(BaseballStL) -- Before anyone shoots off fireworks or schedules the ticker tape parade, the only thing the St. Louis Cardinals have won with certainty is a chance to play Pittsburgh in a one-game play-off for the division title.
Yes, it’s highly unlikely that the lowly Cubs will sweep the Birds while the Pirates are sweeping the Reds. But it is possible and stranger things have happened late in a season.
Ask the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies who had champagne chilling in the locker room night after night as the season wound to a close. With a 6.5 game lead and just 12 to play, they only had to play .500 ball even if the next closest team won every game.
They started thinking ahead, to playing the New York Yankees in the World Series. While they were doing that, they lost 10 in a row (the first seven at home), finishing a game behind whom? The Cardinals, of course, who went on to win the World Series. Presumably by not looking ahead.
The 2013 Cardinals are not just any team. If they were, they might have folded after the disastrous five-game series in Pittsburgh when they fell out of first place. Or when Allen Craig went down. Or when the success of the season rested precariously on the arms of youngsters. They just played and let whatever was next take care itself.
The Cardinals have the experience and grounding that comes with having made the playoffs 10 times since 2000, winning 51 play-off games, two World Series and logging six straight winning seasons. Though only three players remain from the 2006 and 2011 championship club, the tradition and the approach does not vary team to team or even game to game.
They learn early the enemy is not in the other dugout. The enemy is the distraction that takes your focus away from the next game, the next inning, the next pitch. They will call on that tradition and play Friday’s game like they have the last 159.
Because the worst foe to play when you have to win is not the traditionally fearsome team, but the one with nothing to lose. Ask the Reds who just lost two to the Mets or the Pirates who lost 3 at home to the Padres. You lose when you take something for granted and look to what comes next.
So one thing at a time. One more win. Nine more innings. Then celebrate.
But just for a day. Winning attitudes cannot be turned on and off. Left alone too long, they wither and die.