Game 1 

 Game 2 


Tuesday, October 3rd—NLDS Game 1 @ San Diego: Cards 5, Padres 1
So here the Cards are, limping into the playoffs. No matter how you slice it, the Cardinals are cold. Lost the last game of the regular season. A losing record in the last week. A losing record the last two weeks. A losing record since the start of September. A losing record since the All-Star break. A losing record since April 25th even! There is no reason to think that we are going to do anything in this postseason. But something about playing the Padres just feels comfortable. I think it's because of how easy the Pads went down last year in the first round. Plus, take a look at the starting lineup: we've got Albert Pujols, David Eckstein, Scott Rolen, and Jim Edmonds on the field at the same time for the first time since May, I think. So the lineup is Pujols at first, Ronnie Belliard at second, Eckstein at short, Rolen at third, rookie Chris Duncan in left field, Edmonds in center, Juan Encarnacion in right, and Yadier Molina behind the plate. Other potential starters include Preston Wilson and the fashionable Scott Spiezio. Chris Carpenter is our #1 starter of our playoff rotation, which also includes Jeff Weaver, Jeff Suppan, and rookie Anthony Reyes. Our closer is yet another rookie, Adam Wainwright.

It's a beautiful day here, both outside and inside on our TV screen. Christine and I lounge in the living room with sun streaming through the windows. During the game, I work on the Linear Algebra exam that I'm giving my class tomorrow. Albert makes it feel comfy in the 4th by hitting a 422-foot homer to center with the runner going. Chris Berman's call is great: "There he goes...and there it goes."

The Cardinals look awesome. Carpenter is cruising along, everybody's getting on base. And how about Scott Rolen turning a routine single into a hustling double! That's what we like to see. The 7th inning doesn't look too good...but what a play by Belliard! The bullpen holds them scoreless. I remember last year in this round Izzy (who's hurt now), had problems closing games, making huge leads dwindle a bit. Not this time.
Alright, up 1 game to none! This means that at least one of two good things has to happen: either there will be two games in St. Louis that we might get to go to, or the Cards will sweep and we can seem them clinch it on Saturday!

Thursday, October 5th—NLDS Game 2 @ San Diego: Cards 2, Padres 0
I love this. Another pleasant day watching the Cards win all afternoon. This time Weaver dominates for 5 innings and the bullpen takes over from there.
Pujols gets key hits as usual and it's good to see Jimmy Edmonds getting back into the act. Now we've got a chance to see them complete the sweep!

Friday, October 6th—Preparations
I tell my class that I've been a Cardinals fan since I was 9, and I will be attending my first baseball playoff game tomorrow. I come home and we pack up to leave. Playoffs. Yeah, playoffs. The only other playoff game I've ever attended was the fantastic trip in January of 2000 when Mom, Dad, Mark, and I drove all night to D.C. to see the 'Skins beat the Lions in the first round. We decked out the van for that trip, so we should do the same for this. I go through the closet and grab all the Cardinals-related gear and literature I can access, putting it all over the back window of the car. (Unfortunately, a lot of the literature refers to the 2004 World Series.) We've got to get going, and so I don't have time to think about the red dye. I haven't shaved at all for a week, but of course that's not really too long for me still, even though I'm 30 now. So I could shave all but the soul patch...but there's really not enough to dye yet. I'll just leave it as an early goatee for now, and figure out something later. We leave around 9:00 and get to Nana's at midnight.

Saturday, October 7th—NLDS GAME 3: Padres 3, Cards 1         [Snapfish link to the full set of my Game 3 pictures]
OK, here's the deal. Nana has 4 personal seats in left field that she paid for herself. Her company Brandt's has 4 separate seats in the lower bowl behind home plate. Somehow the company seats are available for this game, so she's got 8 people going, including 5 from Brandt's: Fred and his wife Melody, Ruth Ann, Linda, and Aaron. She wants all of us to ride together, so she calls a limo to take us to the game! This is crazy.

We get in the limo a little after 9am, and the game starts at noon. On the ride, Nana calls friends and figures out who she’ll be bringing tomorrow if there is a game, so it won’t be us, obviously. Oh well, hopefully there won't be one anyway. We get to the park, and Christine and I walk around the top of the stadium before the game—it’s a neat view from up there. Wow, a playoff game. I didn't think I'd ever get to attend one of these.

We sit with Aaron and Ruth Ann in Nana's seats. Suppan pitches, and frequently gets into trouble. The defense helps out a lot, including Yadi picking off Mike Piazza off first base, which was sweet. But the Padres break through with 3 runs in the 4th. Unfortunately, that is sufficient for the Padres. The Cards lose 3-1, and the only run is on a homer by So Taguchi.

The ride back is not too lively, and now there will be a Game 4 tomorrow.

The life of a baseball playoff ticket holder is full of uncertainty. First, you don't know if some later-in-the-series games will be played. Then, even when you know they are necessary, you don't know when they'll be played! As Nana realized, "You can't make any plans!" Major League baseball does not announce when tomorrow's game will be. They are waiting for the results of the other games.

