ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) — As summer winds down and the sights of the baseball world are trained toward October, decidedly inexplicable events—but nevertheless, special ones—seem to happen for the St. Louis Cardinals with an increased frequency.
There for a while, it was like an annual St Louis tradition. As the Cardinals seek their third straight postseason appearance this season, it's apparently back in the air, following this baseball team wherever it goes.
Some consider it Cardinal Devil Magic. Others, still, prefer to believe any supernatural involvement is more divine in its nature. The Cardinals, for whatever reason, just seem to collect more than their fair share of these memorable occurrences come this time of year.
It's possible Tuesday provided another such example. The Cardinals outlasted the Mets, 7-6, in an 11-inning emotional marathon to move into sole possession of the second wild card spot in the National League standings.
Though he wasn't around for the earlier iterations of this phenomenon—Game 6 in 2011, the epic September comeback to led to it, the memorable NLDS comeback the following year, et al—Tyler O'Neill recognizes these kinds of scenarios are inherent to the franchise.
He offers a simple explanation for why the Cardinals tend to rise to the occasion when the stakes are at their highest.
"This is crunch time and we're the Cardinals," O'Neill said. "September baseball. Stuff's important. We're here to win. That's what we do."
It's what the Cardinals have done consistently over the past week, anyhow, fighting back to claim the latter two games of a four-game set against the Dodgers before taking to the road to snare four of five against the Reds and Mets. The series finale in New York comes Wednesday, with the Cardinals aiming for a sweep.
Tuesday's win came for the Cardinals as many of the team's triumphs over this recent stretch have: with contributions from all facets of the roster. In pure Cardinal Devil Magic form, the team's go-ahead rally in the top of the 11th was sparked by Jose Rondon, Edmundo Sosa and Andrew Knizner.
Who? Exactly. The latest iteration of St. Louis' bench mafia is rounding into form.
Before those extra-inning heroics, the Cardinals had to fight their way back into the game a couple of times. As injuries have mounted in the rotation, Jake Woodford has been tasked once again with a starting role for St. Louis. He held his own Tuesday, getting through four innings while allowing only two runs. The Cardinal offense supported him with a pair of runs to tie the game in the fourth, and he left with the score tied.
It's debatable whether the three walks allowed or the ensuing dugout bickering with Yadier Molina was more damaging for Daniel Ponce de Leon's evening in Queens, but Kodi Whitley did a fine job with the bailout effort in the fifth.
A night after Whitley struck out the side to end a Cardinals win, he limited the damage from Ponce's mess to just one run before tossing a clean sixth inning thereafter. The former minor-league closer hasn't been charged with a run in his latest stint in the Cardinals bullpen, a streak that now spans seven appearances and 8.2 innings pitched.
"Let's don't forget the job Kodi Whitley did," Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. "He comes in with the bases loaded, one out... to keep it at a one-run game, and then went out and grabbed the sixth inning. Tremendous job, it really was. Tough predicament, tough situation. I loved the way he went out and trusted his stuff and was in attack mode with quality pitches. Did a fantastic job, because that could have gotten away from us a little bit."
O'Neill provided the big swing—an increasingly familiar role for the 26-year-old outfielder this season—to put the Cardinals ahead in the eighth. But when Javy Baez tagged the first pitch he saw from Giovanny Gallegos in the ninth to tie the game, it meant the Cardinals would need to muster another magical moment in order to go to sleep with a sole claim to second place in the NL wild card standings.
Though the game didn't end in the 10th, the Cardinals got their moment there with one of the most smoothly executed double plays you're ever going to see, orchestrated by three defenders with Gold Gloves spilling out of their respective closets.
With runners at the corners, the winning run at third and only one out for the Mets, Alex Reyes got Francisco Lindor to hit a ground ball to first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. He should have hit it somewhere else.
With the awareness of a three-time Gold Glover, Goldschmidt fielded the ball, spun to step on the bag and wheeled home to cut down the runner from third. It all happened in one rhythmic, perfectly-controlled motion. Molina chased the base runner back toward third before firing to Nolan Arenado who applied the inning-ending tag.
"That was a fantastic play," Shildt said. "Obviously, clearly, a game-saving play. It was a high baseball IQ play. It was one where he kept his composure, made it and executed the rundown. It was a game-saver. Tremendous play by Goldy."
Reyes, after a demotion from the closer role in recent weeks, has settled in for four consecutive scoreless outings, returning to his status as a weapon for the Cardinals in the late innings. His reaction to the inning-ending double play perfectly encapsulated the importance of the moment.
"Those guys have such great awareness of what's going on on the field," O'Neill said. "They make the right play, pretty much every damn time. We can count on those guys."
The ensuing hit parade by Rondon, Sosa and Knizner built a nice cushion for St. Louis, making it a 7-4 game. Reaching deep into the bullpen in the bottom of the inning, it was former starter Kwang Hyun Kim called upon to cover the final three outs. KK's second-career MLB save came in a similar fashion to the first: in nerve-wracking fashion.
But when an Albert Almora groundout to end the game brought a merciful conclusion to the danger, it ensured the Cardinals had control over their destiny for the first time in a long time.
That control—a half-game advantage over of the Reds and Padres, with a critical series against San Diego yet to play over the upcoming weekend—is meaningful for a Cardinals team that has tried for many months to climb back into this position. But it's not a cause for celebration just yet.
"We're looking at the windshield, not the rearview mirror," Shildt said. "We're looking at what's ahead."
Copyright 2021 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.