The December project for the United Cardinal Bloggers was to cull five of the top stories from the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals’ season. Hmm, where do we begin? I had assistance with this post from Redbird Rants staff writer Marilyn Green. This is set up chronologically. Do you agree with us? Was there another story that you feel surpasses the five we chose? We’re certain there are plenty of other worthy choices. Let us know in the comments.
1. Losing Adam Wainwright for the season during spring training – Christopher Carelli
Expectations were high for Adam Wainwright heading into the 2011 season coming off his second consecutive dominant season. Many were predicting he would take his game up one more level and win the Cy Young award and then it all went terribly wrong. During a spring training start he injured his pitching elbow. It was pretty evident early on that this was not a minor injury. By the next day, we knew Wainwright would miss the entire 2011 season as Tommy John surgery was required. It was a major disappointment at the time, but fortunately for the Cardinals they were able to pick up the slack without their ace. For Wainwright, the ultimate competitor, it was difficult to watch from the fans’ perspective as the team won the World Series. Hopefully he will come back strong this season.
The rest of the stories came in a whirlwind four plus months beginning in late August and steamrolling through December.
2. The end of season surge into the postseason – Marilyn Green
It was often repeated throughout the postseason, that the Cardinals’ remarkable run began when they were 10.5 games back from the Wild Card on August 25. Several players remarked during that time that the catalyst for the team’s turnaround was a player meeting that was called by several of the veterans after the team suffered a 3 game drubbing at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers, a wretched low mark in the season for most fans. Whatever was said in that meeting worked like a charm and the Cardinals proceeded to go on a 23-9 winning run in their final 32 games to clinch the Wild Card on the final game of the season, an 8-0 laugher against the Astros on September 28, behind a superb pitching performance by Chris Carpenter. That 32 game run included a series sweep of their Wild Card rivals, the Atlanta Braves, and a series win over the NL Central leading Milwaukee Brewers. Despite a crushing late inning loss to the New York Mets on September 22 and a loss to the hated Cubs the following night, the Cardinals never gave up when others thought them done for. The end result was a stunning postseason run ending in an 11th World Series title for the Cardinals. This brings us to our next top story.
3. Winning the World Series – Christopher Carelli
Destiny? Maybe. More likely this team got hot at the right time and began to exude a confidence that was not readily seen until late August when their chances were slim at best. This happened at exactly the same time the Braves fell completely apart, so they had a little help. The Cardinals rode the hot streak into the postseason and took down the NL favorite Philadelphia Phillies three games to two, and then beat their NL Central rival Milwaukee Brewers in six games to advance to the World Series. They faced a team that had just clinched its second straight American League Championship, the Texas Rangers. The Cardinals were no longer looked at as an underdog because of their superb play since late August. They were given at least a fighting chance by some in the national media. They matched up well against the Rangers and the World Series was one of the most memorable ever as the Cardinals were down to their final out twice during the series only to come back and win the series in severn thrilling games.
4. Tony La Russa retires – Christopher Carelli
Not long after the confetti was cleaned up from the parade the first of two shocking (or maybe not so shocking) announcements came. Tony La Russa, the longtime manager of the Cardinals was going to retire. He was able to do what so many people wish to do and that is going out on top. La Russa said that he had told general manager John Mozeliak at some point in August that this would be his last season. La Russa won two World Championships with the Cardinals in his sixteen seasons with the team. Maybe he knew of another monster change that was on the horizon?
5. Albert Pujols leaves Cardinals to sign with the Los Angeles Angels – Marilyn Green
Other than the World Series win, this is probably the top Cardinals story of 2011. We all knew there was a chance that Albert would leave, but I think many held out the hope that Albert would heed the call of adoring Cardinals fans and return to the club that gave him his start, the club that revered him like no player since Stan Musial. Alas, it did not happen. Albert chose instead to accept an unheard of offer of $254 million dollars over 10 years from the Anaheim Angels, making Albert the highest paid first baseman in major league baseball and the second highest player (so far) behind Alex Rodriguez. Many would argue that it is understandable that Albert would accept such an offer rather than return to his origins with the Cardinals for less money. Many would also argue that his actions did not match his words that his decision would not be about money. Be that as it may, the legacy of Albert must be left up to the individual. Those who despise him now may feel differently as time passes. The 11 years of enjoyment he gave to Cardinals fans will never die.
It was truly a spectactular season full of ups and downs. The Cardinals were on the outside looking in, but picked themselves up and had one of the more memorable finishes in baseball history. When the dust settled after winning the World Series, the Cardinals lost two icons in a matter of weeks. It will be interesting to see how the team, from the ownership, to the front office and down to the players come together and try to repeat as World Champions.