The Los Angeles Dodgers have a $220 million payroll. The Tigers have Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Miguel Cabrera. The Reds have the hardest throwing pitcher in the game. The Pirates have hope. The Yankees have money. The St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants however, have something that none of those teams can claim this decade—World Series rings. While it’s obvious that the Cardinals and Giants have dominated baseball over the past four years, it may not be so obvious how many similarities the teams have shared during that time period.
Flare For Late Season Dramatics
In 2010 the Giants were on their way to another disappointing season, sitting 7 games back of the San Diego Padres with a month to go in the regular season. Luckily for the Giants, they started to play well at the same time the Padres lost ten straight. They entered the last series of the season at home against the Padres, needing to win one game to clinch the NL West division title. Of course, in typical Giants fashion, they tortured their fans by losing the first two games of the series, before winning the last game thanks in large part to the often criticized Jonathan Sanchez.
As exciting as this finish was for the Giants, the Cardinals without a doubt topped them in the torture department in 2011. On August 27, the Cardinals had a 1.1% chance of making the playoffs. They were 10.5 games back in the NL Central and 10 games back of the Braves for the only Wild Card spot. Although they started to play better, in early September they were still 7.5 games behind the Braves with only 21 to play. A late season surge, coupled with poor play from the Braves, helped the Cardinals narrow the deficit to one game with two games left. Of course, playing out like the rest of September, the Cardinals won their last two games and the Braves lost their last two, therefore awarding the Wild Card to the Cardinals.
Hard Throwing, Bearded Closers
If you follow baseball and haven’t heard of Brian Wilson and his infamous beard, then you don’t actually follow baseball. Wilson, with help from his beard, played a huge part in the Giants winning their first World Series in San Francisco. He led the league in saves in the regular season, and recorded the save in the NLDS, NLCS, and World Series clinching games. Cardinals’ closer, Jason Motte, also happens to have a very notable beard, although his is a few shades lighter than Wilson’s. Like Wilson, Motte is a flame thrower who has also recorded the most saves in the league, with 42 in 2012. A year prior to this, Motte, like Wilson in 2010, was on the mound when the final out of the World Series was clinched.
Ex-Catchers Running the Team
Catchers are often credited as being the smartest players on the team. For two teams like the Cardinals and Giants that routinely win close games, it comes as no shock that they are both run by ex-catchers. Bruce Bochy has been coaching for almost two decades, but before that he was a well respected catcher. Mike Matheny started coaching more recently, when he took over for Tony La Russa in 2012 as the Cardinals’ skipper. Not only did Bochy and Matheny play the same position, but they both had a career .239 batting average. Also, if not for career ending concussions, Matheny may have actually played for Bochy in San Francisco.
Never Give Up Attitude
In the 2011 World Series, the Cardinals trailed the Texas Rangers three games to two, heading back to St. Louis for game six. The outlook was dismal for the Cardinals, as they fell behind early and trailed seven to four in the bottom of the eighth. Allen Craig started the comeback with a solo shot in the eighth to cut the deficit to two runs. In the bottom of the ninth the Cardinals had the tying runs on base but were down to their last strike, with St. Louis native, David Freese at the plate. In one of the most tension filled at bats I have ever seen, Freese hit a 1-2 fastball over the glove of right fielder Nelson Cruz to bring home the tying runs. For the Cardinals however, the joy was short lived. In the top of the 10th inning Josh Hamilton (who is now booed every time he visits Texas by forgetful “fans”) rescued the Rangers by hitting a go ahead two run home run. The cameras panned to a joyful Nolan Ryan celebrating in the crowd, and once again it seemed as though the Rangers would have their first World Series title. Not so fast. The Cardinals unbelievably fought back again in the bottom of the tenth, with Lance Berkman singling home the tying run on a 2-2 count. The Rangers did not score in their half of the 11th and in the bottom half, none other than David Freese hit a walk off home run to force a game seven. The rest is history, as the Cardinals handled the Rangers easily in game seven and captured their eleventh World Series title.
The argument could be made that the Giants performance in the following year’s playoffs was slightly more impressive. The Giants lost the first two games of the NLDS at home to the Cincinnati Reds, and seemed destined for a disappointing end to their season. They now had to win three games in a row in Cincinnati, which no team had done all season. Thanks to a speech from Hunter Pence, great pitching, and clutch hitting, the Giants overcame the odds and took all three from the Reds in their own ballpark. In the NLCS against the Cardinals, things did not start much better for the men in orange and black. They found themselves trailing three games to one heading into their fourth elimination game of the playoffs. Thankfully for Giants fans, the one man everyone (I meant no one) would choose to start that elimination game was on the mound, and his name was Barry Zito. Following the mantra of never giving up, Zito decided to ignore the haters and fight to save the Giants season, his career, and his reputation in San Francisco. The Giants won his game five start and then rather easily disposed of the Cardinals in games six and seven back in San Francisco. Just to get to the World Series where they would sweep the Tigers, the Giants were forced to win six elimination games.
What Lies Ahead
If you are a Giants fan, then right now you should also be a Cardinals fan. The Giants won the World Series in 2010 and the Cardinals won it in 2011. The Giants once again captured the title in 2012, and the Cardinals are four wins away from doing so in 2013. Call me crazy, but if the Cardinals win the title this year, something tells me that the Giants have a pretty good shot at it next year!