Rams 23, Seahawks 12
With that win, the Rams sweep the season series against Seattle, and tie them at 5-4 overall for first place in the West. The Rams' divisional record sits at 4-0, with only games at Arizona and at home against San Francisco remaining. Unfortunately, the 49ers game is really the only "gimmie" left on the schedule, as the other six games consist of four road games (at Buffalo, Green Bay, Carolina, and suddenly potent Arizona), and home games against playoff contenders Philadelphia and the New York Jets. The Seahawks' schedule is much easier, with only two remaining road games out of seven. Still, the head-to-head tiebreaker is huge, as Seattle needs to finish a game better than the Rams to win the division.
If the Rams can go 6-0 in the division, they'd be hard-pressed not to win the thing at this point. Their conference record would be no worse than 7-5 (and likely higher, with games at Carolina and at home against the Eagles -- two tough, but winnable games), which helps immensely when it comes to tiebreakers. I doubt they'll get in the playoffs unless they're at 9-7 or greater, but at 6-0 in the division... you never know
. I played in a Madden '04 franchise once with several other people; one season, a guy went 7-9 with a 6-0 divisional record. All three other teams in his division finished 7-9, so he obviously won the tie-breaker. You never know is right.
I'm a bit staggered by the news that Brian Gunn over at Redbird Nation, the personification of the perfection for which every one of us substandard Cardinal bloggers strives, has decided to quit posting on his site
, presumably to be going on to bigger and better things. I don't know what will become of RBN, but (and I mean this in no derogatory way) it is slightly reassuring for this struggling, novice blogger to know that Brian -- who wrote so much, so well for RBN -- is, in fact, human.
So, thanks... and good luck, Brian, wherever life takes you.
What a year. I'm still not over the World Series loss, and there's plenty I'd like to say about the playoffs which I haven't had a chance to yet, but I thought I'd start off my season recap on a positive note with a list of the top ten games of the year. Obviously, there were a lot of great games, and it was tough to pick just ten. So, without further ado, here it is:
The Top Ten Cardinals Games of 2004
- Yady Comes Through, August 7 - Cardinals 2, Mets 1 (Box)
- Larry Walker's debut in a Cardinal uniform, this Saturday afternoon classic featured Woody Williams' no-hit bid going 5 1/3 innings, and a 1-1 game going into the bottom of the ninth. A couple of walks and a couple of outs later, Walker came up the plate for his second plate appearance to another standing ovation, only to be intentionally walked by Mike Stanton to load the bases for Yadier Molina. Swinging at the first pitch, Yady bloops one into left center field... game over.
- The Balk Game, May 28 - Cardinals 2, Astros 1 in 10 innings (Box)
- I didn't get to see much of this one, but I recognize that it was indeed a great game. Roger Clemens was good, but Chris Carpenter was even better. Carpenter allowed only two hits in eight shutout innings, and the game went to the bottom of the ninth 1-0. Jason Isringhausen blew the save, however, by allowing an RBI double to Lance Berkman. Thankfully though, Isringhausen ended the threat in the ninth at one run, and then, with runners on first and third in the top of the tenth, Astros then-closer Octavio Dotel stepped off the mound, only to be called for a balk. Dotel was amazed, but Ray Lankford scored the winning run, then Isringhausen pitched a scoreless 10th, and the game was over. The Cardinals started the day of this game in fifth place in the NL Central, but this game began a 68-22 stretch that allowed them to run away with the division.
- Roller Coaster Ride, April 29 - Cardinals 5, Phillies 4 in 13 innings (Box)
- A Thursday getaway game, this one seemed as though nobody wanted to win. The Phillies led 2-1 through 7½ innings thanks to a Jim Thome home run, but the Cards loaded the bases against Tim Worrell and Rheal Cormier, who was replaced by Roberto Hernandez after Colin Porter was lifted for pinch-hitter Reggie Sanders. Sanders proceeded to bang a ball off the centerfield wall for a triple, clearing the bases. Again, however, things turned sour. Isringhausen again blew the save, giving up a two-run home run to Ricky Ledee, and Amaury Telemaco shut down the Cards for the next four innings. Thankfully, the Cards' bullpen held also, as Steve Kline, Julian Tavarez, and Mike Lincoln also combined for four scoreless innings. Finally, leading off the bottom of the 13th, Jim Edmonds deposited a home run into the right field bullpen to win the game.
