The 2012 St. Louis Cardinals, more than any other Cardinal club since the Whitey Herzog-led teams of the 1980s, epitomize teamwork. They now have a team record to show for their efforts.
With superstar Albert Pujols abandoning the best baseball town in America for the big bucks in Southern California and legendary manager Tony La Russa retiring after two championships and 16 years at the helm, “uncertainty” could have been the team motto when play began in April.
Not anymore. “Teamwork” is the first description that comes to this long-time Cardinal fan’s mind.
With a fourth inning solo home run by All-Star catcher Yadier Molina in Wednesday’s home game against the Houston Astros, the 2012 Cardinals accomplished something no Cardinal team in the franchise’s storied history has ever done before – five players with at least 20 home runs.
Prior to Molina’s homer, third baseman and 2011 World Series MVP David Freese smashed his 20th home run of the season, a two-run shot that scored Allen Craig. Freese and Molina joined first baseman-right fielder Craig (21), left fielder Matt Holliday (27) and right fielder Carlos Beltran (29) in the 20-homer club.
Four teams have finished with seven players hitting at least 20 round-trippers and three teams have finished with six players going deep at least 20 times.
For the Cardinals, who began the season under the leadership of rookie manager Mike Matheny and without the powerful bat of future Hall-of-Famer Pujols, the offensive question marks were plentiful. Yet the bats have risen to the challenge; even without the mighty Pujols in the lineup, the Redbirds have blasted 149 home runs in 2012, seventh in the National League.
The Cardinals are very much in the playoff hunt as well, currently in a position to play the Atlanta Braves in a one-game wild card playoff. The Cardinals have 13 regular season games remaining in 2012.
No Cardinal fan will ever forget the amazing 2011 championship run by the Redbirds, which began in late August when they were 10.5 games out of a playoff spot, only to surge at the end and win the National League wild card. They went on to beat the Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers to get to the World Series and defeated the Texas Rangers in one of the most thrilling Fall Classics in baseball history to win it all.
Numbers fans – and what baseball fan isn’t a numbers fan? – will recall that the motto of last year’s Redbird squad was “11 in 11.” They needed to win 11 post-season games to win their 11th world championship. However, if they reach the playoffs again this year, their motto will likely be “12 in 12.” Because of a format change adding an extra wild card game, the Cardinals would need to win 12 post-season games to capture the franchise’s 12th World Series title.
As the late, great Cardinal announcer Jack Buck was fond of saying, “Stranger things have happened.”
Stay tuned, Cardinal fans. This is where it gets interesting.
The Cardinal Nation blog, by Brian Walton
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