Giants, Cardinals remind us once again that it's October

The last time neither the St. Louis Cardinals nor the San Francisco Giants were in a World Series, the Philadelphia Phillies were still good.

Think about that.

It’s easy to say in retrospect, and in some ways it demeans the very talented players who make up their rosters, so this is meant as a compliment: One heartbeat is better than 25.

From management down.

Cardinals players celebrate on the field after their 3-2 victory over the Dodgers on Tuesday. (AP)
Cardinals players celebrate on the field after their 3-2 victory over the Dodgers on Tuesday. (AP)

(In an Uber world, nobody talks about 25 cabs anymore.)

This isn’t going to be about the Los Angeles Dodgers, except that the Dodgers were supposed to be here, because they had all the money, the superstars and the assumptions. But it was never quite right. Talent is supposed to win. Six times out of 10, it does. But then there are the other four times, and what are those about?

Luck? Commonality? Accountability? Leadership?

The Giants come out of the Dodgers’ division, and they’ve won two of the past four World Series, and could again. The Cardinals eliminated the Dodgers twice in less than a calendar year. They’ve won a World Series in this decade (and played for another) and could again.

The Dodgers, meantime, spent the latter part of the week deciding who comes back and who gets fired and then wondering where their quarter-billion dollars went.

The difference, perhaps, is not in the men a team plays (and how it pays them) but how those men play. Sometimes, maybe, who they play for. And what they play for. Granted, this stuff is as wispy as Hunter Pence’s chin fur. Or, to put it in the context of this particular NLCS, which will determine if the Cardinals attend their third World Series in four seasons or the Giants their third in five, as foggy as Adam Wainwright’s elbow MRI.

But, come October, something has worked lately in St. Louis and San Francisco that goes beyond the black-and-whites of pitching and more pitching and the occasional three-run homer.

(It helps when your left-handed hitters go off against the best left-handed pitcher in the game or, a few hours later and further west, you have a man at third base when the opposing pitcher starts throwing balls to the backstop.)

There’s something about having won before and won recently. There’s something about knowing you can. That could be part of it (though not, this time, in the American League, so there’s that).

As Pence himself said this week, “Experience is kind of an ephemeral thing,” stopping to ask if he pronounced “EFF-a-MERE-ial” right. Told he was close, he quietly celebrated.

“There’s confidence,” he said, “in knowing you’ve done it before, understanding the emotions and the adrenaline. And beyond that it’s about getting it done on the field. If experience were one series, then the same team would win every year because they have the experience of winning it, and that’s not the case, as history shows. But there is definitely a knowledge and wisdom gained from that. We just have to get out and play the game and win.”

They call it tournament baseball, which apparently is different than regular baseball, because Ryan Vogelsong showed up Tuesday night throwing 95 mph fastballs, and because before that Matt Adams did something to a Clayton Kershaw curveball no lefty had ever done before.

So, yeah, try to like each other. Try to rely on each other. But, also, have a bullpen. It’d be a good idea to catch the ball. When a mistake pitch comes, do your best to not to line it directly at somebody.

Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner, left, hugs Ryan Vogelsong as they celebrate the team making the NLCS. (AP)
Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner, left, hugs Ryan Vogelsong as they celebrate the team making the NLCS. (AP)

The Giants and Cardinals are, for the moment, better at it. The Giants led their division for 96 days. The season is almost twice that. Then they finished second, and then they knocked off the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals. The Cardinals led theirs for 45 days, then faced Kershaw twice, and then tidied up Busch Stadium for the NLCS.

Were the Giants better than the Nationals? The Cardinals better than the Dodgers? Well, yeah, that’s why they’re here.

But why? More, why now?

Maybe, because it’s time. It’s October. This is what they do in October and this is how they play. Bruce Bochy is smart and confident, and he has Buster Posey. Mike Matheny has fallen in behind Tony La Russa, been smart and confident himself, and he has Yadier Molina. That’s part of it, too. That and the starting pitching and a hit or two with runners in scoring position and a few trusted relievers, all of which happens for some good teams and, when the regular season is done, not for others.

Take this for what you will, but Bochy was asked Tuesday night why his team will be in its third NLCS in five years, and he didn’t talk about hitting with runners in scoring position or stud pitchers or any numbers at all.

“It means that I really have a gritty bunch out there,” he said. “I told them earlier, ‘There’s nobody’s will that’s stronger than theirs or desire that’s deeper than that. They were determined not to get back on the plane and go to Washington. Couldn’t quite put the game away, but they kept fighting. And when they tied the game, we put pressure right back on them, and it’s all about them. It’s fun to see a group of guys that come together that are so unselfish and that play with so much grit.”

We make fun of terms like grit. Terms like heartbeat. Fortunately, because of teams like the Cardinals and Giants, we get to do it for another month or so every year.

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