|David Freese, last year's postseason hero, is having another good October run. (US Presswire)|
ST. LOUIS -- There's no denying the American League champion Tigers are a fantastic blend of power and pitching. And, fresh off their sweep of the Goliaths from Gotham, more than a few folks have already tweeted the Tigers a World Series trophy.
But if they were apt to boast here (they're not), the good folks of St. Louis -- a gracious, great and slow-paced baseball town -- might say: Not so fast.
The World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, October's team, steamrolled Tim Lincecum and the Giants 8-3 in Game 4 to go up 3-1 in the National League Championship Series and move within a game of another World Series.
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If St. Louis can win one of the next three games -- can anyone imagine the Cardinals doing anything else? -- it will have yet another date with its favorite October combatant, the Detroit Tigers.
In this city with the French name and past, there is a distinct feeling of déjà vu going on. The similarities to 2006 are too obvious to ignore.
Six years ago, the Tigers were an overwhelming favorite to beat the Cardinals in the World Series, and a seemingly weaker St. Louis team wound up winning, four games to one. Back then, they all said the Tigers blew it. They said they were too well-rested. They said the Tigers had lost their edge.
Just like in '06, the powerful Detroit Tigers are waiting, and just like six years ago, the Tigers will be the World Series favorite. (Many have already proclaimed them the heavy favorite, with the one difference being there were no tweets last time.)
Meanwhile, the Cardinals, who should never be discounted, promise to keep grinding and working, and doing what they do. The ones who were Cardinals in 2006 recognize the similarities. But, characteristically, they refrain from mentioning it.
"We're not there yet. We still got a ways to go," Chris Carpenter said. "They're not going to give it to us."
"I'm not talking about that," Yadier Molina said with a smile. "I might talk about that after [Friday's] game."
The Cardinals organization seems to do everything right, especially in October. They don't assume a series is over even when it feels like it is. They recall that the Giants are the one team that's fashioned almost as many miracles over the last few years as they have. The Giants won a World Series in 2010 with a team that supposedly couldn't hit. And they came back from down two games to sweep Cincinnati right out of this derby.
The Cardinals won't admit they are having flashbacks to six years ago because that would mean counting out the Giants. The Cardinals are the best-trained players going. No slip-ups here.
The Cardinals don't talk about how wonderfully resilient they are, like most other teams. They just live it.
"They're a good club. They fight hard," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "To do what they did last year. That was amazing. Win the World Series and you're a pitch away from losing a couple times."
Sure, this wasn't Lincecum at his best. This was last-minute Lincecum, the playoff reliever who only was named to start Game 4 the day before and who lasted only 4 2/3 innings. But even Lincecum at the top of his game might have trouble with this Cardinals squad, which is a lot better than most folks realize.
Sure, this wasn't The Freak's show. This was Lincecum throwing 88-89 mph, and not locating particularly well, either. But, funny how the Cardinals' opponent never seems to play well. Might have something to do with them.
The NLCS isn't quite over. But it sure feels like it is.
One thing about the Cardinals, they don't listen to the pundits. They don't give up, or give in. They beat Kris Medlen in the wild card game when the Braves won 23 straight with him pitching. Then they beat Washington after falling behind 6-0, and remaining behind 7-5 heading to the ninth inning. Now they are on a rare roll.
"We won in Atlanta, we won in Washington. I'm not putting too much into home-field or overnight momentum," said David Freese. "You just have to bust your tail, and good things can happen."
The question for them is: Can bad things happen?
Freese said yes, but pardon him if it's hard for him to recall anything too negative. The Cardinals won the 2011 World Series after they were seen as a 50-1 shot to even reach the playoffs at one point, then fell behind Texas 3-2 in the World Series. A pitch away, as Bochy recalled, it didn't matter.
Freese has hardly known a down moment. None of the young Cardinals do. They just keep coming up, and producing wildly beyond outside expectations.
"There's a philosophy and you bring it to the big leagues," said Matt Carpenter, one of a few sudden starts who had another big game (Pete Kozma is another). "They demand coming to the ballpark every day and competing."
Kozma, out of nowhere, keeps doing great things. The Cardinals can hardly believe what he is doing. Manager Mike Matheny said, "We are just continuing to stay out of his way." Which is the best way.
Nobody deals with pressure like them. And nobody deals with loss like them, either.
Rafael Furcal and Lance Berkman are out. No big deal. Carlos Beltran missed all but one inning of the two games here. He said he may play Friday. But no worries, either way. Albert Pujols is gone. Tony La Russa has left town. Dave Duncan, too.
No matter who leaves, or who comes to play them, the Cardinals should never be counted out. Starting pitcher Adam Wainwright was atrocious in Game 5 of the Division Series against the Nationals, surrendering six quick runs. When he left the game, he asked his teammates to pick him up. He also vowed to be back. And boy was he ever.
"He rarely has a bad outing, and when he does, he bounces back," Freese said. "I know for a fact, he couldn't wait to get back on the mound."
Wainwright pitched seven innings of beautiful one-run ball Thursday night, the only blemish a no-doubt, 451-foot home run by Hunter Pence, who selflessly said he was the goat Wednesday.
Jon Jay had two big hits for the Cardinals. Matt Holliday broke out with two RBI hits. Matt Carpenter was on base three times, doing what Beltran would have done. "He's a good player, man," Chris Carpenter (no relation) said.
Out of nowhere, he is.
This whole Cardinals team rises when everyone thinks they're down. Count them out at your own peril.