We hang around Nana’s in the afternoon, and I watch the Tigers eliminate the Yankees. Yes! Then we have the Mets-Dodgers game on most of the evening. The Mets are up 2 games to none, and since both the AL series are done (the A’s swept the Twins yesterday), if the Mets win, then the Cards-Padres will be the only series left. In that case, tomorrow’s Cards game will be at 7pm primetime. If the Dodgers win, then they will put game 4 of that series in primetime, and the Cards will play at noon on ESPN. The Mets wrap up their sweep around 10:30, so the Cards-Padres Game 4 will be at 7:00 primetime.

So here we are, the only first round series left. The Cards swept the first two games on the road in San Diego, but now just one little slip-up and we have to play a full day later than any other divisional series. So even if the Cards take care of business tomorrow night, the Mets will have an extra day of rest to set up their pitching staff, whereas we have to use Carpenter, who then wouldn't be available to pitch again until game 3 of the NLCS. Nana calls her girls to tell them and plan their trip for tomorrow. Christine and I plan to go to church in the morning and head back north, possibly with a stop in Bloomington-Normal on the way.

Sunday, October 8th—NLDS GAME 4: Cards 6, Padres 2         [Snapfish link to the full set of my Game 4 pictures]
While we’re getting ready for church in Nana’s kitchen, she gets a call from Al at the office. He has the Brandt’s seats for the game, but because it has been moved to a night game, he can’t go. She gets on the phone and starts making calls, and I run to the bathroom to debrief Christine, and run back to the kitchen and announce, “We could change our plans...” Nana says, "No, you got to go already." She tells me that she has promised Christine's stepdad John a World Series ticket if the Cards get there, so I can go with him if that happens.

Alright, fine. I don’t want to be greedy.

We head to St. John's contemporary service, and Nana plans to come shortly after making some calls. On the way to church, I grab Christine’s cell phone, thinking I could try to call Mark and Dad and maybe meet at a sportsbar in B-N to watch the ‘Skins. But we’re almost there already, and I’m not sure of our schedule anyway, so I don’t call. Early in church, I’m still thinking about the possibility of going to the game, but I give it up to God and realize that it’s not going to happen. Nana slips in, and during a quiet moment asks me, “You have to teach tomorrow, right?” Honestly, I had given it up, but I calculatedly reply, “2:00.” Toward the end of the service, she says, “Well, do you want to go? We can’t find people...” I tell her about how we drove straight from the farm in the morning to UIC a couple weeks ago. She says OK and heads out of the service early. So we’re going!!

Back at Nana’s, Christine decides not to go, so Nana makes more calls and gets a group of 8 together. She wants everyone to ride together, so she calls the Limo again! She plans for the limo to pick us up at 3:30. This gives me about a 2 hour window after eating lunch, so I drive downtown to Sammy’s Sportsbar to see the ‘Skins play the Giants. It was at this place, in fact, that I watched the last meeting between these teams. That time, I predicted the final clinching touchdown to other patrons and ran out of the bar with my finger in the air. Not so this time. Not even close. Oh well, back to baseball.

I change clothes (like last Sunday, but this time 'Skins gear to Cards gear), and say goodbye to Christine. The Limo arrives, and this time it’s Fred, Melody, me, Nana, Linda, Patty, Betty Jo, and Carol. The latter three are personal friends of Nana's. I can tell right away that the vibe is different—the personalities really seem to be clicking, and probably the fact that it's not 9am helps. So before we leave I jump out of the limo and do what I wasn’t comfortable doing yesterday—I grab all my Cards deco that I brought from our place and deck out the Limo inside. This limo is a bit more spruced up than yesterday’s. It has colored lights on the ceiling and decorative tubes of water blowing colored stones. And it looks even better with Fredbird, the home and road Cards hats, the Cards mini-helmet, some Cards towels from yesterday’s game, and my youth Cards jersey.

The ride down is a hoot. Someone even brought a bottle of wine. Of course I don't drink, but wow, wine in a limo on the way to the playoffs...this is how the other half live, huh? (And by "half," I mean "one-tenth of one percent.") Patty immediately spills some on her pants, which became a running gag throughout the evening. We get to the park and I buy a T-shirt commemorating this series. Then we go down to the Brandt’s seats just to see them. What an amazing view. They are in the 12th row, right behind home plate. Technically it’s probably about the 20th row because of the few rows of “green seats” in front of this section. But I mean, people can yell at the players from here. And what a view of the St. Louis skyline. As Mike Shannon would say, "Mmm mmm mmm mmm mmm!" I will refer to these as the "sweet seats." Carol and I hang around there until about a half an hour before the game, then head up to our seats in Nana’s section. (I'll call these "Nana's seats.") Nana, Patty, BettyJo, and Linda sit in the sweet seats.

We’re at home, able to clinch, and Carpenter is on the mound. That’s why this has felt good all day. But Carpenter has a horrible first inning, even walking in a run. It is pretty tense and looks bad for a while. Fortunately he strands the bases loaded and the Padres only score 2. The Cards get them right back with 2 in the bottom of the first, and then everything is a bit more relaxed after that. No more scoring through the 5th, and Nana and Linda show up at our seats. They are going to switch with us so that we can experience the sweet seats. Carol and I hustle down there (Carol even says that I can go ahead and she’ll just meet at the seats) as the Cards go down 1-2-3 in the 5th.