- A Wild Save, May 4 - Cardinals 6, Phillies 5 (Box)
- Another game I didn't get to see, but it appeared to be a wild one. The Phillies hit four home runs off winning pitcher Chris Carpenter, and lost. The Cardinals had only one extra-base hit. But the real fun didn't begin until the bottom of the ninth, when Izzy came in and went strikeout, walk, single before Bobby Abreu. After striking out Abreu, La Russa had Jim Thome intentionally walked -- bringing the tying run to third base with two outs -- to face Pat Burrell. With two strikes, Izzy threw a high fastball to Burrell, who swung and missed... but Mike Matheny couldn't come up with the ball, and it went to the backstop. Fortunately, the ball bounced back to Matheny, and he was able to make a great throw to get Burrell by a step at first base to end the game -- right as the tying run, Timo Perez, was crossing home plate. Doesn't get much closer than that.
- The Comeback Kids, June 23 - Cardinals 10, Cubs 9 (Box)
- The Cardinals took the lead early in this game on a Pujols home run, but the Cubs tied it 3-3 in the fifth. The Cardinals took the lead 5-3 in the bottom half, but they could've had more, as Tony Womack was thrown out at third base by Moises Alou for the second out. That run loomed larger as the Cards' bullpen duo of Calero and Tavarez had trouble getting people out in the sixth, including the key two-run double by Ramon Martinez to swell the Cubs' lead to 9-5. After Martinez, Tavarez walked Jose Macias before being left in to face lefty Todd Walker (who was retired), which was ill-received by Steve Kline in the Cards' bullpen -- his gesture towards the dugout was recorded for posterity by the Cubs' TV broadcast. The Cards struck back in the bottom half once more, scoring three runs -- one unearned thanks to an error by Martinez -- on hits by the likes of Hector Luna, So Taguchi, and Tony Womack. Luna drove in another run in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game, and Taguchi scored the winner in the bottom of the eighth on a passed ball by Paul Bako -- making Kline (who had entered in the top of the eighth), ironically, the winning pitcher.
- One-Two Punch (NLCS Game 2), October 14 - Cardinals 6, Astros 4 (Box)
- After a fairly convincing 10-7 win in Game 1, the Cardinals absolutely had to come through with another win at home over Pete Munro before facing the two-headed Clemens/Oswalt monster in Games 3 and 4 down in Houston. Matt Morris wasn't very good, allowing 3 runs in 5 innings -- and it certainly could've been worse (6 hits, 5 walks, 2 HR). But the Cards struck back with home runs by Walker and Rolen in the bottom of the fifth to take the lead. Kiko Calero gave a run back in the 7th to tie the game, but after Astros manager Phil Garner made the decision to have Dan Miceli pitch the 8th inning over a rested Bullpen God in Brad Lidge, Pujols and Rolen led off the inning with back-to-back home runs. Just like that, it was a 6-4 lead, and despite a shaky ninth by Izzy, the Cards took a 2-0 series lead heading back to Houston.
- Fresh Squeezed Win, April 22 - Cardinals 2, Astros 1 in 12 innings (Box)
- Another one I didn't get to see, but after seven innings of solid efforts by Jason Marquis and Roy Oswalt, the score was tied 1-1. The battle of the bullpens began, as the Astros got four scoreless innings from Lidge and Dotel, while the Cardinals received theirs from Lincoln and Isringhausen. In the top of the twelfth, Reggie Sanders beat out an infield single off Miceli before stealing second base and going to third on a throwing error by the catcher. After Matheny struck out for the first out, Hector Luna pinch hit, and squeeze-bunted Sanders home to take the lead. Unfortunately, the bottom half of the inning became an adventure, as Isringhausen had already been used -- Eldred, Kline, and Tavarez combined to keep the Astros off the board and save the victory.
- A True Walkoff, April 30 - Cardinals 4, Cubs 3 (Box)
- Later on this list I'll have the last of the nineteen great Cards-Cubs games this season, but this one was the first. On this Friday night, the Cubs jumped ahead early 2-0, but the Cards fought back to tie it with a run in the fourth and a Sanders home run in the fifth, and took the lead with a Lankford sacrifice fly in the sixth. The Cubs tied it in the seventh when Ray King came in with a runner on third base and threw a wild pitch. Not much else happened until the ninth inning, when in the top half the Cubs got a walk and two hits, but could not score, as Alex Gonzalez bunted into a 2-6-3 double play. In the bottom half of the inning, Kyle Farnsworth came in and walked Pujols, the leadoff man, on four pitches. He was relieved by Kent Mercker, who... walked Jim Edmonds on four pitches after throwing strike one. Mercker was taken out immediately in favor of LaTroy Hawkins, who probably was as shocked as anyone when Scott Rolen, league leader in RBI at the time, sacrificed the runners to second and third. Happily, I'm sure, Hawkins intentionally walked Edgar Renteria and forced Reggie Sanders into popping up in foul ground for the second out. After going ahead 0-2 on Mike Matheny, however, Hawkins lost control and threw four straight
pitches outside the strike zone to walk in the winning run. The Cubs' line on the bottom of the 9th? 4 BB, 0 H, 1 ER in 2/3 IP. The Cubs' bullpen fails them once more.
