…because I was wrong about EVERYTHING else.
Before Game 1 of the Cards/Phillies NLDS, I recorded and posted a podcast (“State of the Nation: Playoff Edition”) that included my picks for the MLB postseason. Here’s a quick rundown of the first round:
ALDS Rangers vs. Rays – My Pick: Rays (called them the “unstoppable force”) Result: Rangers Win in 4
ALDS Tigers vs. Yankees – My Pick: Yankees (home field with that lineup?) Result: Tigers Win in 5
NLDS Brewers vs. Diamondbacks – My Pick: Diamondbacks (Grienke on short rest had to equal a loss at home) Result: Brewers Win in 5 (extra innings…Grienke WAS vulnerable but was pulled in time for the Brew Crew to catch up and win)
NLDS Cardinals vs. Phillies – My Pick: Phillies (invincible rotation in a short series) Result: Cardinals in 5 (beat both Lee and Halladay for 2 of 3 victories in the same series…I didn’t think that was possible in the postseason)
Wow…I am bad at this…thank goodness.
During my podcast, I talked a bit about the general and odd “vibe” that was beginning to surround this Cards and Phillies series. When the Cards were making their September run and looking like they could actually pull it off and make the postseason, I heard more than one national “expert” say, “You know, I don’t know if the Phillies really want the Cardinals to make the postseason…because they may be the one NL team that can beat them.” Sure, few guys would actually go out on a limb and pick the Cardinals to win it (I was not one of them, either), but the feeling coming into this thing was an odd, almost eerie sense that the Cards were not a team to be reckoned with here.
I am now reminded – oddly enough, for the first time since the start of the series – of the concern many people had regarding the Phillies efforts against the Braves in the final series of the season. The Phillies wrote, stamped, and filed their own death certificate in games 160 through 162 of the regular season.
As the Phillies arrived in Atlanta for the final series of the season, their playoff spot and home field advantage throughout the postseason were both secured. They had nothing to play for in Atlanta…except integrity. The Cardinals were fighting for their lives in Houston and desperately needed the Phillies to play hard against the Braves. If the Phillies ran out a sub-par lineup, the Cards’ chances were greatly diminished.
But Manuel sided with “respect for the game and integrity” and chose to play the Braves until the last out…an out that secured a 3 game sweep of the Braves and an improbable Wild Card spot for the Cardinals.
And everyone said, “Oh no…what did Charlie Manuel just do?” In respecting the game, Manuel played the Cardinals into the playoffs…perhaps the only NL team that stood a chance of beating the Phillies. The game’s best rotation just threw the game’s best offense into October.
Let’s be clear about this…if Manuel even takes one inning off in that final Braves/Phillies game…Braves win and force a 1 game playoff against St. Louis. Anything could have happened then. Braves could win. Cards could win but burn their pitching staff doing it. Etc.
And the Braves would not have beaten the Phillies in the NLDS. Their pitching was a mess at the end of the season. It wasn’t going to happen. It wasn’t even supposed to happen with the Cardinals…but it did.
In most studios across the country (ESPN, MLB Network, FOX, etc.), the discussion during that final series in Atlanta went something like this:
Guy 1: “What is Charlie Manuel doing?! He’s helping the better team get into the playoffs to face his club!”
Guy 2: “Yeah, but he’s respecting the game…you have to play hard there.”
Guy 1: “Play hard, yes…play 13 innings in game 162 with your starters? No one would blame him for resting his guys in preparation for the NLDS there.”
Guy 2: “Maybe not, but we’ve seen that move come back to bite a team before…lay down and let the lesser team in…and then get beat by the ‘lesser’ team in the postseason.”
Here’s the thing…both “Guys” are right. You can’t lay down there and let a team beat you to set up a series with a team you think you can beat. That can backfire just as easily as it can work out. But the fact cannot be ignored that Charlie Manuel and the Phillies played a HUGE role in punching the Cardinals’ NLDS tickets…and ultimately handing them the opportunity they needed to beat Philadelphia in that best of 5 series.
As Game 5 was preparing to start last night, I turned to my wife and said, “You know what…every single playoff pick I’ve made up to this point has gone wrong. The Rangers won, the Tigers won, and the Brewers won…I picked the Phillies here. It’s like a sign…”
A sign indeed.
From the Rally Squirrel (who, by the way, actually entered the stadium through our section in Homer’s Landing for Game 3…went right by our feet!) to Carp vs. Halladay…this series was certainly memorable. At least I got that right…
During my podcast, I said this NLDS between the Cards and Phillies would be the series of the postseason. So far, I was right. I don’t see a single match-up in the future that will shine brighter than the NL’s best rotation vs. the NL’s best offense. Sure…Brewers and Cardinals will be intense and heated, but it will be something different. We’ve seen this before. It will be good…but it won’t be like Philly/St. Louis.
That series, Cards fans…was epic.
Thank goodness we get to watch Carp for at least 2 more years in St. Louis.