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From Stan Musial to Ozzie Smith and from Bob Gibson to Albert Pujols, the 10-time World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals have not suffered from a shortage of stars during their long and illustrious history.
But for all of their fame, the Redbirds successfully started the final stage of the chase, for another title, with their most galvanizing figure being a squirrel that has scurried into the collective hearts of Cardinals Nation.
The Cardinals’ prodigal pet is known as the the Rally Squirrel, a social media savvy varmint that has taken an entire sport by storm. The Rally Squirrel made its Major League debut in early October, stopping play to scamper around Busch Stadium during St. Louis’ loss to the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 3 of the National League Division Series.
One night later, it burrowed its way into baseball lore.
During the fifth frame of Game 4, the squirrel crossed home plate just in time to distract Phillies right-hander Roy Oswalt, who proceeded to protest that his pitch should have been declared dead as a result of squirrel interference. Time had not been granted beforehand, however, and so the errant offering counted. The Phillies would eventually end the inning unscathed, but the rodent run was something of a death knell.
“I didn’t want to stop in the middle of my motion, so I threw it,” Oswalt said after losing the game. “I was wondering what size of animal it needed to be for it not to be a pitch.”
Although the rowdy rodent has stayed off the field and out of the limelight, its likeness has become ubiquitous with the Cardinals’ push through the postseason.
“I think it’s good. The fans are having fun,” said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. “And I really believe that. This is not old-school, and I know I am in many ways, but I think there’s so much attention and pressure on the players that sometimes they don’t show their happiness.”
In deciding to debut during baseball’s most high-profile month, the Rally Squirrel managed to maximize its media exposure. As a result, it has been provided a platform to effect positive change in the community.
And although the squirrel’s on-field influence may be minimal (at the very most), the animal has left an indelible paw print on a sport that embraces superstition like no other.
Not all baseball-animal stories end happily, however. The best examples of the aforementioned fact can be gleaned from the Cardinals’ closest rival, the Cubs, who have not won it all since 1908. And although much of their misfortune can be attributed to poor play, terrible trades and horrific heartbreak, there is an undeniable undertone that connects Chi town’s lovable losers with two of the sport’s most unfortunate animal anecdotes: the Curse of the Billy Goat in 1945 and the infamous black cat incident in September 1969.
On a more positive note, who could forget the Rally Monkey that became ubiquitous with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s early 21st-century success?
Will baseball’s newest rally animal remain relevant for as long as the Angels’ primate? Only time will tell.
But what matters now is that a squirrel has become the symbolic face of St. Louis’ title push, a championship run that seemed impossible before the Atlanta Braves’ historic September collapse.
In summary, it’s all been nuts.
Zach Finkelstein is a contributing writer for YESNetwork.com and SNY.tv.
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