Sat, Oct 21, 2006 - Page 20 News List

The NLCS: amazing in too many ways

By Emily Shih  /  STAFF REPORTER

We were in danger of having a rather tame October. Two of the division series (Mets vs. Dodgers, Athletics vs. Twins) were three-game sweeps. The other two (Tigers vs. Yankees, Cardinals vs. Padres) went four games each. Then the Tigers jumped on the A's in an ALCS that more or less looked like a Detroit batting practice. No competition. No drama. A sweep. There is inherently little drama in a sweep; there is no contest. It was quickly becoming an October to follow half-heartedly on the Internet.

Except for a little thing called the NLCS.

All the competition, all the drama that was missing from every other postseason series ended up in one place -- at Shea Stadium, in Flushing, NY, on a rainy, epic night. Which was appropriate, given that it was a rainy, epic series. And it all came down to this: Nine innings, and one winner. Everybody's back against a wall.

Going into this do-or-die game, the series' stats were as follows: Mets with three wins; Cardinals with three wins. Mets with eight homers; Cardinals with eight homers. Mets with 26 runs; Cardinals with 25. Each team had a shutout in the series; each had a 4-2 win. So is anyone out there surprised that the game was tied from the top of the second inning until that pivotal ninth? Is anyone shocked that it was undecided until the very last strike? Is anyone stunned by anything other than, maybe, the outcome?

Meant to be?

It wasn't meant to happen this way, you know. Ask the Mets' fans.

They tied the Yankees to lead the major leagues in wins this year. They were made for the World Series. They lost Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez, and yet they swept the Dodgers and there they were. Poised to take it all. They had decisively won Game 6 to force this final game. They were at home in front of 56,000 screaming fans. They had the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth with two outs against Adam Wainwright, a rookie reliever who had saved five games in his life before this night. They had Carlos Beltran, the Cardinal-killer himself, at the plate. One swing from Beltran could have ended it all. He could have, with one swing, surpassed the Babe to become the man who has hit the most home runs against the Cardinals in the postseason. He could have, with one swing, broken all the spirit in St. Louis that Endy Chavez took away in the sixth and Yadier Molina gave back in the ninth.

But Carlos didn't swing.

And now, rather than sending the team with the best lineup and the most wins to the World Series, the NL is putting up the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals, who won 83 games in the regular season. The Cardinals, who went 66-70 after the month of April. The Cardinals, who pretty much tripped on a Houston Astros' loss and fell backwards into the playoffs on the last day. They are going to the World Series.

Not the 2004 Cardinals

Remember, the 2006 Cardinals are not the 2004 Cardinals. That NLCS Game 7 was played at home, first of all, because the Cards had the home-field advantage thanks to their astronomical 105 wins. That game was won on back-to-back homers by Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds; two players who, this year, were mentioned more for their injuries than their offense. That game ended a NLCS that named Albert Pujols the very-deserving MVP. This year, the story is a little different.

Pujols had one RBI in this NLCS, and ace Chris Carpenter didn't win a game, giving up seven runs. Among the hitters who had more RBIs than Albert: catcher Yadier Molina (6, including the series-winner in Game 7), Scott Spiezio (5), So Taguchi (3), Ronnie Belliard (2)... the list is long and a little strange. Look at it from this angle: Albert Pujols had the same number of home runs and the same number of RBIs in the series as the MVP -- pitcher Jeff Suppan. It's just one more thing that no one saw coming.

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