Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A Sense of Inevitability; Cards Proving That Just Getting in Playoffs Trumps Winning Division

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A Sense of Inevitability; Cards Proving That Just Getting in Playoffs Trumps Winning Division

Article excerpt

The Cardinals are on the doorstep of yet another World Series, on the brink of shoving another worthy opponent with far gaudier regular-season stats into the endless offseason. They are a surprise to you, they are a surprise to me, they are a surprise to everyone but themselves as they leave a perplexed baseball world wondering how exactly you're supposed to extinguish a champion's will.

"They do have something going. There's no getting around that," San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said after his Giants fell to the Cardinals 8-3 in Game 4 of the National League championship series Thursday night.

With the Cardinals only 27 outs from advancing to their 19th World Series, with a three-games-to-one lead in this best-of-seven series, Bochy's NL West-champion Giants still are trying to figure out how they've fallen into this hole. For most of the early innings on this perfectly chilled Thursday night, the sold-out Busch Stadium crowd provided a dizzy, towel-waving backdrop as the Cards kept piling on the runs. Yet as the game reached the late innings, it merely felt like the crowd of 47,062 was just sitting around waiting for the postgame party to kick off.

The overlooked, under-appreciated Cardinals keep treating this pursuit of their 12th World Series title with a sense of inevitability that seems so logical only once you are within the bubble of this baseball-obsessed town.

The 88-win Cardinals got the last ticket available to the NL playoffs with that second wild-card slot. Yet they've already dispatched, in order, the 94-win Atlanta Braves, the 98-win NL East champion Washington Nationals and are now only 27 outs away from shoving the NL West champion Giants (94 wins) rudely into the offseason and setting the table for the Cards' fourth trip in the last nine seasons to the World Series.

"It's always nice to wake up and know you're one game away from moving on, especially when the World Series is at your fingertips," Cardinals third baseman David Freese said. "So (tonight) is going to be fun."

The Cardinals are not taking this for granted. They're good finishers because they understand better than anyone else that it's hard to kill an opponent that refuses to die. They understand how it's always possible to dig out of dire circumstances only because they've earned their burgeoning October reputation by battling back from the brink so many times.

"We have to win (tonight) to get there," Cards first baseman Allen Craig said. "It's exciting to be one game away, but we still have to get the job done."

Unlike the atmosphere of some of the more recent playoff games in this ballpark, Game 4's outcome felt inevitable early and the drama left Busch almost from the first pitch of the night.

This duel with the Giants lacks some of the sexier context of last year's six-game grind against the entertainingly obnoxious Milwaukee Brewers. …

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