St. Louis Cardinals fans were prepared to celebrate on Friday night. The team, up three games to one in the National League Championship Series, was 27 outs away from securing the organization's 19th pennant. And if you watched the previous two games it looked like a return trip to the fall classic was eminent.
Then the Giants, facing elimination as they did in the divisional series against the Reds, won on the road. With the series headed back to San Francisco the Cardinals still had an opportunity to win the series. But these Giants wouldn't quit. They battled. They pitched. And they won two more games to punch their ticket to the World Series.
There will not be a 12th World Series title for the Redbirds this year; still there's reason to celebrate the 2012 Cardinals.
The team faced a host of injuries to key players like Lance Berkman, Chris Carpenter and Rafael Furcal, among others. The dynamic duo of manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan were not in the dugout. And Albert Pujols, one of the game's best hitters during the last decade, left in the offseason to play for the Angels.
Nevertheless, this team competed, never quit, and found a way back to the playoffs. Game 5 of the divisional series against the Nationals provided a flashback of the 2011 comeback Cardinals.
The future looks bright for St. Louis. Several young pitchers look to play a major role in the coming years. A number of key everyday players also will be returning. With more than three million fans coming through the gates again this season, it's possible the team could make acquisitions in the offseason to bolster an already strong roster.
Then there's Mike Matheny, the rookie manager. After 16 seasons with veteran manager Tony La Russa at the helm, the organization hired a replacement with no professional managerial experience.
Matheny, a classy guy and strong leader, did an outstanding job guiding the team back to the postseason.
Now we focus on Game 1 of the World Series tonight.
As we've seen over the past week, the Giants are an impressive bunch. With good pitching and timely hitting, they'll be competitive against the American League champions, the Detroit Tigers.
The Tigers are coming off a sweep of the New York Yankees -- no easy feat. With dominant pitching and a strong middle of the lineup, this team will be ready to play.
The series gets underway at 7 p.m.
Regardless of who's playing, the World Series is something baseball fans look forward to. This year will be no different. Let the Fall Classic begin.