The Ten Biggest Cardinals Stories of 2005

#7 is not a fond memory

There were many big stories in and around the Cardinals in 2005. Brian Walton shares his top ten and why he ranked them the way he did.

2005 was an extremely exciting year for the St. Louis Cardinals and their fans. Looking back, I have decided to share my view of the ten biggest Cardinals-related stories of the past twelve months.

 

So, without further ado…

 

10. Chris Carpenter named NL starting pitcher in the All-Star Game.

9. Mark McGwire's Congressional testimony.

8. Post-All-Star break three-game sweep of Houston.

7. Scott Rolen's shoulder injury.

6. The Cardinals leave KMOX.

5. Albert Pujols' home run against Houston in the NLCS Game 5.

4. Chris Carpenter wins the National League Cy Young Award.

3. Albert Pujols wins the National League Most Valuable Player Award.

2. The Cardinals win the NL Central Division championship.

1. The final season/game at Busch Stadium.

 

Now, let's go into each in detail.

 

10. Chris Carpenter named NL starting pitcher in the All-Star Game.

 

It was an easy decision for Manager Tony La Russa – selecting his own ace, Chris Carpenter to be the starting pitcher for the National League in the 2005 All-Star Game. Not that there weren't others also worthy, but Carp earned his spot by posting a 13-4 record with a 2.51 ERA, fanning 128 batters in 129-1/3 innings in the first half.

 

Yet, it was far from a common choice. In fact, Carpenter became the first Cardinal pitcher since Rick Wise in 1973 to start on the mound in the midsummer classic, though Mark Mulder started for the American League in 2004 as a member of the Oakland A's. Carpenter would not be born for almost another two years after that night when Wise took the mound in the 1973 Classic. It had been that long since a Cardinal had been selected for the honor.

 

When Carpenter picked up that 13th victory prior to the 2005 All-Star Game, he joined an elite group of just two other St. Louis pitchers who have had that many wins heading into the break. Joaquin Andujar was 15-4 in 1985 and 13-6 the previous season plus Kent Bottenfield posted a 14-3 mark heading into the break in 1999. 

 

9. Mark McGwire's Congressional testimony.

 

Set up by former buddy Jose Canseco's inject-and-tell book about rampant steroid use in the major leagues, slugger Mark McGwire joined a collection of baseball heroes on Capitol Hill in March. The purpose of this circus was like any other – to have a show. And, the bumbling boys did their part to play along.

 

By uttering a simple phrase, "I'm not here to talk about the past", Mark McGwire shattered many a fans' fond memory of his Herculean feats on the baseball diamond and managed to taint himself without ever admitting anything, or so he is alone in thinking. As a result of his performance, Big Mac inadvertently became the whipping boy for those wanting to clean up the game.

 

McGwire's offer during that Congressional hearing to become a spokesman against steroids and to re-direct his Foundation to fight the good fight appears to be as hollow as his other statements made that day in March. Nine months later, there has been little evidence of McGwire himself, let alone any of the supposed good deeds promised.

 

It is a shame. McGwire could have done so much to help others. Instead, his only real response has been to hide. But, the baseball purgatory in which he resides, just as with Pete Rose and others, is clearly of his own making.

 

8. Post-All-Star break three-game sweep of Houston.

 

In my opinion, this series, held July 15-17, was the pivotal event in the Central Division in 2005. By mid-July, the Cubs were in the midst of their usual swoon. The Cardinals had built up a double-digit lead in the Division race. But, the Houston Astros were surging.

 

Since losing two of three to the Cards in early June, Houston had won an amazing 23 of 32 games. In the process, they had pulled themselves above .500 at the break after a dismal start. Worst of all, they had shaved four games off the Cardinals' lead in recent days. Yadier Molina was out and Scott Rolen was slowed by injury as the Cardinals and their fans were rightfully concerned.

 

Houston roared into St. Louis to play this three-game series right after the break, with their rotation rested and realigned to face the Cards. Andy Pettitte, Roy Oswalt and Roger Clemens were lined up and ready to go. But, the Cardinals proved they were more than up to the task, putting the broom to the backside of the Houstonians. From there, the Birds never looked back.

