10/12/12 3:10 PM ET
Cardinals going for a magical encore
By Terence Moore / MLB.com
The Cards could do this: They could become the first franchise to produce back-to-back magic teams.
It's just that the Redbirds have a two-fold problem when it comes to such a thing. First, they must slay a Washington Nationals bunch with a little pixie dust of its own (see Jayson Werth's game-ending homer on Thursday night on the 13th pitch of his at-bat). Then, they must surpass several other teams battling for such honors.
How about the Baltimore Orioles, another resilient team, which keeps turning "impossible" into just another word?
And, yes, the New York Yankees have Derek Jeter and a ton of money and those 27 World Series championships. Still, if they didn't have the (ahem) magic ways of pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez in Game 3 of the American League Division Series on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium, the Yanks wouldn't be playing the Orioles on Friday in a decisive fifth game.
That said, neither the Yankees nor the Nationals are true magic teams. While the Yankees are the Yankees, the Nats finished the regular season with baseball's best record.
The Detroit Tigers also aren't a true magic team. With a loaded roster that includes the likes of Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander, they began the season as heavy favorites to win it all. Still, they had to survive a decisive fifth game in Oakland on Thursday night to reach the AL Championship Series.
The Cardinals will face the Nationals on Friday night for a decisive fifth game in the National League Division Series.
No such worries for the Giants.
Until this week, no team had lost its opening two games at home during any Division Series before working its way to an LCS with three straight victories on the road. San Francisco just did so against Cincinnati, and its feat was even more amazing than that.
During the Giants' first 18 innings of the Division Series, they managed just a run on three hits. After that, they exploded at the plate, punctuated by Buster Posey's grand slam in a decisive fifth game in Cincinnati on Thursday that led to San Francisco's 6-4 victory.
Among the Giants' heroes during the Division Series was Tim Lincecum, the two-time NL Cy Young Award winner with so many issues during the regular season that he was sent to the bullpen for the playoffs.
That was a good thing for San Francisco in Game 4. After Barry Zito's rocky start, Lincecum pitched 4 1/3 innings of relief and allowed only two hits and run to the Reds. Lincecum also struck out six batters, which surpassed the amount he had during 15 of his 33 starts in the regular season.
Plus, there is the individual magic of Posey, the Giants' leader beyond his contributions behind the plate and with a bat. Posey missed most of last season after breaking a leg, but he returned this year to win the NL batting title with another MVP Award-caliber season.
I say another such season for Posey, because the last time he played like this was two years ago. That's when he settled for making the All-Star Game and grabbing the NL Rookie of the Year Award honors.
He also helped the Giants win the 2010 World Series.
The O's are familiar with capturing the World Series. It's just that they haven't done so in nearly three decades. Before this year, they hadn't even reached the playoffs since 1997.
Now the Orioles are flying through October despite a starting pitching rotation that was in turmoil during the previous five months. Injuries, ineffectiveness -- all of those things have been foreign to a current O's rotation, which has posted a 1.82 ERA, 21 strikeouts and nine walks over 24 2/3 innings in four ALDS games vs. the Yankees.
It's magic. It's not black magic for the Orioles. It's black and orange magic, as in their team colors.
Such magic for the O's helped them survive their do-or-die Wild Card game in Texas against the Rangers, the two-time defending AL champs. Then the Orioles continued their season-long competitiveness against the Yanks. Nothing showed that more than Baltimore's 31st one-run victory of the season in Game 4 at Yankee Stadium, where J.J. Hardy sealed things with an RBI double in the 13th inning.
So what's a magic team, you ask?
Let's start at the top. There, you'll find the 1969 New York Mets reigning forever. After years as perennial losers, those Mets used a mostly nameless roster back then to surge from a huge deficit in their division to shock a Chicago Cubs team that included Hall of Famers Leo Durocher, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo and Ferguson Jenkins.
Then those Mets continued to evolve into the Amazin' Mets by sweeping Hank Aaron's Braves in the NLCS before taking the World Series from an Orioles team with perennial All-Stars such as the Robinsons (Frank and Brooks), Jim Palmer and Boog Powell.
Before those Mets, there were the 1914 Miracle Braves, and after those Mets, there were -- well, last year's Cards.
After the 2011 Cardinals trailed the Braves by 10 1/2 games in late August, they surged to take what was then the NL's only Wild Card spot. Then the Redbirds survived four elimination games. They won their NLDS clincher at Philadelphia and their NLCS clincher at Milwaukee. You likely know about their slew of Lazarus acts against the Rangers during the World Series that culminated in a seven-game victory.
These Cards have similar traits. For one, they weren't supposed to reach the postseason. They barely did so with the worst record of the NL's two Wild Card teams after holding off the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Milwaukee Brewers down the stretch.
Remember, too, that after the Cardinals took last year's World Series, they had the retirements of legendary manager Tony La Russa and longtime pitching coach Dave Duncan. There also was the free-agent departure of all-everything first baseman Albert Pujols.
Injuries followed after that for the Cards during the regular season, and they wouldn't stop. Lance Berkman and Rafael Furcal were key losses.
Ace pitcher Chris Carpenter eventually returned from shoulder issues near the end of the regular season, but he wasn't close to his potent self -- until the playoffs.
Did I say magic?
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.