CHICAGO — In the end, a win is a win in the game of baseball, no matter which route a team takes to get there.
It counts the same in the box score and in the standings, where the true bounty is held and observed at the end of the day.
However, there are many ways to lose a baseball game. You can get blown out, lose by a few, get beaten on a walk-off, or watch the entire game fall out of your hands in the final hour.
The St. Louis Cardinals chose the most dramatic and heart-rate-launching methods to dispatch the Chicago Cubs this weekend at Wrigley Field. With four close victories, they eliminated Chicago's hopes of a division title and put their wild-card hopes in jeopardy as well.
If you were a Cubs fan, it was truly brutal. Seeing your team lose 5-1 is a tough experience, but sure and true to the fact that it wasn't their day. The Cardinals dangled a win in front of the Cubs, seeing if the sudden underdog was ready to grab it. Let's recap the games.
Thursday night, Jack Flaherty and a couple timely hits from Harrison Bader propelled the Cardinals to a 4-1 lead heading into the eighth inning. Carlos Martinez gave the game back, but before a resident owner of blue thread could call home about the tie game, Matt Carpenter sent everybody home with a tenth inning home run. 5-4, St. Louis.
Friday afternoon, a nail-biter broke out. The Cardinals went 1-11 with runners in scoring position, threatening to waste the efforts of Michael Wacha and the bullpen. Yadier Molina put the team ahead with a two-run single, but there were countless opportunities to surge ahead that were missed. Martinez redeemed himself, denying the Cubs a comeback that would have evened the series and kept the division open to a three-team party.
Saturday was the most brutal. With the win blowing out, a home run barrage broke out early and didn't let up until the final half-inning. The Cards were down 3-0, 6-5, and 8-7 in the game as the two teams exchanged six home runs. A wrongful balk call went against St. Louis, which resulted in a Cub home run and lead. And then Craig Kimbrel, one of the best closers in the game as recently as last October, came on. Carpenter took Kimbrel deep on Thursday, and this time it was Molina and Paul DeJong doing the honors with back-to-back solo home runs. An 8-7 game became a 9-8 one, and the Cardinals had kicked dirt onto the coffin.
But could they sweep and clinch on Cub soil? Miles Mikolas, who didn't exactly inspire confidence with a 5.40 earned run average on the road this season, pitched very well. But another unlikely character came up big for St. Louis. After a Nick Castellanos home run put Chicago up 2-1, Jose Martinez tripled to open the ninth inning. A guy seemingly lost the past couple months. A Dexter Fowler sacrifice fly and Tommy Edman single later, Paul Goldscdmidt came to the plate. One of the lost features of the slugger's 2019 season was previously a lack of doubles. But he's making up for lost time in the second half. Goldschmidt's 25th double scored Edman.
Andrew Miller, an unsung hero in this second half and Chicago series, finished off the game. The Cardinals did little easy this weekend, but they fly to Arizona with a seven-game lead on Chicago and a playoff berth. The Milwaukee Brewers have stayed close thanks to the Pittsburgh "Triple-A" Pirates, so the Cardinals will have to take care of business in the desert to ensure a division title.
And that should be the objective. A postseason berth is nice, but the ultimate return is a division title. Get a series and skip the one-off contest. A showdown with the Atlanta Braves, a team that has met the team in crucial Octobers before, would be fittingly nostalgic. But in order to do that, a few more wins are needed. Don't let Chicago come back to St. Louis next weekend trying to play spoiler.
For the time being, do what the Cardinals did at Wrigley after winning today. Raise a glass, smile, celebrate, and stay hungry for more. Remember what happened and the manner with which it happened.
It wasn't just the fact St. Louis beat Chicago and swept them at Wrigley for the first time since 1921, but it was the manner with which they pulled it off. Being in a wedding deprived me of the Saturday drama in a live fashion, but watching it was akin to a thrilling movie trailer set to a legendary rock song.
If you were a Cardinal fan, it was an amazing day, even better than the bacon fest that occurred at Ballpark Village on Sunday afternoon.
On to the next one.