ST. LOUIS — When the Phillies and Cardinals closing met within the postseason, again in 2011, the tip of the collection felt like a fork within the highway. After St. Louis received Game 5 of that NLDS—and, sooner or later, the World Series—it went directly to experience years of persevered good fortune. After Philadelphia misplaced, it entered a complicated, irritating decade of mediocrity, failing to make it again to the postseason in any respect till this yr. Their playoff matchup was once in no way the catalyst for all that adopted. But it did really feel like a turning level.
There was once a vaguely identical high quality to this collection. Yet this time it was once the Phillies who received—shooting two video games at the highway to comb the best-of-three wild card and advance to the NLDS. The corresponding loss does no longer constitute the last of a window for the Cardinals. (This workforce is just too excellent for that.) But it does constitute the tip of an generation. It manner a good-bye for 2 franchise icons, Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina, who’re each retiring and, through extension, ensuring that baseball won’t ever glance moderately the similar right here once more. As was once the case in 2011: This collection may just no longer perhaps be the purpose. But it’s onerous for it to not really feel like a turning level.
And it’s onerous to consider that it would have took place in additional disappointing type for the Cardinals. After a sloppy, uncharacteristic meltdown within the 9th inning of Game 1, they did not get scorching sufficient to soften the rest within the first position in Game 2. Their lineup confronted an superb beginning pitcher within the Phillies’ Aaron Nola. But even in that context, the disasters in their greatest hitters have been obvious, particularly within the greatest scenarios.
The Cardinals misplaced, 2–0, with out such a lot as one extra-base hit. That intended a farewell season that had so continuously felt particular—nearly enthralling—ended no longer with a bang however with one thing lower than a whimper.
“There’s just so much magic going on with Albert and Yadi,” stated Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright, a pillar of the franchise in his personal proper. “I just felt like—you can’t go out like that. There’s too much goodness going around to lose two games in a row to the Phillies. And that’s a good team over there, don’t get me wrong, they’re a great team … But I just thought that with those two guys here, what they were bringing to the table, I just felt like we were going to win it for them.”
Yet they couldn’t.
Pujols and Molina did their section to take a look at prolonging their careers through yet one more day. With the two-run deficit in position through the 8th, Pujols strode to the plate for his ultimate at-bat, and he delivered—a unmarried down the third-base line that felt adore it could be the beginning of a fairytale finishing. There was once only one out within the inning and the Cardinals’ two greatest skills have been up subsequent: No. 3 hitter Paul Goldschmidt, the presumptive NL MVP, and No. 4 hitter Nolan Arenado, having the finest offensive season of his occupation. St. Louis may just no longer have requested for a greater probability to attain.
Both Goldschmidt and Arenado struck out.
A variation of the situation repeated with two outs within the 9th. Molina got here to the plate with a runner on and the season at the line—the set-up for every other attainable storybook finishing, sure, but additionally a questionable managerial choice. (If the wonderful thing about Pujols’ farewell season has been his renaissance as a hitter, Molina has no longer precisely been in a related state of affairs, with a 53 OPS+.) But the Cardinals nonetheless let Molina have this ultimate at-bat. And he made it profitable: He, too, delivered a unmarried, proving there was once nonetheless somewhat magic left. This put runners on the corners, with the possible tying run in the beginning, the possible profitable run on the plate.
But the following batter was once Cardinals shortstop Tommy Edman, who popped out in foul territory to finish the sport, the collection and the season.
“I didn’t want to be the last out,” Molina stated. “This was hard.”
The ultimate result was once an indictment of the offense as a complete. But it was once particularly so for Goldschmidt and Arenado. The pair have been 1-for-15 with 8 strikeouts within the two-game collection: A credit score to the Phillies’ pitching group of workers, to make certain, but additionally an extension of a maddening few weeks for either one of them. Both had put in combination occupation performances in the summertime. Yet they’d then pale onerous within the fall.
“Those guys carried us for the entire year. They did a phenomenal job of not taking any at-bats off. And at the end of the day, baseball is tough,” stated Cardinals supervisor Oli Marmol. “They had a tough stretch there at the end. It’s part of the game. Obviously the timing of it isn’t ideal, but it wasn’t the lack of preparation or competing.”
Goldschmidt had completed August a powerful contender for the Triple Crown. But in September and the primary week of October, he entered his worst stretch of the season, with simply two house runs and a 105 OPS+. If that isn’t essentially dangerous—it’s, through definition, simply above reasonable—it was once nonetheless hanging for a hitter who’s normally one of the vital ideal within the sport, and some of the constant, too. In 12 years within the large leagues, Goldschmidt has simplest had 9 person months with an OPS+ as dangerous as this one. He were given on base on this collection simplest when he was once hit through a pitch. And the placement wasn’t any higher for Arenado. His 86 OPS+ for September and October represented manufacturing minimize nearly in part from what he had finished previous within the yr.
On Saturday, given an opportunity to redeem their fresh performances through bobbing up large when the workforce wanted it maximum, neither of them may just.
The outcome was once a clubhouse left pronouncing its farewells. The season were stuffed with makes an attempt to seize what the retiring dual pillars intended not to simply the Cardinals however to all of St. Louis: Molina is loved partially as a result of he selected to stick, Pujols, as a result of he selected to come back again. The complete yr, in some sense, were an workout in goodbyes—however the closing one, in fact, is the toughest.
“This is my home,” stated Molina, pulling out a demonstrative pronoun that may have referred to the town, the ballpark, the clubhouse, the locker abutting Pujols’s, or the entire above. There was once no want to specify: It was once transparent how a lot the phrase may just are compatible.
“I’m going to miss it.”
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