 

Game One was a 13-inning rollercoaster ride. Mark Mulder pitched well, but Pettitte was even better. Yet, Einar Diaz' home run gave the Cards the lead in the eighth, then Jason Isringhausen blew the save opportunity in the ninth. Albert Pujols homered with two out in the bottom of the 13th, presenting Brad Thompson with his first-ever major league win.

 

In Game Two, Jason Marquis and Izzy teamed up for a 4-2 win as Larry Walker's three-run home run was the difference-maker. But Game Three defined the regular season, as Carpenter spun win #14, defeating Clemens. It was Carp's fifth complete-game shutout of the season, coming on a three-hitter. He faced just one over the minimum, walking none and fanning nine in a truly dominating performance.

 

7. Scott Rolen's shoulder injury.

 

In my opinion, the loss of third baseman Scott Rolen was the single greatest contributor to the Cardinals falling short of winning the World Championship in 2005. Not to belittle the exceptional contributions of Abraham Nunez, who played over his head covering for Rolen, but simply put, no one can come anywhere near taking the place of Scott Rolen.

 

In the fifth inning of Game 32 of the season, back on May 10, Rolen was injured. It was a collision at first base with Dodger Hee Seop Choi caused by a bad toss from pitcher Scott Erickson. Rolen underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left, non-throwing shoulder, then tried to come back to play, but was ineffective. Especially when trying to hit, Rolen's pain was evident.

 

In August, after having his shoulder examined by the Cincinnati Reds' team physician, Rolen underwent a second surgery which ended his season. This also raised unanswered questions about the Cardinals' medical staff in the process.

 

Rolen previously suffered a shoulder injury during the 2002 playoffs in a collision with Arizona's Alex Cintron.  In June, 2003 at Fenway Park, Rolen injured his neck and collarbone in a play at the plate against Boston's Jason Varitek and was hampered the remainder of that season. 

 

Needless to say, put positively, a healthy Rolen is a huge difference-maker. We saw the flip side in 2005.

 

6. The Cardinals leave KMOX.

 

During a year in which Cardinals ownership took a lot of heat over a series of decisions that did not appear to be fan-friendly, this early-August announcement was the crowning blow. Even though the move had been rumored for months, it didn't make the final decision sit any better with thousands of Cardinals fans across the Midwest. And, the fact that it was driven by money only made matters worse.

 

Ownership made the decision to purchase 50% of radio station KTRS to control their own radio rights and all the cash that comes with it. Coinciding with the opening of the new Busch only made it sweeter for ownership. The 52-year relationship with the flagship radio station synonymous with the Cardinals, KMOX, was over.

 

Fans were rightly concerned. The new station doesn't have the coverage of the 50,000-watt Mighty ‘MOX. To make matters worse, plans to increase the reach of the rest of the multi-state radio network had not been thought through, unnecessarily increasing fan anxiety. Finally, satellite radio or MLB.com's internet service is simply beyond the financial means of some fans.

 

5. Albert Pujols' home run against Houston in the NLCS Game 5.

 

The Cardinals may have been down, but were not out. Not with Albert Pujols on their side.

 

On October 17, facing elimination in the National League Championship Series, the Cardinals came into the ninth inning of Game Five behind on the scoreboard, with Houston closer Brad "Lights Out" Lidge on the mound.

 

With two out, Pujols stepped up to the plate in Minute Maid Park and slammed a mammoth, arching, majestic game-winning three-run home run. I will never forget the look on Andy Pettitte's face as the camera caught him exclaiming "Oh, my gosh" as the baseball went up and up and up and out.

 

The final four outs were completed in stunned silence in Houston as headlines the next day all over the country replayed countless variations of the tired phrase, "Houston, we have a problem". Heck, even Tom Hanks himself probably uttered it once or twice again.

 

While the NLCS ended with an Astros victory in Game Six, the drama of Pujols' performance put an exclamation point on his selection as Most Valuable Player and allowed 52,438 delirious Cardinals fans to say their final goodbyes to Busch Stadium in person.

 

This probably won't be the defining moment of Pujols' career, because he has a lot of baseball yet ahead of him on his Cooperstown pace. Still, who else other than the Great Pujols could have produced such a magnificent feat?

 

4. Chris Carpenter wins the National League Cy Young Award.

 

After winning the unofficial first-half Cy Young Award by being named to start the All-Star Game for the NL, Carpenter stayed the course. On November 10, he was announced as the winner of the 2005 National League Cy Young Award. Unlike so many before him who start out strong, but fizzle out after the break, Carpenter put together two excellent halves.

