You could certainly tell that we are entering the business end of the season in the New Busch stadium just now. The Cards have slowly seen their early season lead in the standings disappear with the Reds chasing them down. This recent three-game series between the two teams has been a nail-biting affair due to the stakes being so high. There may be another seven weeks of the season or so to go, but you got the feeling that both teams wanted to put a marker down; a signal of intent for the rest of the way.
Scott Rolen’s single has just brought Chris Duncan home in the bottom of the ninth to give the Cards a hard-fought 2-1 victory. On paper a 2.5 game gap might not look much greater than a 0.5 game lead; however psychologically it is huge for St Louis.
The Reds will certainly not be too disheartened. Losing a series in St Louis 2-1 isn’t the end of the world for them. Although they won’t get another chance to take games away from the Cards this season, the pay-off is that they will have one less major National League contender to face in their pursuit for the NL wild card. And if the Cards slip up, the Reds will want to be there to take advantage.
Playing at home put that extra bit of pressure on the Cards and they knew that allowing Cincinnati to stroll in to town and walk out in first place was not a scenario they wanted to face. With six of their next nine games being against the struggling Cubs, and with Mark Mulder making what they hope will be his final minor-league rehab start tonight, St Louis have reason to believe that this will be the time for them to take control.
Attempting to end this post with any sort of firm prediction on what lies ahead would be risky, but that’s what makes the race so exciting. There are a lot more twists and turns to look forward to, casting many heroes and zeroes along the way. Does the wild card reduce this at all? I don’t think so. Maybe St Louis or Cincinnati will be able to ease off in the final few games knowing that they will make the play-offs whether they finish first or not. That doesn’t look likely though, partly because the NL is all much of a muchness (Mets excepted). I can understand the idea that â€œall or nothingâ€ creates an extra element of excitement in a pennant race. Still, I prefer to see as many teams as possible having something to play for and right now most of the NL will feel it has a chance if they can get on a run.