Battle Tested: Why The 2011 Cardinals Won The World Series
Older Cardinal fans fondly remember the 1985 team as one of the best units ever assembled. It had blinding speed, astonishing defense, three great starters, a dominant bullpen, and tons of character. The team had that magical quality indicative of a winner. They steamrolled over the National League all summer, racking up 101 wins. They crushed the Los Angeles Dodgers in the playoffs, and charged into the World Series as the heavy favorite to win everything.
But the 1985 team didn’t win the World Series that year.
As everyone knows, a terrible call at first by umpire Don Denkinger to start the ninth inning of the sixth game with the Cardinals winning 1-0 led to a dramatic come-from-behind win for the Kansas City Royals. Faced with adversity in that inning, the Cardinals completely melted down; Jack Clark dropped a foul pop up, and Darrell Porter advanced a runner with a passed ball that eventually led to a Royals victory. The psychic break continued into the seventh game, which featured ejections for Whitey Herzog and Joaquin Andujar, and ended with a busted toilet and Tudor punching an electrical fan. The Cardinals lost the 1985 World Series with an embarrassing 11-0 loss in that deciding seventh game.
How did a great team like that lose the World Series? Because they weren’t battle tested, that’s why. And that is the ultimate secret behind the astonishing and improbable World Series championship for the 2011 Cardinals.
Imagine a soldier in a war zone. He’s in the trenches. He’s dirty. He’s terrified constantly. He’s being shot at and his life is repeatedly in danger. He’s seen death all around him. A soldier who has experienced enough of this type of adversity stops experiencing fear – they’ve already seen it all, including their own death. They’ve moved beyond the survival instincts that compel ordinary people.
The 2011 Cardinals experienced every imaginable type of adversity during their season. They lost their ace before the campaign even began. They had 17 major stints on the disabled list. There were the usual injuries, normal occurrences like abdominal strains and hamstrings. There were also freak injuries, too, like broken hands to two players from errant pitches. They even lost a player in a game due to a moth flying into his ear.
Then there the emotional tests from within. The Colby Rasmus situation poisoned the clubhouse. Catchers Gerald Laird and Yadier Molina fought. Clubhouse favorite Ryan Franklin was released. General manager John Mozeliak traded away Rasmus, popular reliever Trever Miller, and Brian Tallet. Then came the bewildering offensive slumps and all of the blown saves.
Thanks to Mozeliak’s August moves – which is akin to a skillful surgeon saving someone’s life with a risky operation – the team found its chemistry and began to win. However, the Milwaukee Brewers were on a remarkable winning streak, and no matter what the Cardinals did, they were being buried in the standings. Yet they fought hard to keep their nostrils barely above water.
By the time fate finally stepped in to help these Cardinals win the wild card, they had been through the fires of adversity so many times that they had been purified. Late in the season Lance Berkman likened it to the process of refining gold; heat is applied, and the gold is separated from the dross and refined into a pure substance. Thanks to the trials of an arduous season, the 2011 Cardinals had been purified into a tough, unbreakable unit. When fate gave them a chance, they seized it.
And so it was that this tough fighting force was able to “take the hill” of the 2011 World Series. The Cardinals never scared when they faced “the best team in baseball,” the Philadelphia Phillies. They never flinched when battling the “evil empire” of Milwaukee. And, down to their last strike against Texas in the World Series, they never even blinked.
Baseball has had the wild card as part of the playoffs since 1995, or sixteen years. Ten of those years saw a wild card team enter or win the World Series. The 2011 Cardinals show us why that has happened – the wild card team is often the scrappy, beaten-to-death soldier who had to crawl through the mud and the gunfire just to make it. They aren’t afraid of death, because they’ve already seen it enough and have often been left for dead themselves. They play with a fearless quality that often unnerves their less-tested opponents.
The 2011 Cardinals were battle tested, fearless and undaunted by adversity. And now they are the champions of the world.