The St. Louis Cardinals gave fans another memorable season in 2012. The team took advantage of the new MLB wild-card rules to claim the final NL playoff spot.
Here are some of the highlights the team provided along the way:
Crashing the Marlins' New House - As defending champs, the Cardinals were given the honor of playing the first game of 2012, and the venue was the Miami Marlins' shiny new ballpark. To the chagrin of the home team, the Cardinals won the first game in Marlins Park, a crisp 4-1 win behind Kyle Lohse.
A New Carpenter - Still stinging from the spring training loss of Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals got a lift from Matt Carpenter in an April 15 win over the Chicago Cubs. Carpenter was 4-for-4 with a triple and a home run, and he drove in five runs. Carpenter would prove to be very useful for the Cardinals in 2012 as they dealt with several injuries to key players.
Craig's Back - Allen Craig was a key cog as the Cardinals won the World Series in 2011, but fans had to wait for the slugger in 2012. He missed the first month of the season as he recovered from knee surgery. His first game of the year, May 1, he showed why he was worth the wait. Craig was 2-for-4 in a win against Pittsburgh. Craig would go on to drive in 92 runs in just 119 games for the season.
The New Guy Is OK - The Cardinals signed Carlos Beltran to try to get some of the offensive firepower they lost when Albert Pujols bolted for the West Coast. On May 8, Beltran showed it was a good move. Beltran hit two home runs, one a grand slam, and drove in all six runs in a 6-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks. The game was part of a monster month for Beltran, who hit 10 home runs and drove in a whopping 31 runs in May.
Waino Wows 'Em - Adam Wainwright had some rocky outings in 2012 as he came back from major arm surgery, but on May 22 he showed why he is an elite pitcher. Wainwright tossed a four-hit shutout against the San Diego Padres, striking out nine along the way. The smile on Wainwright's face as he hugged catcher Yadi Molina after the final out was one of my favorite moments of the season.
Bring Out the Brooms - On June 24, the Cardinals finished a three-game sweep of the cross-state rival Kansas City Royals. In the weekend series, the Cards bashed out 41 hits, scored 30 runs and drew 17 walks. Beltran, visiting the team with which he started his career, had eight RBIs in the series.
Record-Breaking Inning - The Cardinals were having trouble scoring runs after the All-Star break until they played the Cubs on July 21. On that night they scored 12 runs. In one inning. The Cardinals tied the franchise record for runs in an inning and set a new MLB record for most doubles in an inning (seven).
Bravo, Berkman - The Cardinals hit five home runs to beat the Cubs on July 27. But that is not why I included this game. Lance Berkman, such a key part of the '11 title, was hobbled by bad knees all season. In this game he struck for two hits and a home run. If Berkman retires after the season, it will go down as the last two-hit game and his last home run of his stellar career.
Carp on the Hill - In spring training, the Cardinals found out they had lost stud pitcher Chris Carpenter for the season. Not so fast. This is Chris Carpenter, after all. After having surgery in July to repair a nerve problem, Carp made an inspiring return to the rotation September 21 against the Cubs. Carpenter pitched five effective innings and would have been the winner if not for a late Chicago rally. For me, it was enough to see #29 back on the mound for St. Louis.
Dramatic Ninth-Inning Rally, Part 2 - The scene was so similar to Game 6 of last year's World Series, it was eerie. The Cardinals were down by two runs entering the ninth inning of Game 5 of the Division Series against the Washington Nationals. Like last year, being down to their last strike meant nothing to the Cards. This time it was Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma who struck for the game-tying and go-ahead hits, respectively. Jason Motte held on in the ninth inning, and the Cardinals headed back to the NLCS.
A native of St. Louis, Brad Boeker has rooted for the Cardinals for over 40 years.