Most Rams player Twitter pages have been cold and lonely places as the losing streak continues, with status updates bare and hate-mentions from immature fans piling up at their doorsteps. The disappointment of this season has created a team full of shut-ins. Everyone’s keeping their heads down, just hoping to get through.
Like the rest of St Louis, Coach Spagnuolo latched on to the Cardinals as a positive story. He went the extra mile, though, and took the entire team on a short road trip to see game 4 in Arlington. And he got railed on for his trouble by Bill Cowher, for distracting his team from the mission, or some such claptrap.
Well, pardon the coach if he wanted to distract his players from their rotten circumstances, bring them in to a positive environment, let them root for their brothers dressed in other colors. There are plenty of things you can rip Spags for, but that’s pretty cheap.
The Cardinals provided quite the distraction, putting football numbers up on the scoreboard thanks to Albert Pujols’ historic night with the bat. But instead of being inspired, the Rams shuffled into the Cowboys’ stadium the next morning and got obliterated, just plain beaten at the most fundamental levels of the game. As many internet wags pointed out, they even got outscored by the Cards.
But if the Rams players were watching tonight, they got more than a distraction. They got to see a truly inspirational event that transcends uniform, transcends the shape of the ball or the rules of the game.
Oh my gosh, this has to be one of the best baseball games I’ve ever seen!!!
Just got home from the cards game. Absolutely legendary! Congrats to @dfreese23! Happy for you bro! Time for bed. 7am lift. God bless!
There were no rally squirrels tonight, no record-breaking performances, no one star at the peak of his powers lifting a team on his shoulders, not even a lot of very good play. In short, we saw none of the hallmarks of this World Series in this game six, unless you count the wickedly powerful bats of the Texas Rangers. It was a strange game, and an ugly game, until it became a classic.
If the Rams watched the Cardinals drop balls and miss throws and wave weakly at fastballs, it probably all felt a little too familiar. It’s sickening enough for Cardinals fans to watch play like that unfold. It has to be worse when it feels like a replay of the life you’re living now as a professional athlete.
But the beautiful thing about baseball is that they make you play all 27 outs, even if the game feels over after 18 or 21 or whenever. Even if fans are ready to concede the night, concede the season, congratulate the other side and walk away. So when Allen Craig drove a 7th inning pitch over the wall, it was a sign that we don’t have to accept that. We don’t have to stop fighting, or stop believing that this game can be won.
What followed was as thrilling as it was improbable. Twice the Cardinals were down to their last strike. Twice they came through with game-tying hits to force extra innings. Unexpected players, castoffs like Jake Westbrook, had to be called on to play critical roles. And as they clawed their way through the strata of the Texas bullpen, they finally got that big hit (courtesy of David Freese), and their first lead since the game was 2-1 in the bottom of the first.
As a fan of both the Cardinals and the Rams, I’ve accumulated my share of frustrating memories, but few were more ingrained in me than the collossal disappointment of the opening game of the 2004 World Series. Both the ’04 Cardinals and Red Sox had come off amazing LCS series, but both were so sloppy, so careless, that the game never felt out of reach. But our side just couldn’t break through, couldn’t shake themselves out of their sudden badness long enough to make the plays necessary to win. Boston took the game, and essentially waltzed through the series. The Redbirds’ spirit was irrevocably broken, and something broke inside of me as a fan, too.
Winning the fluke ’06 series did little to heal that pain, either. (Even though Adam Wainwright’s called strike three in the NLCS remains one of the single greatest pitches I can remember.) But this game… this reversal of that ’04 script… gives new life to that simple, fragile thing: faith.
I feel like this 2011 Rams season is unfolding with the same gut-hurt as that 2004 World Series. We saw so much promise in the games that led up to Week 1 that we believed anything was possible. Anything but the calamity of injuries and ineptitude that has unfolded. And right now, the anger, the hurt, is profound.
I don’t know how long it will take, or what kind of miracle it will take, to start to erase the scars that are being freshly cut now. Winning alone doesn’t do it, as the 2006 Series showed me. It takes something more. It takes something like this trial by fire that the Cardinals and Rangers are both going through right now. A big play, a great player, an historic achievement, none of them are as satisfying as watching a whole team from the weakest (Jon Jay) to the strongest (Big Al), the youngest (David Freese) to the oldest (Lance Berkman) come together under one common will, one common belief, and to play beyond the highest level they thought possible of themselves.
Tonight, if they were watching at least, the Rams players got to live vicariously in that miraculous world. They got a chance to look at the other side of this dark land of misery. And just maybe, they got infected with a little of that spirit.
The season isn’t over. The question Derek asked this morning becomes so much more poignant. “Where do they go from here?”