For the 18th time, the Cardinals have qualified for the World Series. This time certainly is the most improbable.
The Cardinals were 10 1/2 games back in the wild-card race on Aug. 25 and got into the playoffs on the last day of the regular season. Now, with a tireless bullpen and production up and down their lineup, they have made their third World Series in the last eight seasons with a 12-6 win over Milwaukee to wrap up the National League Championship Series four games to two.
As unlikely as the
Cardinals even making the playoffs was, it's topped by third baseman David Freese being named the Most Valuable Player in the NLCS. At one point in the
Division Series with
|The celebration begins|
But he finished the postseason on a tear, hitting safely in 10 straight games (his longest streak of the regular season was eight). His three-run homer in the first inning Sunday was his fourth of the playoffs and third in this series. In his streak, he batted .459 (17 for 37) with five doubles, four homers and 14 runs batted in.
Freese, who grew up in
The Cardinals are 10-7 in
their previous World Series. Under manager Tony La Russa, they are 1-1, having
been swept by
Their opponents, the
Texas Rangers, have never played a game in
Right-hander Edwin Jackson, who has spent most of his career in the American League, said of the Rangers, "There's no break in their lineup. I've faced them numerous times, and they can strike at any time. Their lineup is deep and powerful. Anybody in their lineup can hit the ball out of the park."
At The Cardinal Nation Blog: "Looking forward to a Cardinals designated hitter for once"
1B Albert Pujols, playing in his third World Series, hit his 15th postseason home run, tying Babe Ruth for seventh on the all-time list. Pujols has hit safely in nine of the 11 Cardinals postseason games this year at 18 for 43 (.419).
The Cardinals' offense has been the best in the National League most of the season. Manager Tony La Russa said, "When we're at our best, we have a chance every inning we play. Yadier Molina is a .300 hitter, and he's hitting seventh. There's some good lineups in our league, but I don't think we take a back seat to anybody."
SS Rafael Furcal, who had been in eight previous playoffs without getting to the World Series, will be making his first World Series appearance. Furcal, who homered in the second inning Sunday, cracked six of his eight home runs as a Cardinal against the Brewers this season.
LHP Arthur Rhodes, who got to the majors for the first time in 1991, will be making his first World Series trip.
RHP Edwin Jackson lasted just two innings, giving up three home runs in Sunday's sixth game. No Cardinals starter lasted more than five innings in the series, and only RHP Chris Carpenter got that far in a Game 3 win.
The Cardinals' bullpen pitched four or more innings in each of the six games of the NLCS. It posted three wins, the final one by LHP Marc Rzepczynski, and had an earned run average of 1.88 over 28 2/3 innings.
RHP Chris Carpenter, who has been nursing an elbow ailment, will get an extra couple of days' rest before he would get the expected Game 1 starting role. The World Series will be his second. Carpenter had a forearm problem in 2004 but won one game in the 2006 Series.
BY THE NUMBERS: 28 - Pitching
changes made by manager Tony La Russa in the series, setting an NLCS record. The
previous record was 25 by La Russa in the 1996 NLCS, which the Cardinals lost in
seven games to
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's been mentally exhausting. I don't know how he does it."
- INF Ryan Theriot, on trying to keep up with the many moves made by manager Tony La Russa.
2B/OF Skip Schumaker (right oblique) was injured in Oct. 7's NLDS Game 5. He was left off the NLCS roster.
RHP Adam Wainwright (Tommy John surgery in February 2011) went on the 60-day disabled list March 25. He will miss the entire 2011 season. Wainwright was getting closer to throwing a full-strength bullpen session in September, but he will not be allowed to throw his signature curveball until next year.
NEXT GAME – World Series Game 1
Wed., October 19: vs RANGERS: Chris Carpenter vs. C.J. Wilson, Time TBA (FOX Network, ESPN Radio, KMOX).
VIDEO FROM FOXSPORTSMIDWEST.COM
Tony La Russa speaks on his team's resilience after stopping the Brewers in the NLCS.
St. Louis players express their excitement after stopping Milwaukee in the NLCS.
More Cardinals interviews, starting with NLCS MVP David Freese
Tony La Russa's full post-game comments (from MLB and ASAP Sports)
Q. Your players always talk about maintaining a belief that they can win, regardless of circumstances. Your clubs are typical like that. How does that get done, 10 and a half games out?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, that strains the credibility of the a lot of it has to do with character. We had a very strong character team. And when it started to get away from us, I just reminded them, look I tell you exactly, the first four months we had a ton of respect from our peers. And for two weeks in August we started mugging games left and right. And we had to say, hey, look, unless we go about this better, we're going to ruin everything we accomplished as far as respect. And we started winning a little bit. And literally played every game like it was the last game of our life. And they did today. I was listening to the guys, this is the like last game we'll ever play. It's good character, good talent.
Q. With all the experience you've had in the comeback of this year's team, where does this rate in your career as far as thrills go?
