Cards celebrated clincher after all

2012-10-04T08:40:00Z 2012-11-09T20:17:11Z Cards celebrated clincher after allBY DAN O’NEILL
October 04, 2012 8:40 am  • 

If the term "better late than never" ever applies, it applied in the Cardinals' clubhouse on Tuesday night. The club completed its part of the postseason equation by losing Game 161 to the Cincinnati Reds. The 3-1 loss left the wild card playoff door unlocked.

Meanwhile, the Los Angles Dodgers were playing the San Francisco Giants in California, hoping to walk though and catch the Cardinals, still working on the math. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny came in the clubhouse and told his players to go home. He urged them to forget about the Dodgers' game, rest for another day at the ballpark on Wednesday. Whatever shall be, shall be.

Some players even heeded that advice, but most did not. When the Dodgers lost, everyone re-convened for congratulations. The Cardinals will face the Braves in the NL wild-card showdown.

"For me personally, it just didn't feel right to go home and not be with the guys just in case the Dodgers did lose," infielder Daniel Descalso said. "It was nice. The guys stuck around and the guys who did leave came back.

"So, it was fun. We're in the postseason now and that's something only five teams in the league get to celebrate. I was glad I stuck around."

The wild-card battle between the Cardinals and Braves will take place at 4:07 (St. Louis time) on Friday in Atlanta.

The Cardinals know a thing or two, or three, or four about celebrations. They ran the gamut last season, capturing a wild-card spot, beating the Phillies, defeating the Brewers and finally gaining the World Series championship by taking Game 7 from the Texas Rangers.

Their jubilation on Tuesday night at Busch Stadium was slightly more reserved. It took place behind closed doors, without cameras recording or notebooks documenting, without the same level of champagne-soaked madness. But it took place, nonetheless.

It took place for a rookie manager, who inherited a championship team and historic franchise, who succeeded an iconic manager and saw the franchise player leave for California. For Mike Matheny, getting the Cardinals back into baseball's postseason tournament is significant, although he never doubted it would happen. .

"I think we all went in with the expectation that we all should be playing postseason baseball," Matheny said. "I think there would be a whole lot more reflecting if we hadn't made it.

"I kind of beat up the point how much this game is the mental side, what you train your brain to say. And for us it's been, 'This needs to happen.' Not to suggest we're so arrogant, or we're walking right through, because it took us right down to the second-to-last day and (we needed) some help.

"But we just believed in this team, that we could do what we needed to do to get in. I don't think I ever put it in my head that we weren't going to be there."

The back-slaps, hugs and loud testimonials took place for those who did not experience last season, those such as shortstop Pete Kozma, who has given the Cardinals a lift by batting .333 and driving in 14 runs over the last few weeks.

"I've celebrated getting into the playoffs before" Kozma said, "in the minor leagues, in high school. But this was different. This is the big leagues! It was special to be part of this."

There were some keynote speakers for the occasion, including Matheny and veterans such as Chris Carpenter and Yadier Molina. The talked about how much the Cardinals have gone through together this season, how much they should appreciate the moment, how much still lies ahead.

"Guys were talking about, now we're in," Descalso said. "We play all of those games for a chance in compete in October. Now we have that chance to compete. It's what it's all about."

Allen Craig, a postseason star during the memorable 2011 ascent, acknowledged celebrating a single-elimination chance to advance in the playoffs is a little unusual. But it beats the alternative.

"It was a little different," said Craig, who rested his .307 batting average, 22 home runs and 92 runs batted in during Wednesday's regular-season finale. "It was a little more subdued. At the same time, there's some guys in here who haven't experienced that, who were experiencing it for the first time. We wanted to celebrate for them.

"It's been a tough season, we've gone through a lot things, a lot of injuries and stuff, but we're continued to play hard and it feels good to still be playing. We know what's ahead of us and we're going to go to Atlanta on Friday and do everything we can to win that ballgame."

Closer Jason Motte made it clear he was not among the dignitaries delivering inspirational messages on Tuesday.

"No," Motte said, with a smile. "I'm a listener, not a talker."

At the same time, like many of the Cardinals who road a roller coaster to its ultimate postseason rewards last year, Motte has been down this street before. The ramped up atmosphere of the playoffs will be nothing new, but he's not sure if that counts for much.

"You can say that, and you can talk about experience, but it's just one game," Motte said. "I mean we went into it last year's postseason and we had a lot of guys who didn't have any experience. What happened?

"I mean, I just don't know that you can say experience is a big factor. The main thing is execution. If I'm out there, I have to focus on one pitch and executing that one pitch. Then I get the ball back, and I have to focus on executing that next pitch.

"It's one game. They're a good team and we think we have a good team. It's just going to come down to whoever makes the plays and executes."

The Cardinals were 1-5 against the Braves this season, 1-2 in Atlanta. They will start Kyle Lohse, while the Braves will counter with red-hot Kris Medlen (10-1). The Cardinals saw Medlen three times this season, each appearance from out of the bullpen. In 5 2/3 innings of work, Medlen allowed six hits and three earned runs to the Cardinals, a 4.76 ERA.

"We haven't seen him since he's been a starter," Descalso said. "But we'll take a look at him, come up with a game plan and do our best. We have a great pitcher going, too. You've seen what Kyle Lohse has done. He's been doing it all year for us.

"So it's going to be two good pitchers. It's the most important game of the year and it's going to be exciting."

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