ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - I can remember a Cubs-Cards matchup that happened early in September 2003. It was beautiful day for an afternoon game at Wrigley Field, and an airtight playoff race coupled with the fact that it was the last of a five-game series had caused tension to rise to monumental proportions.
The previous day featured a double-header that the two teams split, and the Cardinals got their win on a questionable call when Cubs outfielder Moises Alou hit a rope down the left field line with the bases loaded that appeared to hit chalk on replay, but was called foul by the officiating crew. Alou, still angry a day later, recorded five hits and the Cubs emerged from the blanket of a six-run deficit to win the game 8-7.
It was a wildly intense game. Emotions almost boiled over in the third inning when Cardinals pitcher Dan Haren drilled Cubs starter Matt Clement with a pitch after Clement had beaned the young Haren the previous inning. After Kerry Wood had twice buzzed Matt Morris with fastballs—but not hit him—earlier in the series, Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa retaliated and ordered the beanball to Clement and Cubs skipper Dusty Baker couldn't handle himself. LaRussa went to talk to the umpire, then Baker followed suit; then the two managers began barking at each other from across the field. The Cubs coaches joined in and things almost erupted into a Cincinnati-style brawl before order was restored and the Cubs continued their comeback.
The result of the game was St. Louis exiting with a 73-67 record, and left Chicago at 72-67, just a half-game back after taking four out of five in the series. The Cubs would finish 15-7 down the stretch while the Cards finished with a 12-9 mark, leaving Chicago to claim the division crown. The Cardinals played the Cubs hard that season, finishing with a 9-8 record against their division rivals, including the famous Three Nights in August series that culminated with Kerry Robinson's walk-off home run-his only home run of the season-off Cubs lefty Mike Remlinger.
Why do I tell you all of this? Why am I recapping a game from 11 years ago in which the Cardinals blew a 6 run lead en route to losing four out of five and ultimately the division? Simply because, and call me crazy, I miss the Cubs being good.
Think about how you feel when the Birds play our cross state rivals, the Kansas City Royals. If you're like me, you enjoy the rivalry of the I-70 series, BBQ vs. pizza, fountains vs. architecture, cleanliness vs. character-but you're not blood thirsty. You don't feel the need to have a debate about which organization is superior with your college friends from Kansas City, because frankly, there's no debate to be had. We want to beat the Royals, but it's hardly a series that gets me excited for good, contentious baseball.
That's what the Cubs series has become to me. It's no longer a matchup of two bitter rivals, but an excuse to talk down on Cubs fans and take a weekend trip to Chicago. You don't usually have a problem with the nerdiest kid in class, you just feel bad for him. The guy I have a problem with is the guy who's trying to steal my girlfriend, or the guy trying to take my spot on the football team. I don't like the guy that's posing a threat to my well-being and happiness. The Cubs have gone from "O'Doyle rules!" to "Excuse me, I believe you have my stapler," in just 10 years.
So I may be alone in this boat around St. Louis, but I hope Theo Epstein knows what he's doing up there. I want to see Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant teaming up in the outfield to hit 70 home runs. I want to see Javier Baez become Miguel Tejada reincarnate. It would be my pleasure to witness C.J. Edwards, Chris Rusin and Arodys Vizcaino develop into top-flight starters to form a new Zambrano-Prior-Wood at the top of the rotation. I'll embrace the challenge and look forward to better matchups and more suspense.
In the meantime, I won't mind watching the Cardinals use this Cubs team as its whipping post six times a year, either.
Stephen Nations is an aspiring sports and Cardinals columnist. He will be contributing his commentary to KSDK.com during the 2014 season. You can follow him on twitter at @Nayshface.