Pennant Race

Christine's Grandma, whom we all call Nana, lives in Springfield, IL and has been a Cardinals fan for over a quarter century. She used to be a member of the Stadium Club at the old Busch Stadium. The new park does not have a Stadium Club, so for this inaugural season, she decided to get season tickets: 4 seats! It's the first time she's ever done this. She gave us our choice of games early in the season. As a result, I looked at the schedule and casually followed the team even in April. The 2006 Cardinals got out of the gate fast, with 17 wins in April, tying a franchise record.

Albert Pujols was a huge part of this, with a home run barrage that continued through May and caused much speculation that he could surpass Barry Bonds' record of 73. But I was watching the June 3rd game against the Cubs on TV when Albert strained a muscle in his side and had to go on the DL for the first time in his career. This ended any thought of Albert approaching that record.
While the injury certainly wasn't good news, I thought that it could be a blessing in disguise, because it would remove the media circus that accompanies such a chase. Remember, the Cards never made the playoffs when McGwire approached home run records.

I got to see just two regular season games, both in June. I saw the Cards lose to the Reds at home and lose to the White Sox in Chicago.

Watching the Cards on the South Side with friends Jing & Roi

The thing about being an adult instead of a kid is that you have all these other darn things to do, even in the summer! In the Summer of '06, I was our church's interim youth minister, and I wrote the first draft of my PhD dissertation. Plus I ran road races and track meets, and had to prepare for my new teaching assignment as Linear Algebra lecturer, which started at the end of August.

So I was just able to keep an eye on the Cards all summer. There were a lot of injuries (in fact I was there when Jim Edmonds got the concussion against the White Sox ), but the team stayed in first place in the (weak) Central division basically the entire time. When I finished my rough draft the day after Labor Day, I was able to track the team more closely. Of course, I had a little extra incentive this year. Nana's season ticket status gave her the automatic chance to buy playoff tickets. I asked her about it in mid-September, and she said she already had them ordered, and that I'd get first dibs, since I didn't get to go to many regular season games. Sweet!

The Cards held a comfy 5 to 8 game lead until Sept. 20th, when "tracking the team" felt like "watching a train wreck." I actually told people half-jokingly that the Cards are trying a different strategy this year. "The last two years, the team has had a huge lead at the end of the season, clinched early, cruised, and then fallen short in the playoffs. So this time, the Cards have decided to keep things closer all the way through the end of the season, to have some momentum for the playoffs."

[Note: Here is where hindsight and synopsis ends, and full moment-by-moment description begins. Thus we change to present tense.]

Thursday, Sept. 28th
While I’m making my lecture slides for Linear Algebra, I think of the Cardinals and their late season struggles. Up 7 1/2 games just 8 days ago, the lead is now down to a half a game after tonight’s loss! Each lecture slide in TeX starts with the command “\begin{slide}” and concludes with “\end{slide}.” Every time, I try to emphasize to myself: end slide.

Friday, Sept. 29th
Things start looking better. Not only do the Cards win against the Brewers, but the seemingly more important news is that the Astros finally lost! After an 8-game winning streak, the Braves got 'em. So the Cards magic number went from 4 down to 2, meaning it dropped more today than it did in the previous 8 days combined! So the Cards can clinch it without help by winning the last two games.

Saturday, Sept. 30th
This is a nationally televised game, so I can watch the whole thing. Boy, the Brewers aren't making it easy. Ben Sheets is dynamite; we can't get anything off him. The game is scoreless through 6. Tony pulls a great move by intentionally walking the #8 hitter in the top of the seventh to load the bases with two outs. This basically forces a pinch-hitter for Sheets. The strategy appears at first to backfire, as the pinch hitter Jeff Cirillo hits a 2-run single. However, this leaves 3 innings with no Ben Sheets and instead the shaky Brewers bullpen. Sure enough, in the bottom of the 8th, Scott Spiezio delivers a two-out, two-strike, bases-loaded triple, and the Cards win 3-2.

I have taken note of Spiezio's red "soul patch" before. With the magic number down to 1, it looks like I might be getting to attend some postseason games. So today I decide to stop shaving so I can grow something out to dye red for the playoffs.

Sunday, October 1st: Cards Clinch
My friend Jing from UIC plans to come over today to watch sports. I’ve got my Cards gear on, hoping they can clinch one way or the other today. And even if both the Cards lose and the Astros win, the magic number would still be 1, and then the Cards would make up that game against the Giants at home tomorrow. So our odds are pretty good. I follow both the Cards game and the Atlanta-Houston game online. The Cards get down big early, but fortunately, the Braves take care of the Astros in the middle of the Cards game. So it’s clinched: Central Division Champions! And that’s definitely big this year in particular, because Nana has playoff tickets!

Jing arrives, and I change from Cards clothes to ‘Skins clothes and we head over to a neighborhood sports bar to see the ‘Skins, who start at 3:15. The ‘Skins-Jaguars are locked into a great game, and Nana calls my phone from Busch Stadium while I’m watching the 'Skins game. We make preliminary playoff plans. Christine walks over to join us, and the three of us watch a fantastic finish: Brunell throws a 68-yard game-ending touchdown to Santana Moss in Overtime! Awesome. What a great day! The baseball playoff schedule is announced, and the Cards will play Tuesday and Thursday in San Diego, and Saturday and Sunday (if necessary) in St. Louis.
How perfect can this be: I teach Monday, Wednesday, Friday!! Next to

Little Boy's Dream


Past Decade

Pennant Race



World Series