TONY LA RUSSA: This is in the improbable, incredible, overwhelming. They're all special. This one here has its own mark, because coming from that far back is historic I think. That's what they tell me. And having to win on the road, Philadelphia, these guys. I think the thing that is freaky about it is the way the postseason has gone with relief pitchers being so dominant in the games. It wasn't just us. And that's a little bit disappointing, because every team got here with their starters, as well. And I feel like make sure we get our starting pitchers, Texas had some of that same stuff and Milwaukee. The starters get you here, the relievers finish. It's the weirdest postseason even if I was a fan watching, I've never seen anything like that, never been a part of anything like this, just where starters couldn't keep the ball in the middle. It was just ridiculous.
Q. You've taken three St. Louis Cardinals teams to the World Series. What makes this one different?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, in '04 we had three MVP candidates. It was just a very solid team. We lost Carp in September. I think we would have made a better showing against the Red Sox if we'd have had him. I'm not sure we'd have beat them, but we'd have looked better. Something like this, we were really good and then we got hurt. And so we only won 83 games, but we were really beat up. All of a sudden playoffs started and we were healthy and we're dangerous. But there were additions to that '06 club; Jeff Weaver, young relievers. This one, a lot of adversity, a lot of character, not quitting. There was a trade, and we got better. Took us a couple of weeks to prove it. We had a nice club there, in doing this run we weren't doing it with mirrors, we had a good team, a very good team.
Q. Tony, it went 4 0 after a half inning. Were you thinking maybe I won't have to go to the bullpen as often, it could be a more normal game?
TONY LA RUSSA: I was hoping with every bit of my being, because we've seen Edwin just mow clubs down. But the first inning they started and I think probably the most nervous game I've ever been a part of in the postseason. The only thing that comes close in '89 we had a 4th game against Toronto where Bob Welch struggled. And that was important. This one, here, you never felt -- we were up 12 6 in that 9th inning, and I was worried they were going to put something together. That's how good they are.
Q. This club in many ways epitomizes the old approach manager, the day to day, the grind, that kind of effort.
TONY LA RUSSA: You know, it's not my approach; it's the Cardinal approach. That's what this franchise is famous for, play hard every day, minimize mistakes. We have a good coaching staff that preaches that, teaches that. All we need is the game for the players. I said in Spring Training, our group, anyone associated with a Major League club likes this club. They're talented, good people, fun to be around and they've got good guts. That's why that lull in August was so disappointing, because we're mugging it. And turned out we didn't.
Q. Talk about the challenges that Texas Rangers represent. It's a hungry club there, as well, isn't it?
TONY LA RUSSA: I'll be talking about that tomorrow, because I haven't I've been paying a little bit of attention, obviously. But we were so focused on just playing the day. Everybody kept talking about, don't think about tomorrow as a safety net. This is all about taking our shot. Now we've got it and just enjoying the moment. We've got a couple of days to think about Texas.
Q. This could be it for Prince in Milwaukee. Would you be glad to be rid of him if he left the League?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, I in the 9th, I had Dave McKay get his attention and tell him I wanted to congratulate him on a great year. He looked in, and I tipped my hat and clapped for him. I've watched him grow up, and he's grown up to where he's not only just a dangerous producer, but I've watched how he is part of the leadership of that club. Who knows? I mean, I don't know what his future is. He may come back. He may be much more well off than he is right now, but he's a special guy. He's got a lot of that ahead of him.
Marc Rzepczynski's post-game comments
Q. You guys have had to overcome so much this year. What is the feeling now?
MARC RZEPCZYNSKI: It's awesome right now. Coming from where I was at the beginning of the year to here now, I mean we played every game just like it's our last. We keep going through the entire series, and now we get to go to the World Series. So I couldn't ask for anything more.
Q. How much of that is a reflection of Tony LaRussa's influence?
MARC RZEPCZYNSKI: You know, he's been great. He takes every day, day by day. We've done that. When the next day game comes on, we get ready for that game and at the end we get ready for the next one.
Q. When was the turning point? You were so far in back of Atlanta for the wild card spot, and then all of a sudden you got hot.
MARC RZEPCZYNSKI: Like I said earlier, we took every game day by day. We didn't really care what Atlanta was doing. We just had to go out there and win that day, and luckily we got hot at the right time. We were able to clinch the wild card and now we're here.
Q. Your thoughts about Texas? They're pretty good hitters.
MARC RZEPCZYNSKI: Definitely. Coming from the American League, I've faced these guys before, 1 through 9 could put it out of the ballpark. We're going to go in there and just do our job, what we've been doing lately, and hopefully we come out.
Q. Do you anticipate having the longest outing by a Cardinals pitcher in a clinching game like this?
MARC RZEPCZYNSKI: Definitely not. Especially with the saves coming on, and I came in for one out to face Prince. When the 4th inning came on and the phone rang, I was, like, all right, I'm going to give it as long as I need to, and I was able to get out there and give us two and a third.