ST. LOUIS (KMOX) — Whew. This has been some ride. You doing OK? I’m fine, thanks.
Back on August 25, the Cardinals were 10 1/2 games out of the race. Most of the baseball world had written them off. Who could blame them? The Cardinals were uninspiring at best, struggling in many areas and hobbled by injuries. It was a mess, to be honest.
But they weren’t daunted. And much like their manager, the eternally intense Tony La Russa, the Cardinals kept grinding away until they found a spark.
That spark bounced into a puddle of gasoline.
And suddenly, the Redbirds have exploded into a position to possibly overtake the Braves and emerge as the Wild Card team in the National League.
The Braves host the Phillies tonight. Philadelphia has coasted recently, but sends dominant lefty Cliff Lee to the mound against Atlanta rookie Randall Delgado. Before beating the Mets 9-4 yesterday, the Phillies had dropped eight consecutive games. Are the Phillies charging up for a playoff run? Maybe.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, take on a Houston club (55-104) that was ransacked by the Rockies 19-3 on Sunday. And the Astros don’t have Bud “Chuck” Norris to roundhouse kick the Redbirds this week.
So as long as the Phillies can get their act together, the Cardinals have the upper hand here. Three games at Minute Maid Park with Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook and Chris Carpenter lined up to start. (If the season is on the line Wednesday, is there anyone you’d rather have on the mound than Carpenter?)
And if the Cardinals and Braves remain tied after Wednesday, there’s a one-game tiebreaker at Busch Stadium. Advantage, Cards.
I’ve been impressed with the focus of the organization, resistant to discuss the possibility that Albert Pujols is playing his final days as a Cardinal. They’ve remained fixed on the task at hand, dismantling each opponent and winning series.
You couldn’t help but get wrapped up in yesterday’s electric ovation for Pujols. The Cardinals fans, recognizing the moment, stood and roared for Pujols as he gripped the bat and prepared to face Belleville native Randy Wells in the first inning.
Pujols, who rarely lets any anything derail his preparation, stepped away from the batter’s box for a moment to acknowledge the crowd. Wells, a class act, graciously allowed him that moment. Two major-league competitors, in a results-driven business, letting the fans express their emotions.
Pujols is a genuinely good person. He has many feelings swirling inside of him. But right now he must block them out and be the best teammate he can be. That’s as professional as it gets. And that’s impressive.
Say what you want about Pujols, but I believe his intentions are good and he truly wants to stay in St. Louis. Along with his agent, Dan Lozano, you have to figure Pujols will be involved in any discussions about his future employment – and Sunday’s outpouring of fan support can’t hurt.
Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt, Jr. and general manager John Mozeliak understand the importance of Pujols to the St. Louis community. I believe Pujols understands his legacy here. Is it all about the money? Usually, yes. But I have to think there are some intangibles at play, too: a chance to win, quality of life, family comfort. If another team suddenly swoops in and can offer all of those things to Pujols and a monster dollar amount, so be it. But I don’t think that happens.
At any rate, there’s more baseball to be played this week. These are wild times. By the time you read this, tickets for the National League Division Series will be almost gone.
Can the Cardinals clear the final hurdles? Stay tuned. And pass the Tums.
Tom Ackerman is Sports Director at KMOX. He can heard weekday mornings at :15 and :45 past the hour on Total Information A.M. Follow him on Twitter: @Ackerman1120