(BaseballStL) — At the beginning of the Cardinals’ stretch run, Mike Matheny said his club was “a hard team not to love.” Fans are certainly split on that assessment, as the Birds have been a hard group to figure out most of the season. Good for St. Louis’ cardiologists certainly, but not always the most consistent bunch.
They have been frustrating, exhilarating, confusing and, at times, disappointing. One thing they have been all year long, however, is resilient.
After looking up at the Brewers since April 5, St. Louis finally took their spot atop the division on September 1. They have fiercely defended the post since then, giving ground at times but never conceding the war.
Through injuries large and small, through a trade that rocked the clubhouse, through stagnant offense and uneasy ninths, the Cardinals persevered. It was always one day at a time, one game at a time; each series being treated as though it were the Fall Classic.
Now, on the final day of baseball's marathon of a season, the fight is won.
With the Brewers having faded away, the hard-charging Pirates were finally felled in Cincinnati. The Cardinals have outlasted all challengers, claiming a title they fought far harder for than anyone may have predicted.
Adam Wainwright was supposed to preside over the final game. However, Matheny opted to sit his ace out and with starter by bullpen as Nick Greenwood, Justin Masterson, Marco Gonzales and Carlos Martinez were called upon to pitch nine innings.
As the fan base fretted over Michael Wacha’s shoulder injury, and the Birds fought on without baseball's best catcher, the Cardinal ace fought harder than ever before to keep his team alive. Though baseball scratched its head at Wainwright’s uncharacteristic August, he clawed his way to quality starts despite fighting off a "dead arm phase."
He continued to eat innings, never giving in to fatigue of the body or the mind. Wainwright returned to dominance in September, gliding to 20 wins, each one down the stretch crucial to the NL Central crown.
Though he was not alone.
There are dozens of moments that paved the way for Saturday night, many of which will be lost in the fog of the 160 preceding games. Each one felt crucial in the moment, even if looking back on the year feels like a grab bag of season-changing plays.
Was it Kolten Wong’s walk off homer? Perhaps it was utility man Daniel Descalso turning a game-saving double play. Maybe it was Marco Gonzales holding a tie in the ninth inning. On a larger scale, it could even have been Jon Jay’s August that turned the tide, or perhaps Lance Lynn's rise from a potential-heavy starter to a household name (at least he should be by now).
In the end it doesn’t matter. The champagne will fly, the speeches will be delivered and Cardinal Nation can breathe a deep sigh of relief. The season is over, and the flag with Birds on the Bat flies high above the NL Central once again.