Perhaps, before the season started, intuition told you the Cardinals would be playing in the postseason. Surely, it did not anticipate their hopes would rest on the shoulders of Edwin Jackson.
But baseball's Travelin' Man was exactly what stood between the Cardinals and postseason elimination on Wednesday at Busch Stadium. And as things unfolded, visions of Jeff Weaver must have danced in the heads of the 47,071 on hand.
Weaver was an improbable hero in 2006, carrying a similar profile. The Cardinals crashed the playoffs with just 83 wins that season, then captured a world championship. Another rigththanded rental, Weaver won three games during the postseason parade, including the decisive one. He out-pitched Justin Verlander in Game 5 as the Cardinals defeated the Tigers 4-1 and clinched at home.
It was the closing act of Weaver's brief Cardinals career. Like Jackson, he was a July trade acquisition during the summer, the Cardinals being his fifth team in five years. Jackson is pitching for his sixth squad in seven years.
Weaver made 15 regular-season starts for St. Louis in '06 before going 3-2 in five postseason starts. His magical moment on Oct. 27, 2006 at Busch Stadium notwithstanding, he never wore the Birds on the Bat again. When winter arrived, Weaver became a free agent and signed with Seattle. He was out of the big leagues altogether this season.
After coming in the Colby Rasmus trade on July 27, Jackson made 12 starts for the Cardinals and finished 5-2. Still just 28 years young, he has done nothing to hurt his market value during 10 weeks in St. Louis. His baseball story will have many more chapters.
That said, the Cardinals have given no indication they will attempt to retain Jackson going forward. Or will they? If this was Jackson's closing argument, it certainly was convincing.
The beginning was unsettling enough, but not out of character. Throughout his career, the first inning has been Jackson's most vulnerable. In 31 games this season, he yielded 18 extra-base hits and 22 runs during the first inning, while opposing hitters batted .318. In his career, he has allowed 195 hits in 172 1/3 fickle first innings.
With this being his first career postseason start, why should things be different? Sure enough, the Phils jumped Jackson early. Jimmy Rollins pounded the first pitch of the game over Jon Jay's head for a leadoff double. Chase Utley followed by ripping another fastball for a triple, giving the visitors a 1-0 lead. Hunter Pence followed with a single, chasing Utley across for a 2-0 advantage.
For a moment, it appeared Jackson was channeling Sigourney Weaver instead of Jeff "Dream" Weaver.
"It was just a matter of going out and staying relaxed and controlled in the game, instead of letting the game control me and getting overwhelmed with everything," Jackson said. "I mean, they got off to a hot start. They came out the first pitch of the game swinging — double — and then everybody else keeps swinging."
Jackson didn't get rattled; he regrouped. And he got a little help from his friends.
"Jackson has got the ability... he threw changeups, he threw big breaking balls, smaller breaking balls," manager Tony La Russa said. "You watch the two catchers in the series — Yadi (Molina) for us and (Carlos) Ruiz for them — and the way they handle pitching. And that was the difference, both catchers started mixing things up and then it wasn't as much fun."
With Pence at first, Jackson ran the count to 3-2 on slugging Ryan Howard before fanning the native St. Louisan for the first out of the inning. On the same pitch, Pence attempted to steal second and, although replays suggested otherwise, he was punched out on Molina's peg.
In an instant, the trouble subsided. From that point on Jackson was a different pitcher. That is, he was more like the pitcher he was down the stretch for the Cardinals. In nine of his last 10 regular-season starts, Jackson allowed three earned runs or less. Jackson agreed the two-for-one play had a calming impact.
"From then on, I told myself to keep it close," Jackson said. "Keep within striking distance and let the guys do what they did tonight, come back and score runs."
The offense did its part, rallying for a run in the bottom of the first and two more in the fourth to climb the speed bump and take a 3-2 lead. Jackson did his part, slapping a governor on the fearsome Phillies while getting another key assist from his defense.
In the sixth, with Utley on first and none out, Pence grounded to deep short. When shortstop Rafael Furcal came up throwing to first, Utley rounded second and kept going. But Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols was wise to the surprise.
Pujols left the bag to meet Furcal's throw and fired across to get Utley at third, erasing the more relevant lead runner. Jackson then retired the next two in order, stranding Pence at first.
"It kind of did actually surprise me to see him stepping off the base," Jackson said of Pujols. "But out of the corner of my eye, I did see the runner keep going. ... That's what you get when you put veterans on the field. That's definitely a heads-up play and a real veteran move."
The Cardinals will carry the divisional series back to Philadelphia. And maybe Jackson will be back in St. Louis after all, back to add more postseason heroics, back to leave his present employer a little more to think about.
"I definitely hope that I do have more opportunities to pitch here," Jackson said. "But right now, we're just focusing on one game at a time, and hopefully (I'll) have more opportunities to pitch here in the playoffs.''