- Jimmy Conquers All (NLCS Game 6), October 20 - Cardinals 6, Astros 4 in 12 innings (Box)
- Unlike the figurative must-win nature of Game 2, this Munro-Morris matchup was literally a must-win game for the Cardinals, as they'd allowed the Astros to win all three games in Houston to fall behind 3-2 in the series. Once again, Morris struggled, but this time the Cards jumped on Munro early, taking a 4-2 lead into the 4th inning. Houston cut it to 4-3 on a Mike Lamb home run, but the Cards bullpen came in and shut the Astros down until the ninth, when Jason Isringhausen blew yet another save -- but managed to strike out Lance Berkman with two runners on to keep the game 4-4. Lidge came in and dominated again, pitching three innings and striking out five, before his spot in the order came up in the top of the 12th. With Lidge removed for a pinch-hitter, Dan Miceli came in the game and gave up a home run to the member of the Big Three that didn't get one in Game 2 -- Edmonds. With that blast, the Cards forced a Game 7, and the rest is history.
- The Pujols Game, July 20 - Cardinals 11, Cubs 8 (Box)
- Obviously, this one takes the cake. The Cards had beaten the Cubs in the opener of this two-game series the day before at Wrigley to go nine games ahead and clinch the season series between the two teams. Still, Cubs fans believed that they would eventually catch us, despite this game being the teams' last meeting of the year. Sure enough, after the Cardinals scored first, the Cubs jumped all over Matt Morris to take a 7-1 lead through two innings. Pujols got one back in the next frame with a solo home run, but Aramis Ramirez answered off Cal Eldred to make it 8-2. It stayed that way until the sixth, when the Cards strung together a bunch of singles and walks, scoring four times despite Tony Womack's strikeout with the bases loaded and one out. Pujols hit another solo home run off Kyle Farnsworth in the seventh to make it 8-7, before Farnsworth mowed down the next three hitters. Meanwhile, the Cardinal bullpen was solid. Eldred got into a two-on jam in the fifth, so Steve Kline relieved and worked his way out of it before Kiko Calero followed with perfect sixth and seventh innings. Farnsworth came back out to pitch the top of the eighth, and quickly struck out Marlon Anderson -- his third in four outs. With the bottom of the order I swear, before So Taguchi came up, on the FSN broadcast Al Hrabosky said something to the effect of: "if So can center one of those 100 mph fastballs, you never know what can happen." Sure enough, So centered one, and jacked it onto Waveland Avenue to tie the game at 8. After Ray King pitched a perfect eighth, you just knew
we were going to win the game. Sure enough, after Edgar Renteria led off with a single, Pujols hit his third home run of the day into the basket in right center. LaTroy Hawkins gave up another homer to Reggie Sanders in the inning, and the Cards suddenly were ahead 11-8 -- but not out of the water yet, as Izzy walked two men, including Derrek Lee on four pitches, to load the bases for Aramis Ramirez with two outs in the ninth. Thankfully, Ramirez bailed him out by popping up to Edmonds, and the greatest Cardinal game of the year was finally over. The loss really shoved the dagger into the Cubs' (and their fans') hearts, because the Cards' lead grew to double digits for the first time in 2004 -- and it would only grow (to 15 games at season's end). For the first time, the Cubs believed there was no catching our Cardinals.
Honorable Mention - April 11
vs. Diamondbacks, May 2
vs. Cubs, June 7
vs. Cubs, June 18
vs. Reds, July 16
vs. Reds, July 19
vs. Cubs, July 26
vs. Reds, July 28
vs. Reds, August 5
vs. Expos, August 26
vs. Reds, September 17
vs. Diamondbacks, October 21
(NLCS Game 7) vs. Astros
Yeah, I realize that the top six games were all against the Cubs or Astros (in addition to many others). But think about it: we played the Astros eighteen times, and the Cubs nineteen. Both were good teams. And since both were in our division, those games were a heck of a lot more meaningful than when we beat the Philles or the Mets. Again, it was tough to pick, but these were some truly awesome games from a truly awesome season.