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I can honestly say with a clear conscience, I knew it. I saw it coming. After the last home run to make it 6-0, knocking Cardinals co-ace Adam Wainwright out of the game, I just knew. These people are too excited. They don't know how this works. It was only the third inning. Teams that don't have "it" may fold in deciding games; the defending champs will not. On the one hand, a new year is different; commentators make too much of one team's history at times like this. On the other, this team is the same team that made the highly improbable run to the title last year, coming from behind five times in World Series Game 6. Two outs and two strikes in the final inning is old hat, as well.

I said in published writing that the 2012 Cardinals would be better than the team that had just won it all; in all measures, they were better. But this team has a frustrating tendency to lose tight, well-played, (read: one run) games. The addition of the second wild card spot in each league provided another opportunity to qualify for the postseason, since the enjoyable and talented Atlanta Braves took the first wild card, after falling just short of their division title to the upstart Washington Nationals, who had the National League's best record. So here were the Cardinals, having largely outplayed these kids from Washington, but still pushed to this fifth and deciding game by their as-yet-not-fatal flaw, trailing big on the road, facing a pitcher who won 21 games, and is consequently a finalist for the league's Cy Young Award.

And yet.

Fans call it "chipping away." You fall down big early in a game with lots of time. Players and fans will tell you that you must resist the urge to try to get it all back at once.

The Cardinals started chipping. They had runners all over the bases. In fact, they could have--and maybe should have--tied the game in the 5th inning. Two runs that inning. A missed opportunity in the sixth. One in the seventh. And here the game stood, 6-4 in the Cardinals' 8th when .250 hitter and backup infielder Daniel Descalso golfed a change-up into the seats to make it 6-5. But they didn't tie it that inning. In fact, the Nationals added a run in the eighth. The game stood 7-5 in the final inning when the Nationals closing pitcher retired 2 Cardinals to put them on the brink.

When the lore of this game and team are written, no matter the result, people must and will say that Yadier Molina and World Series hero David Freese took two of the greatest at-bats in baseball history, against the twelve toughest pitches I've ever seen. They didn't get hits, mind you. But they earned walks.

And naturally, the bases were loaded again for Descalso. What do you think happened? He hit a rocket to second base off the shortstop's glove that squirted into short center field to tie the score.

There are always moments that define championship-level teams and seasons. Like last year, the Cardinals got reinforced by players added to the mix. When it works, teams gel. They click. Three guys have done this for the Cardinals: Cardinals ace pitcher Chris Carpenter, who improbably returned from "season-ending" shoulder surgery in September. Of course he did. Edward Mujica, acquired in trade from the Miami Marlins, who had been sporting an earned-run average above 4.00 with Miami, has surrendered less than a run per 9 innings since coming to the Cardinals. Of course he has. And the third member of this triad was only here because hitting star Rafael Furcal was severely injured earlier. Just a minor-leaguer, getting a fortunate shot. And the rookie Pete Kozma drove in the winning runs. Of course he did.

How prescient do I look now, dear reader? The Cardinals and Giants will fight for the National League pennant. The Yankees are lurking. Every team left in this tournament in fact is better than the Cardinals, on paper. But that means about as much to them as a six-run deficit in a deciding game in the opponent's home park. Absolutely nothing.


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