The view from Nana's seats. The view from the sweet seats. Mmm mmm mmm mmm mmm!

We get to the seats and settle in. The Padres go down easy in the top of the 6th. Then it's the half inning I’ll never forget: the bottom of the 6th.

The scariest sight for a major-league pitcher.

With the score tied 2-2, Phat Albert leads off. The Padres don't want to give him anything too good with the score tied, so he draws a walk. His trot to first base puts him about as far as I am from home plate. Jim Edmonds flies out to left. Juan Encarnacion then rips the ball to right field. With the field spread out in front of me, I can clearly see that it’s fair and that the right fielder is not going to get it. "YEAHHH!!" I stand up and yell with both pointers in the air and my arms angled apart like the foul lines. Pujols comes all the way around from first with the go-ahead run, and it’s a triple for Encarnacion. That gets the crowd buzzing. Rafael Belliard is next, and quickly falls behind in the count 0-2, looking bad. But then he gets hit by a pitch! So now it’s first and third for Scott Spiezio, he of the Cardinal red soul patch. Spiezio ropes a single up the middle. It is so pretty to watch from right behind him. You can see it slightly curve and land just beyond second base on its way to the outfield. Encarnacion scores and Belliard goes to second. More big cheers and fives all around, now it’s 4-2.

Then our normally light-hitting catcher Yadier Molina strokes a nice single to right. “YEEAHHHH!” The crowd can feel it. Belliard gets held by 3rd base coach Jose Oquendo, and really has to put on the brakes rounding third. Probably a good call, because the throw home is on the money. So now it’s Carpenter with one out still and the bases loaded. He grounds to third, and they throw home for the force but pull the catcher’s foot off the plate! Everybody’s safe! It’s 5-2!! Hugs and high fives with Betty Jo, Patty, and Carol. While we’re all still cheering, leadoff man David Eckstein lays down a beautiful squeeze bunt, bringing in Spiezio and advancing the other two runners. Now it’s SIX to two!! WOO-HOO!

Finally, Preston Wilson strikes out to end the rally, with Pujols again on deck. Everyone batted—what an inning! I notice between innings that I’m starting to lose my voie...m—might have to ease off on the yelling a bit.

Carpenter is still in the game and cruising ever since the tough 1st inning. He continues to cruise until the 8th, and I go buy a burrito. I try to eat it, but we stand and cheer for every out, and before I’m even halfway done, it’s heading for the top of the 9th! So between innings, instead of standing and basking with the music, I sit down and work to wolf down that burrito.

I finish the burrito, and then watch Adam Wainwright mow down the Padres and send them packing. Pujols picks up the final grounder and steps on first for the last out. Cards clinch! The stadium is rocking, and we watch the players celebrate on the field and then they show the clubhouse celebration on the jumbotron. Finally we head to the exit, get back in the limo and bask all the way to Springfield. I made sure to show my appreciation and my awe of the whole situation, not being presumptuous or greedy. I thanked Nana and told her I couldn’t believe what an awesome time I had, especially those seats. I felt like I was in a movie.

Christine is in bed when we get back (around 12:30), and I watch SportsCenter until 2:00 or so, basking. I’ve been a Cardinal fan since I was 9 and I finally got to go to a playoff game, and now a clincher. It’s like a dream I’ve had since I was a kid. What an experience.

The next morning, we get up at 8 and hit the road a little after 9. I sleep, then drive, and we get to UIC at 12:45. I’ve got my new shirt to show off, but I haven't put it on yet. We pull up next to the Math building, and while I'm grabbing my bags out of the car, I don't look around but quickly remove my shirt to slip on my new NLDS shirt. Wouldn't you know it, at that very moment two females who I know very well from the Math department administrative staff are returning from lunch. "Sir...excuse me, Sir!" one of them says in jest, "Nudity is not allowed." They got me pretty good.

I hold my office hours, then go teach. I tell the class, “Hope you all had a nice weekend; I know I did. I was at the game last night when the Cards clinched.” The mostly Chicago fans were understanding, if not totally supportive.

Series Commentary
I know Tony LaRussa has had his problems, but what a brilliant move to keep Carpenter on the shelf for the last game of the regular season. Not only did that move set us up for a great start to this series, but it also allowed Carp to pitch twice on full rest. Because of the funky days off in this series, your game 1 starter is the only one who can possibly pitch again on full rest, even if the series goes to five games. And the great thing is he got full rest by Game 4 and could pitch at home for the clincher. Beautiful foresight by Tony.

Despite being the Cards' RBI machine, Albert Pujols is also great leading off an inning. Obviously he has a tremendous average, and he's patient at the plate (and everybody's scared of him) so he walks a ton. Plus he is a heads-up baserunner, so he can go first to third on a single or score on an extra-base hit. He really is a threat to start a rally, not just to consummate one.
Clearly the Mets are a better team than the Padres. But we've shown we can win on the road, which we'll have to do again... Next to

Little Boy's Dream


Past Decade

Pennant Race



World Series