ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- Tuesday was Adam Wainwright day at Busch Stadium. In years past, that meant something. For casual fans, attending a game on a whim and realizing it was a Wainwright start was a special treat—the luck of the draw was on your side.
This season, the lively glow around the ace’s outings has dimmed. On the night of Aledmys Diaz’s emotional grand slam, Wainwright surrendered five earned runs in the Cardinals 12-5 win over the Reds. All’s well that ends well, right?
Sure, the outcome of the game was favorable, as Wainwright notched his 13th win of the season and 134th of his career (tied with Dizzy Dean for sixth all-time in the franchise record books).
But though 34,286 Cardinals fans can claim to have witnessed Diaz’s profound moment in person, that was the sum total of attendees at the game; the second straight night of less than 40,000 fans crossing the threshold into Baseball Heaven.
For many franchises, a less-than-capacity crowd would garner zero attention on a night the team slugged five homers and tallied a dozen runs. For the Cardinals, though, it’s worth mentioning.
Since September 24th, 2013, a day the Cardinals beat the Nationals 2-0 in front of 38,940 fans, St. Louis enjoyed a streak of 240 consecutive home crowds of at least 40,000.
That streak ended Monday, with an announced crowd of 34,942.
“I feel very grateful for our fan base and hopefully we can start a new streak,” John Mozeliak said before Tuesday’s game. “I think there was a lot going on last night. You could easily to see why we would struggle to get people in.”
Mike Matheny also dismissed Monday’s thin throng as a product of a perfect storm of alternative distractions. The first presidential debate coincided with not only Monday Night Football, but also a school night—a factor cited by both Matheny and Mozeliak.
Most who did show up for Monday’s game didn’t go the distance with the team, instead clearing out gradually as the Cardinals stumbled in a 15-2 defeat. On more than one occasion during the night, fans were incensed enough by the home team’s poor display to make their dissatisfaction known through disgruntled jeers and sardonic cheers.
“None of us want to be booed,” Matheny said after Monday’s loss. “But people put their hard-earned money into showing up here, and that’s a freedom they have. We take it very seriously what kind of a product we put out there, and if it isn’t up to their standards, then it isn’t. So we go about our business to fix it.”
The Cardinals are still in the playoff race with five games to go, but it’s becoming evident fans have grown weary of this summer’s slog. If Monday’s lackluster crowd should be chalked up to an anomalously busy evening, what happens, opined a reporter to Mozeliak Tuesday afternoon, if that night’s crowd proved similarly scant?
“Well, then you may have a trend,” Mozeliak quipped.
Well, here it is. The announced attendance for Tuesday’s game: 34,286. That’s several hundred less than Monday’s count, which the Cardinals would have preferred you to believe was due to the single-most bustling night on the entire calendar.
Like Matheny, Mozeliak declined to assign blame to the fans for that affair.
“Our fan base has been great,” Mozeliak said. “They show up, they support us. Clearly, this year hasn’t gone like everybody had hoped, but like we’ve always talked about, it’s pretty demanding and expectations are high.”
Was the hangover from Monday’s debacle keeping folks away on Tuesday? Or has the Cardinals’ underwhelming home record (33-42 before Tuesday’s win) soured the sea of red on showing up to watch the team?
The decreased attendance shouldn’t be grounds for an admonishment of Cardinal fans, but viewed as an economical expression of how those fans feel about the current state of the club; a striking indictment of the product on display. As one of the most trying seasons in recent memory nears its conclusion, the loyal supporters are getting antsy.
“I think if you don’t reach the playoffs, you’re going to be disappointed,” Mozeliak said. “And I think we should, because we felt going into this year that we were going to be extremely competitive. It just hasn’t played out like we had thought it would.
“You can point to whatever you want—whether it’s defense, base running, or rotation, injuries—all those factor into where we are, but expectations were high breaking camp. Right now, there’s still six games left. I’m not ready to write the final chapter of the book. I think we still time to do that. But ultimately, we understand that people are going to look at us and hold us accountable for what the year was.”
Mozeliak’s right. Technically, there’s still time. The Cardinals did their part Tuesday by pounding the Reds, and remain only a game out of a tie with the Giants for the second wild card. Mathematically, they’re not out of it. Emotionally, they’re back in it. It’s conceivable that Diaz’s heroics reinvigorated the Cardinals in the season’s final week.
But did it also reinvigorate the fan base? If not, it won’t matter when the final chapter of this enigmatic season is written. The readers may have grown too fatigued to care.