NLCS Reflections of a Displaced Cubs Fan

As the first pitch for the 2006 World Series draws near, Pete Khazen offers up some recent reflections and random thoughts from a historic National League Championship Series Game Seven and another St. Louis Cardinals pennant.

Game Sevens

Baseball, hockey, and basketball all use the best-of-seven playoff series format. Game sevens are always the culmination of a hard-fought series. Alas, there can only ever be one winner and one loser. Of the three, how would you rank them as far as guaranteeing the best drama, anxiety, and edge-of-your-seat excitement? Personally, I rank hockey number one, as the pace just can't be matched by baseball or basketball. And for typically in game sevens in hockey, the game is played about as pure as it can be played with minimal cheap shots and clean, non-stop action. Baseball is a close second, mainly because the pace is so slow, and it gives the fans so much time to wallow in their anxiety, fears, and anticipation of what could happen next. The 2006 NLCS Game Seven did not disappoint in that respect.

 

The Catch

Endy Chavez's glorious catch off Scott Rolen's rope in the top of the sixth inning will be one of the greatest clutch defensive plays we might ever see. I was sitting in my living room watching the game and rose up from my seat when Rolen smacked that ball. As Chavez leapt, I saw a flash of white, and I thought for a split second it went in and out of his glove. Then I realized he had it. As he fired the ball in to double up Jim Edmonds at first, I swear I heard a noticeable silence fall over the city of St. Louis. I must admit though, though, that when Tim McCarver commented how New York fans would be talking about that catch for years to come, I retorted aloud, "Not if the Mets don't win this game, they won't".

 

Good for Rolen

I've been tired of people ripping Scott Rolen this season. He's had some ups and downs, but he's one of the good guys, people. He plays the game hard and is one of the best defensive third basemen you'll ever see. When Chavez robbed him of that Game Seven glory, I felt like the guy just couldn't get a break. And then in the bottom half of the inning, he slung that easy grounder into the seats, which I'm sure garnered more than a fair share of curse words from even the kindest of Cardinals fans. Still, Jeff Suppan picked him up and got out of the jam caused by that throwing error. He's had a bad shoulder, been criticized for not owning up to his limitations, and was drilled about not being on speaking terms with Tony La Russa. But with the win, no one could point any fingers at Rolen. And rightfully so. People forget that winning and losing are team efforts. By the way, did anyone notice who scored the official series-winning run?

 

Rare Glory

Having been a catcher, I love it when the guy who gets beat up all game gets the glory. Yadier Molina was one of the so-called goats in Game Six when he botched that pitchout in the seventh inning and failed to make a good throw and catch Michael Tucker stealing second base. Who knows what happened on that play? Molina probably makes a perfect throw in that situation 95% of the time. That play kick started a two-run rally, and Tucker scored the eventual game-winning run. Kudos to you, Yadier, for putting Game Six in the past, launching that changeup into the night sky, and helping your club to victory in Game Seven. You silenced your critics, and your bat has carried this club in the postseason. Congrats!

 

Soup's On

Who would have thought that the Cardinals would beat the Mets in a best-of-seven series without Chris Carpenter picking up a single win? Granted Carpenter did pitch well in the series, it was Jeff Suppan that stole the show. And he earned every bit of it. The NLCS Most Valuable Player dominated the Mets. After pitching his team to victory in two NLCS game sevens, you cannot help but call him clutch. He was lights out and shined with stuff comparable to other recent playoff greats like Roger Clemens, John Smoltz, Curt Schilling, and Pedro Martinez. It couldn't happen to a better guy.

 

That Hook!

Adam Wainwright has been nothing short of ridiculous this postseason. Cardinals fans finally have a closer they seem somewhat confident in. Who knows where the Cards would be right now if Jason Isringhausen was healthy and still pitching? But we can speculate all we want. In reality, Wainwright is now the man. In that fateful ninth inning of Game Seven, he had trouble throwing that six-to-nine curve ball of his for a strike – that is until he buckled Cliff Floyd's knees with arguably the single best pitch thrown this postseason. And then he held strong and did it to Carlos Beltran. That's nasty stuff, folks. And it's a blast watching new stars shine on the big stage.

 

Money Man?

Carlos Beltran owned Cardinals pitching in the 2004 NLCS. In fact, his performance in that playoff run alone got him the big-money contract in New York last season. He had a so-so year in 2005 and was booed by unsatisfied Mets fans to start this season. Boy, did he turn it around! He led a dominating Mets lineup all season long hitting .275 with 41 home runs and 116 RBI. Those boos quickly changed to cheers, and Beltran carried the momentum into the postseason. So when that Cardinal-killer came to bat in the ninth inning with the bases loaded and two outs, you couldn't have gotten a better matchup. But who would have thought that Beltran would end the playoffs, the season, with his bat on his shoulder taking a called strike three? The tying run was in scoring position. The winning run was on first. I still can't believe it ended like that. It's hard to fault Beltran in any way, as Wainwright's final hook was brutal. But wow! Talk about drama!

 

Tony Smiles and Has Eyes?

After the Cards got the final out and celebrated in front of the befuddled Mets fans, I spotted a rare phenomenon. Tony La Russa was on the field, laughing, smiling, and having a good time. You could tell just how proud he was of his club considering the adversity they have experienced and the naysayers along the way. Beside the grins and signs of happiness, La Russa was without his trademarked sunglasses and he was as bright-eyed as a kid in a candy store for the first time.

 

The Buzz is Alive

Cardinals fans have been cynical, whiny specimens all season long. You've heard me gripe about their griping all season long. The fans have clearly been cautious this season, and especially this post-season to count any chickens before they're hatched. In fact, most fans have been downplaying the whole thing. I'm guessing it's some defense mechanism for coping with their seemingly expected reality that the Cards won't win. There are always exceptions. Plenty of folks have been true believers all season long, but I must say that the buzz has been down from recent years. That all changed Thursday night, though. And on Friday morning, the city was electric once again. Bandwagoners and fair-weathered fans were coming out of the woodwork. And even the biggest skeptics were starting to wonder, "Could this really be the year?"

 

The Worst World Series Team Ever?

You've got to love the media, right? The Cards back into the playoffs with an ugly 83-win season. They battle adversity and gut out both NLDS and NLCS wins to advance to the World Series. And what does the media come up with now? The question of whether they are the worst World Series team ever. I guess only time will tell, but are you kidding me?

 

Got a comment? Post a message on our discussion board or send Pete an email at pete@petekhazen.com.


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