 

In the voting by the Baseball Writers Association of America, Carpenter won the award with 132 votes over Florida's Dontrelle Willis (112) and Houston's Roger Clemens (40). For the season, Carpenter posted a 21-5 record with a 2.83 ERA in 241-2/3 innings in 2005 and joined Willis as the only players named on all 32 ballots.

In the process, Carp became St. Louis' only Cy Young Award winner other than Bob Gibson, who earned it in 1968 and 1970. In the years since Gibson won, the only Cardinals to finish as high as second in the voting were John Tudor in 1985 and Lee Smith in 1991.

 

3. Albert Pujols wins the National League Most Valuable Player Award.

 

All I can say is "It's about time!" In 2005, the perennial bridesmaid finally became the bride.

 

On November 15, first baseman Albert Pujols was announced as the winner of the 2005 National League Most Valuable Player Award. Pujols, who hit .330 with 41 home runs and 117 runs batted in this past season, edged Atlanta's Andruw Jones and the Chicago Cubs' Derrek Lee in the balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

In each of his four previous seasons in the major leagues, Pujols finished among the top NL MVP vote-getters, with two seconds, one third, and one fourth-place showing. In 2004, he came in third behind Barry Bonds and Adrian Beltre, both of whom had subpar 2005 campaigns. Yet, Pujols just kept on rolling.

Pujols was listed first on 18 of the 32 ballots cast by two writers in each
league city and second on the remaining 14 for a total of 378 points. Jones finished second in the voting with 351 points, based on 13 first-place votes, 17 seconds and two thirds. The other first-place vote went to Lee, who was second on one ballot and third on the other 30 for 263 points. Pujols, Jones and Lee were the only players named on every ballot. 

 

Prior to Pujols, St. Louis' last MVP winner was outfielder Willie McGee back in 1985. Other past Cardinal MVPs were Frankie Frisch (1931), Dizzy Dean (1934), Joe Medwick (1937), Mort Cooper (1942), Marty Marion (1944), Stan Musial (1943, 1946 and 1948), Ken Boyer (1964), Orlando Cepeda (1967), Bob Gibson (1968), Joe Torre (1971) and Keith Hernandez (co-MVP in 1979). The team's 15 in total are the most ever in the NL and second to the Yankees' 19 in MLB history.

 

2. The Cardinals win the NL Central Division championship.

 

Four first-place finishes in the last six years is an impressive record of consistent success, yet I have been debating my placement of this item so high in the list with a good friend.

 

He feels winning the division is "old hat" and was overshadowed in 2005 by Pujols' and Carpenter's personal recognition. In my book, winning the Division is the first objective every season and team success will always be a bigger story than any individual awards can be.

 

But, that is what these articles are all about – to elicit thought and debate.

 

1. The final season/game at Busch Stadium.

 

So much has already been said about the demolition of the home of the Cardinals for 40 years and what the ballpark had meant to so many players and fans, such that I can't do this subject justice. Suffice it to say that many, myself included, will never be able to love the new Busch as much as the old, no matter how nice it will be.

 

Maybe in 2046, if I am still around, there will be an accumulation of 40 years worth of new memories to take their place. But, in the meantime, Busch II will always hold a special place in my heart.

 

Honorable and dishonorable mentions

 

There is a boatload of other stories, each worthy of consideration, but ultimately falling short of making my top ten.

 

They include: Firing of broadcaster Wayne Hagin and hiring of John Rooney, Rick Ankiel the reluctant pitcher becoming Rick Ankiel the outfield prospect, Matt Morris leaving as a free agent, the June amateur draft, another 100-win season, not signing free agent A.J. Burnett, re-establishment of the Latin American program, emergence of younger players like Yadier Molina and Brad Thompson, key contributions by reserves Abraham Nunez, So Taguchi and Al Reyes, unexpected strong play up the middle by David Eckstein and Mark Grudzielanek, NLDS win over San Diego, umpire Phil Cuzzi's ejections of Tony La Russa and Jim Edmonds in Game Four of the NLCS, the exile of Ray King, Larry Walker's neck injury and retirement and more.

So, there you have it – my top ten stories and why. Feel free to join in the discussion at our fine Message Board and share your own list.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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