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Hochman: No Cardinal had more pressure on him than Nolan Arenado. He's now in the playoffs.

Hochman: No Cardinal had more pressure on him than Nolan Arenado. He's now in the playoffs.

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Cardinals look to continue record win streak

St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado (28) hits a sacrifice fly to score left fielder Tyler O'Neill (27) during the fifth inning of a MLB game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021. The Cardinals entered the game with a team record 16 consecutive wins as they look to secure a wildcard playoff spot. Photo by Colter Peterson, cpeterson@post-dispatch.com

Nolan Arenado’s goal is to be one of them, the champion St. Louis Cardinals third basemen, a club with a unique membership distinction. See, in a sport where so many players hail from Texas and California, Puerto Rico and the Dominican, the past five third basemen to win a World Series for St. Louis have been from Cardinal Country.

David Freese (2011), of course, is from Wildwood.

Scott Rolen (2006) grew up in Jasper, Indiana, about three hours from St. Louis, where his family sometimes road-tripped for Cards games.

Ken Oberkfell (1982) grew up 16 miles from Busch Stadium in Maryville, Illinois.

Mike Shannon (1967) is from St. Louis — heck, Mike Shannon is St. Louis.

Ken Boyer (1964), the great captain, hailed from Alba, Missouri.

And now, the 2021 Cardinals have won 17-straight games, and one wonders if they’ll ever lose another one. Yes, of course, let’s take it one step at a time. But if St. Louis wins it all, their third baseman will have an honorary role in the club.

See, Arenado isn’t from here, but — he chose to be here. He could’ve been most any team’s third baseman, but he wanted to try to win a championship with St. Louis.

The Cardinals made it into the postseason on Tuesday.

“Being able to go to playoffs is what it's all about, and I'm just thankful to be a part of this team,” Arenado said Tuesday night, standing in front of the Cardinals’ dugout, wearing the team shirt that said: BUILT FOR OCTOBER. “This team is unbelievable. We've carried each other, you know? …

“I've never been a part of a group that just keeps coming, and just the way we have. I mean, it's just been unbelievable. Like, we've lost some tough wins this year. Bad games that would set other teams off. But we keep fighting.”

Each of the celebrating Cardinals had his own story, his own journey, his own connection to the Cardinal organization. But no Cardinal had the pressure on him more than Arenado did. He asked for St. Louis. He asked to be the fulcrum of the Cardinals. Did he have one of his better seasons? No. Did he have a successful season? Most definitely.

And there he was Tuesday, rounding the bases after his 34th home run of the season. That’s the most homers a Cardinal third baseman has ever hit, tying Fernando Tatis Sr. from his two-grand slam season of 1999 and Rolen in 2004, when the Indiana boy led the “MV3” Cardinals in OPS.

To Arenado’s credit, asked about the homer, he smiled and brought up his sacrifice fly from earlier in the 6-2 Tuesday win.

“I mean, I was happy with the sac fly — whatever gets the run on the board,” said Arenado, who now has 105 RBIs, second-most in the National League, trailing Atlanta’s Adam Duvall (111). “That's the great thing about this team. You want to have individual success like anybody else, but as long as we win, it doesn’t matter. It wasn’t the greatest year for myself (statistically), but I'm just happy that I was able to contribute.”

As of now, with five games left, Arenado is hitting .256. He’s at an .812 OPS. The 2020 pandemic season was a rough one for him in Colorado (.738 OPS), but before that, he’d been in the .900 range ever year from 2016-2019. Oh, and in 2015, he was at .898. So, the last full season his OPS was in this range was 2014, when Arenado was 23 and finished at .828. That’s still pretty darn good.

“He was a huge part of this team,” Paul Goldschmidt said after the win. “He did it all, play defense, hit in the middle of the order, drove in a lot of runs, had a lot of game-winning hits for us. Great job in the clubhouse, in the dugout, all those things. … It's great you know he wanted to come here.”

He’s here, where he wants to be. And he’s there — in the playoffs, in October, where he was built to be.

Cardinals center fielder Harrison Bader, who is averaging .391 during the Cardinals’ 17-game winning streak, celebrates after clinching the NL’s second wild-card spot

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