Magical era of Cardinals baseball ends with a whimper as Phillies sweep Wild Card Series at Busch

St. Louis Cardinals' Albert Pujols looks at the scoreboard after being replaced by a...
St. Louis Cardinals' Albert Pujols looks at the scoreboard after being replaced by a pinch-runner during the eighth inning in Game 2 of the team's NL wild-card baseball playoff series against the Philadelphia Phillies, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)(Jeff Roberson | AP)
Published: Oct. 8, 2022 at 11:11 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

ST. LOUIS (KMOV) - It wasn’t your average elimination game. More than merely the fate of the Cardinals’ season on the line Saturday night at Busch Stadium, an entire era of Cardinals baseball weighed upon the St. Louis lineup as it opposed Phillies ace Aaron Nola.

As they had in each of their past three October exits, the Cardinals crumpled offensively under the heft of the moment.

Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol maneuvered the St. Louis pitching plan with deft and purpose, aggressively turning to his bullpen to maximize the match-ups. As the Cardinals’ pitching plan strained to give the lineup a chance to extend the season, the Philadelphia starter was a workhorse on the other side.

The lineup that featured two of the top four qualifying NL hitters in OPS this season saw those two thunderous bats go a combined 0-for-8 with five strikeouts in an elimination game Saturday as the Cardinals fell 2-0 to the Phillies, clinching the NL Wild Card Series for Philadelphia.

The storybook ending upon which the Cardinals have been focused since day one in Jupiter, Florida had officially fallen just a few chapters short of reality.

“Everybody in that clubhouse is feeling it right now,” Marmol said. “It’s a tough thing when you know it’s Yadi’s last year and Albert’s last year. There’s just extra motivation to deliver for them and do something special and allow that story to end with a championship. So it’s obviously disappointing, but it’s where we’re at.”

For 6.2 innings, Nola held down a Cardinals offense that ranked fifth in OPS and tied for fifth in runs across MLB during the regular season. It suddenly fell feeble over the final weeks of the year, ranking 24th in OPS and 25th in runs scored over the past 30 days.

The slump inexplicably extended into the postseason, where stars like Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado were unable to take advantage of the scenario they so deeply craved throughout the summer.

“It hurts. It hurts,” Arenado said. “Give credit to the Phillies, they pitched a great game. But yeah. It hurts. Feel like I had some good at-bats these last two days, but nothing to show for it. That’s just part of the game.”

The Gold Glove third baseman was outspoken throughout the season about his desire to return to the postseason and⁠—when he got there this time⁠—perform better than he had in his ill-fated playoff experiences while with the Rockies. But this truncated October run ended with Arenado going 1-for-8 at the plate.

His teammate and presumptive MVP of the National League, Goldschmidt saw his September struggles carry over into October, too. Goldschmidt went 0-for-7 on the weekend, striking out three times Saturday. The slugging first baseman whiffed on a number of pitches that, during other portions of his red-hot summer, would have almost certainly been cracked for extra bases.

“He wanted to deliver so bad for us,” Marmol said of Goldschmidt. “You could see it. Part of his personality, he just wants to be able to come through in every moment. He did it all year. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out today.”

The emotion in Arenado’s eyes was unmistakable as he spoke in front of his locker after the loss, lamenting the outcome while reflecting on the journey. This season marked the first division title of Arenado’s MLB career, captured alongside two legendary Cardinals who laced ‘em up for the final time on Saturday night.

For a Cardinals clubhouse soaking in the reality of the sudden end to their season, it was the notion of finality for Pujols and Molina that truly hit home.

“That was the hardest part,” Arenado said. “That’s what got everybody⁠—just saying bye to those two guys. What they mean to this organization and what they mean to us, individually. Those guys are legends. It was such an honor to play with them.

“We wanted to do it for them. And we just couldn’t get it done.”

Cardinals pitching battled tooth-and-nail Saturday to limit a damaging Phillies lineup. Frequently the victim of a solo home run in his outings, Miles Mikolas surrendered a moonshot to Bryce Harper to lead off the second inning. But he was otherwise clean through four frames.

Marmol aggressively deployed the first relief weapon at his disposal as Mikolas showed signs of further trouble in the fifth. Jordan Montgomery entered with traffic on the bases, and though he permitted a sacrifice fly to right field, it was the only other run the Phillies mustered in the inning—and for the remainder of the game.

The Cardinals had their opportunities to strike against Nola and the Phillies bullpen throughout an intense evening at Busch Stadium. They just never could deliver the key hit to plate a run. The Cardinals finished the night 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, stranding nine base runners in the game.

After a Corey Dickerson two-out hit in the ninth, the retiring Yadier Molina stood as the Cardinals’ last hope. He extended the season momentarily, lofting a hit to right in the final at-bat of his career. It’s similar to what Albert Pujols did the previous inning, rifling a base hit down the left field line in his swan song in St. Louis. The pair were both lifted for pinch-runners to frenzied applause from the adoring crowd.

Even in defeat, two of the most iconic Cardinals of all-time crafted indelible final moments.

“It’s not surprising at all to see them get hits in their final at-bats,” Adam Wainwright said. “That’s the winning players they are... Yadi and Albert are absolutely tied for the first, most-clutch players I’ve ever played with.”

Representing the winning run as the final batter with two runners aboard, Tommy Edman popped one foul on the third base side, where an infielder who began the season in the home team’s dugout raced the catch the final out and end the season of his former club.

Edmundo Sosa secured the baseball, leaping into the air and confirming that St. Louis had finished its final game of a division-championship season without scoring a run. In their last three postseason elimination games dating back to 2020, the Cardinals scored zero, one, and zero runs. Saturday’s result is particularly tough to swallow for an offense that irrefutably carried St. Louis to this position in the first place.

The Cardinals bullpen in 2022 was good. The defense was elite. The starting pitching got the boost it needed at the deadline. But the Cardinals won the NL Central crown by slugging their way to it.

For two October nights at Busch Stadium, though, the Cardinals’ offense resembled the one that had gotten St. Louis bounced from each October since 2019—a bitter ending to a magical era of Cardinals baseball.