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Hochman: A new St. Louis tradition? Cardinals wilt in playoffs, yet again

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In today’s 10 a.m. video, columnist Ben Hochman discusses the role of baseball in our lives. Plus, a happy birthday shoutout to Bradley Whitford! And, as always, Hochman picks a random St. Louis Cards card from the hat. Ten Hochman is presented by Window Nation!

The tears tried so hard to spill from the All-Star’s eyelids.

They were pushing, giving it everything they had, but Nolan Arenado valiantly held them back — held them in — as he spoke from his locker in the losing clubhouse.

Like Arenado and his teammates, they just couldn’t come through.

“Every year we go into spring, the World Series is the goal … it’s what this organization expects,” the passionate and proud Arenado said late Saturday night, after the season-ending loss in the National League Wild Card. “And I don't think that's ever going to change.”

Once again, the Cardinals failed to meet expectations. And this one was particularly crushing and, in some regards, embarrassing. After an unforgettable regular season, here was a forgettable postseason. After a season of making history — 700, 325 and more — the Cardinals didn't make the most-important kind of history. Eleven lonely flags flap above the scoreboard at Busch Stadium.

October is over. Cancel Halloween. Might as well just get winter going here in St. Louis — Paul Goldschmidt’s swing can help blow in a cold front — because the Cardinals, once again, have abbreviated the 10th month with an uncharacteristic splat. Well, at this point, maybe it’s characteristic? After embarrassingly losing the National League Division Series in 2015 to the Wild Card Cubs, the Cards missed the playoffs all together in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

In 2019, they won the NLDS but couldn’t even muster one win in the next round.

In 2020? Lost in the first round.

In 2021? Lost in the Wild Card Game.

And now, in 2022 the Cards didn’t win a game in the best-of-three series that they hosted. On Saturday, the Phillies shut out St. Louis, 2-0, the same score of the series.

The Cardinals Way has become the Cardinals Wait — one everyone in this city has had to endure, year after year. Yes, OK, the baseball postseason is a sphinx. The big-money Yankees haven’t even been to the World Series since 2009 (the Cards’ last win, of course, was 2011, with their last World Series appearance in 2013). That said, the Cards haven’t even been that close. The last time they won even one game in the National League Championship Series was 2014. Think about where you were in your life in 2014 — that’s quite a while ago.

Arenado and Goldschmidt were excited about joining St. Louis, in part, because their previous teams couldn’t get over the hump in the playoffs. Well, even as MVP candidates this year, they couldn’t get their current team over the hump, again. You’ve probably heard the stat by now, but just in case — in the two losses to the Phillies, Arenado and Goldschmidt were a combined 1 for 15 with six strikeouts.

Goldschmidt looks lost. Well, looked lost, now that that the season is over. On Saturday, he swung at pitches way out of the zone. The likely MVP for the season was the LVP of this two-game debacle. And, yes, the postseason is a small sample size against, generally, the best pitchers on the best teams. But October is when heroes and champions are made, so the pressure and expectations are raised for the game’s best.

Twice this series, Arenado hit the heck out of a baseball. Both times the ball was caught. Hard to fault him in those at-bats. But he also struck out twice Saturday — both times with runners on. And “Goldy” struck out thrice. Not once this entire season did Goldschmidt and Arenado both strike out twice in the same game, per MLB Stats & Research. And in the previous season? It only happened once.

And it happened in one of the two postseason games in 2022. Unreal.

Now, as for this regular season, it sure seemed sprinkled with pixie dust or something. It really was fun. Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina in their final campaign — with the two contributing so much offensively down the stretch.

“There's just so much magic going on with Albert and Yadi,” Adam Wainwright said, “I just felt — you can't go out like that, there’s too much goodness going around to lose two games in a row the Phillies right there. And that's a good team over there, don't get me wrong. We faced two excellent starting pitchers. I mean, just excellent. But I just thought that with those two guys here, what they were bringing to the table, I felt like we were going to win it for them, you know?”

It did feel that way. They won the division, seemed primed to make a run. That makes this all even more infuriating for the fans. And unacceptable. The St. Louis Cardinals, yet again, failed to live up to the expectations of the St. Louis Cardinals.

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