Let Them Eat Beans: Cardinals at Red Sox

The St. Louis Cardinals fly to Boston's Fenway Park, home of few happy memories.

There are too many games across too many seasons to hold on to any one too hard. As Clive Owen in The Croupier would advise, "Hold on tightly, let go lightly." I try to live by that. And yet, I just can't let go of the intense frustration from watching the Cardinals dig their own graves against the Red Sox in Game 1 of the 2004 World Series.

While the Cardinals were considered to be the decided underdogs in that series, fans in St. Louis knew that their team was capable of competing with anyone. Our club had the best record in the majors, a transformative talent at first base – one of three legitimate MVP candidates – and a top-to-bottom lineup arguably as good as any Cardinal team to play the game. All they had to do was come out and set a tone, play hard, pitch efficiently, and let their superior team defense make the difference between two otherwise evenly stacked teams.

It was a good story. Too bad it never got told, because the World Series That Wasn't ended after Game 1.

The Cardinals didn't play their best game that evening in Fenway – far from it – but it was blood and guts all the way through. Neither pitcher could contain the other team's lineup. The weary warhorse Woody Williams allowed an early 7-2 lead, but the porous, almost incapable defense of the hungover Red Sox let the Cardinals back into the game.

In fact, the Sox played about as poorly as any World Series contender can. They were brutal to watch, ham-fisted and uncoordinated, but powerful as hell. Tied 9-all in the pivotal late innings, after the fourth Sox error of the game, our go-ahead runners stood on third and second with only one out. Our MV3 stood ready at the dish – Pujols up, Rolen on deck, Edmonds in the hole, ready to leave blood on the Green Monster and turn the frenzy of Fenway's fans against itself.

Pujols was pitched around. Rolen – the critical batter – got jammed and popped out. Edmonds – our hero and saving grace – watched a dubious strike three float past him. We could not turn the tide, and the tide turned on us. The home crowd realized as one that no matter how badly their team played, they were as good or better than these upstart Cardinals. Quiet during most of the frigid night, their eruption pierced the heavens as the Redbirds fell back, daunted.

The calculus of the roaring stadium matters most in the playoffs. The collective will and fear and joy and fury of a crowd encircles and overwhelms the pastoral summer field. Our NLCS crowd shook the old stadium in games 6 and 7 to get us to this point. We built a wall of noise that the Astros simply couldn't climb over.

If only we could do the same for our team in Boston, but we were too far away. The TV set broadcast a fog of noise and media hype, distorting into something foreign, something we could not respond to.

Our team didn't respond. Stunned and spent, they sleepwalked through a pitiful Game 2.

By the time our team returned home, the series was over. It was over long before Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore slipped over the fence to have their smarmy embrace filmed against the backdrop of the jubilant Sox. The mortar had fallen out of the wall we had built, chipped away by our stunning defeat, and by a horde of profiteers who sold their home seats to vacationing Beaneaters.

It didn't fit, that our team should cave in just because game #174 on the season broke bad. Our logic and our hearts demanded that our team fight back as they had all season, but they could no longer. The Red Sox and their "destiny" had bullyragged the fight out of us.

The madness of it drove one of the most ardent and prolific writers in the online diaspora, Brian Gunn of Redbird Nation, to silence. In his farewell, Gunn chose a cryptic quotation: "There are times when you pick up your shoes and see through them your whole life."

The words are from Lee Strasberg, the father of method acting, lecturing his acting pupils on how to recollect a soul from a single talisman. As we pick up the TV and see our Cardinals on the field at Fenway once again, the life we lived in 2004 comes flooding back.

In reality, this is just another series, another interleague exhibition. But this is a rivalry with real teeth and freshly imagined wounds, ones we are still nursing along with our team's actual injuries. Here's hoping our Redbirds can act out a different story on this stage. One with a happier ending.

 

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