *********** Soto.
Marmol was unfazed, striking out David Freese for the second out. And that was the last time anything good happened to the Cubs.
Marmol proceeded to walk Yadier Molina and Skip Schumaker (a guy who only walked 27 times all year) before former Cub Ryan Theriot stepped up to the plate. A former fan favorite, Theriot was now Public ******** No. 2 on the North Side after taking shots at the Cubs as he left town and saying he had always wanted to play on the other side of the rivalry.
One thing was certain: Even as wild as he was getting, there was no way Marmol was walking Theriot. Nobody walks Theriot. Guy just doesn’t take pitches.
Marmol walked Theriot. Tying run scores. ****.
Well, maybe the Cubs can still get the last out and get this thing to extras. No one is actually thinking that, mind you. But it is in the realm of mathematical probability. Until Marmol fires the second pitch against Rafael Furcal into the dirt, bounding toward the backstop and another stupid Cardinals victory.
All THAT said, St. Louis still had tough sledding ahead if it were to do anything at all in the playoffs. Waiting in the Divisional Series was the Phillies, who had assembled the greatest postseason pitching rotation since the mid-‘90s Braves.
But by this time I was feeling uneasy. It was a feeling that had been in the pit of my stomach since Atlanta’s 13-inning loss to Philadelphia to end the regular season. Somehow the Phillies would live to regret not tanking that game and forcing the Braves and Cards to waste pitching in a one-game playoff.
When I expressed fear of Philadelphia’s impending doom to my friend and fellow Cub fan AK-47, he scoffed. Kyle Lohse against Roy Halladay? Give him a break. He would bet $100 of his own money that the Phillies would win this series.
Considering that’s a good deal of money to both of us, this was a bold show of confidence. I thought it over, with my logic being thus: If I support the Cardinals, surely their season will end with a whimper, because that’s what happens to teams I support. But then I’d be down a hundred bucks I don’t really have. Bad deal.
Now let’s say I win the bet and have $100 from my friend, who also lives paycheck-to-paycheck. I’ve basically stolen a week of groceries in the name of Tony La Russa. It’s dirty money. I couldn’t do it.
Guess I should have.
There’s no need to rehash all the things that happened next – some stupid ******* squirrel runs across the field, the Cardinals beat two teams that were far better in the regular season to win the pennant, then are down to the final strike of their season two times before winning the World Series. A truly disgusting turn of events.
As depressing as it all was, the offseason brought a promise of hope. La Russa retired. Albert Pujols took the money and ran to Anaheim. Early on in the season, Chris Carpenter went on the shelf with an injury. Finally, Cardinal fans were learning how the rest of us live.
And then the nightmares started happening again.
A playoff spot that didn’t even exist a year ago, naturally clinched by the Redbirds. A terrible infield fly call. Another miracle rally, this one at the expense of the Nationals. A 3-1 series lead with Barry Zito being the only thing standing between my most hated rival’s third pennant in six years while my own hasn’t gotten one since the month after we nuked Japan.
The night before Game 5, I texted my friends “Watch, Zito will throw a shutout tomorrow just to make it even more miserable.”
Stunningly, Zito fulfilled the first half of my bitterly sarcastic prophecy. Still, the Cardinals had a healed Carpenter going against a former Pirate in Game 6. No way this thing goes 7.
Ryan Vogelsong goes out and throws a career-high in strikeouts, and voila, we do have Game 7 — a thing the Giants have never won in their long history. I sensed this still wasn’t going to end well for me.
And then Kyle Lohse reverted to being Kyle Lohse for the first time in two years. Cardinal fielders and hitters flailed about like any combination of players from their two biggest rivals, the Royals and Cubs. The Giants exploded and kept building a lead that not even baseball’s version of Michael Myers could overcome.
When it was over, I wasn’t overjoyed. Just relieved. My lifelong torturers had finally received a taste of their own medicine. They are mere mortals too. Like some great soul-cleansing moment, my hatred was released, never to return.
At least until April.