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Post details: Cardinals rise from the ashes...again

Cardinals rise from the ashes...again

In most sports you recognize the key moments only in retrospect, only after the turbulent swirl of action disgorges them on the shores of victory. In baseball, however, such moments bloom right in front of your eyes and often come with an advance notice. You can trace their contrails in real time. They are displayed out in the open for all to see, like shards of a precious vase carefully dusted off at an archaeological site.

Time: October 27, 2011.
Place: The Busch Stadium in St Louis

The World Series between Cardinals and Texas Rangers, Game 6, bottom of the Ninth. Cardinals' stats look dismal - two outs, David Freese at bat with two strikes and the team down by two runs. You can almost hear the Champagne bottles popping in Texas. Temperature drops perceptibly. This is the opposing team's match point. This is the moment. Potentially the last pitch. The bat swings and a ball is popped high into the space. You can see it won't be a homer, but it will be a few seconds before it arrives back on Earth.

You can imagine a miniature Elf of Baseball, a mischievous old man with a flying cape, standing firmly on the ball as it cuts through the autumn air. His eyes are scanning the rows of forlorn fans who are standing motionlessly in the bleachers. His outstretched left hand is clutching a massive staff while his right hand probes the wild beard as if in a search for clues. If Nelson Cruz catches the ball - as most players routinely do - the game is over. If he doesn't a glimmer of hope will prevail. Seconds pour from the clock like Midwest honey. Slowly and with a dense accent. Finally the Elf puts away the inflight magazine, and starts preparation for the landing. But as Cruz readies his glove for the lethal catch, the ball swerves a bit at a weird angle and somehow manages to avoid the leathery embrace. As it skips down onto the green turf of the outfield, Pujols and Berkman run all the way home, equalizing the score.

Only people who know how fanatical this town can be about baseball can imagine the rapture. Wall of rumble raises from the stands. A moment ago the stadium was frozen with an tense mixture of hope and desperation. This was the Arctic permafrost layer of the Cardinals' fandom - hardened by the past failures, yet forever harboring the highly flammable seeds of new life. When the camera panned over you could see people peeking through knitted gloves. Now those same gloves are flying through space propelled by gusts of sheer joy. From nihilistic silence to ecstatic uproar in 0.2 seconds. Take that Ferrari.

But Texas did not fold either. The game goes into extra innings and Rangers manage to rebuild their two run lead. Another drama ensues. The Cards are down to the very last strike again. Was the screenplay for this Game ghostwritten by Stephen King? The jubilant chanting gags in everyone's throat. The cheering is out, an anxious stillness is back in vogue. What an emotional roller coaster. But in St Louis they learned to hope till the very last moment this season. And indeed, the game is equalized again and then some. In the eleventh inning David Freese lights the sky up again. And this time it's going all the way. Game seven - here we come. We have not seen one in the World Series since 2002.

The momentum such extraordinary game builds is simply too big to be overcome by conventional means. Needless to say the Cards won the last game. And quite deservedly. This was the team who kept coming from behind the whole season and they took this skill all the way to the top. In August, they were down 10 games with a month to play. They barely made the postseason and qualified only on the last day. Throughout the playoffs they had to overcome deficit after deficit and their fate often hang in the balance by a hair on Tony LaRussa's head. Yet any time they were down and almost out, they just bit the bullet, clenched the bat and went out to do their best. Against their opponents and against all odds.

We live in times when success is often tainted by an unhealthy dose of foul play and backroom machinations. Not only in sports, but in our public life as well. In such times a good Cinderella story becomes a precious source of inspiration. The Cardinals did not need to fudge their stats. They did not need to bribe their umpires. They just stepped up to the plate and hit it out of the ballpark.


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