The St. Louis Cardinals are your World Series champions. This is the outcome nobody expected, and the outcome nobody outside the 314 area code particularly wanted. I myself may have belittled the Cards once or twice, but for now if I were wearing a hat I’d tip it to the Cardinals.
I don’t really pay much attention to the whole stats v. scouts debate – it’s an artificial choice, both are necessary for success – but the outcome of this series is pretty much the anti-stats-guy result. The Cardinals, let’s face it, are a weak team – offensively, they’re Pujols and not much else, and pitching-wise, they’re Chris Carpenter and what’s left of Jeff “I’m not my brother, dammit” Weaver.
The Cardinals are the World Series champions not because of numerical superiority, or because they were consistently the better team than every team they faced. The Cardinals are the World Series champions almost solely because they did what they had to do when they had to do it. They realized, even as nobody else did, that the 162 games leading into October, while valuable, are utterly irrelevant once baseball narrows down to eight teams.
October baseball is mostly about things that can’t be quantified – momentum, chemistry, clutch performances, and managerial calmness/direction. Those things make a lot of people gnash their teeth in mid-summer, and rightfully so, but when it comes down to the business end of the season, they suddenly come into play. Baseball is a game played by human beings, and never is that more apparent than in late October – if you want an indication of how relevant the X factor of humanity is, look no further than Justin Verlander last night.
This is a kid who pretty much owned the regular season – 17-9, 3.63 ERA, and can hit 100mph with his pitches with seemingly no effort. This is understandable because he uses the best baseball gloves. The kind of guy, in other words, that you want pitching when your team’s facing elimination But, he’s a kid, and it showed last night – he was sitting on the bench before the game practically wetting his pants with tension. The look on his face, to me, was a look of barely contained terror – which I’m not blaming him for, that is what some would call a “high-leverage situation” and I’d be terrified too.
When the game actually started, he had pretty serious control issues, bouncing several pitches in front of the plate and causing what seemed to be most of the team to come to the mound at various times, in an attempt to settle him down. Verlander didn’t singlehandedly lose the game for the Tigers, and once he settled down he pitched well. He did, however, throw away a ball that would have gotten So Taguchi out at third, instead allowing Taguchi to advance and then score on an Eckstein ground ball.
So what I’m trying to say is, in the playoffs, intangibles do matter. Here’s one of the better pitchers in the game, and he had a pretty bad game because he was nervous. That’s what makes the playoffs so interesting – the human factor matters a lot more when there’s only seven games to be played. Separating men from mice, nutting up, and all that.
So anyway, the Cardinals are the champs, and good for them. And, in an era when you see ultra-image-conscious athletes always celebrating with their kids or piously having prayer circles after a game, how refreshing is a picture like this? It’s nice to see Eckstein throw down (although I’m glad there’s no pictures of the aftermath of draining that bottle…), especially since he’ll probably have trouble seeing over the top of the MVP trophy he won.