In the fall of 1987, back in the days when the major leagues were only split into two divisions, the Cardinals were in a tight pennant race with the New York Mets. The Cards had lost ground over several weeks to the Mets and found themselves playing a three-game series at Shea Stadium that had the potential to make or break the season. Then, like now, the Cardinals had been playing well all year but had fallen into a bit of a funk.
I was a sophomore at the University of Missouri then and living in the dorms on campus. A friend and I had plans to play racquetball, but we checked the Cardinals-Mets game before we left. Not good. The Mets were ahead, and it didn't look promising. My memory is not precise on this, but I think that whoever won this series would exit in first place in the division, and it looked like the Cardinals were finally going to cough it up to the surging Mets.
I can't tell you much about the racquetball match, other than it was sweaty. Upon returning to my dorm room, I turned the game back on to survey the damage. I arrived just in time to see Terry Pendleton hit what turned out to be the game-winning home run in the ninth inning. Todd Worrell shut down the Mets in the bottom of the ninth—game over, Cards win. They never fell out of first place the rest of the way, and they made it to the World Series before dropping an unfortunate seventh game to the Minnesota Twins, thanks to the stupidest baseball venue ever created (at least prior to Minute Maid Park in Houston).
Well, the Cardinals aren't in danger of blowing their lead in the National League Central, but I was planning on offering a few more definitions of the word "putrid" this evening. Amy and I came home from visiting her parents this evening, and I turned on the game to survey the damage. Chris Carpenter was going to lose his first game since, like, May. They were about to be shut out by another pathetic sub-.500 team, the always-hated San Francisco Giants (who I've hated, not coincidentally, since 1987, with Jeffery Leonard and his stupid home run "one flap down" nonsense).
Funny thing, this game called baseball—it takes 27 outs to win a game. Tony LaRussa is well aware of this, and he makes sure his players know it. Sure, sometime I think they stink, but I will give them this: they never, ever give up, and they sure didn't tonight. If you missed it, you missed a classic. Yadier Molina, one of our missing pieces, hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to bring the Cards within one run. A couple of hits and a sacrifice later, Pujols had a chance to tie it with a hit or sac fly or win it with a homer. Predictably, he popped out to deep second base. I'm convinced the pressure of being the only big bat in the lineup is causing him to press too hard in these situations.
So who picks up the slack? None other than Jim Edmonds, who shares a lot of similarities to Pendleton—a defensive gem who is lights out at the plate for periods of time but subject to maddening funks of inability with the bat. I can't remember the last significant hit Edmonds had before tonight, but his was the big blow. He hit a high fastball off the wall in right field, which scored Luna from third to tie it and Nunez all the way from first after the Giants right fielder misplayed the bounce off the wall. The dugout emptied to mob Edmonds at second after the winning run had scored.
Is this the turnaround point for this season? Can we expect Larry Walker and Reggie Sanders to return soon and contribute? Will Jocketty try to find an everyday third baseman to replace Scott Rolen and give LaRussa a deeper bench once again? Will the momentum from this victory propel the Cardinals through a long, tough, two-week road trip starting next week? Most of all, with seven games against the Cubs and five against Houston, will they finally bury the dagger into the hearts of their Central Division rivals? Stay tuned to The Sandlot...