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Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014

11 in 11-A spectacular finish to a wild ride

Posted Saturday, October 29, 2011, at 7:53 AM

The theme for this year's postseason, that "Legends are born in October," couldn't be more truthful.

So many different pieces had to fall right into place for this 2001 St. Louis Cardinals team to accomplish what they did Friday night. While for most of the season and, heck even part of the series, it looked like that wouldn't happen, the fact is it did.

When no one gave the Cardinals even a hope to win this series, this amazing group of not just guys, but friends, pulled off the unthinkable. The performance of guys like David Freese, Lance Berkman and Albert Pujols in this series can't be overstated, but the talent and courage of three other individuals has a tendency to be forgotten.

Those three men are Tony LaRussa, batting coach Mark McGwire and pitching coach Mark McGwire.

Love him or hate him, and for most people there is no middle ground, Tony LaRussa was an irreplaceable element on this championship team. While often criticized for over management, his skill and follow the numbers techniques were a integral key in this entire postseason run.

We joked in the pressbox the other night that only LaRussa would pinch hit a pitcher for another pitcher. Not only did he do it, he succeeded with it.

LaRussa's style, while not the most popular in baseball or even in Cardinal country, lofted him this week to a new stature in the Cardinals organization.

The only other Cardinals manager in history to win two championships during their tenure was Billy Southworth in the 1940s. Looking at his postseason numbers and that particular accomplishment it is difficult not to consider him possibly the greatest manager in Cardinals history.

For a manager that is so stoic, and known for not being a "cheery guy," during the postgame press conference last night he shared how important this season and last night's victory have been to him.

"I mean, this is what you dream about," he said. "There isn't anybody on this team, the other team, too, that when you're a young kid you don't think about winning the World Series, and it's always in Game 7. Truly a dream come true. It's hard to really imagine it actually happened."

Another person who shouldn't be forgotten in this mix is McGwire. His knowledge and sincere love for the game translated into an offensive explosion this year. To listen to any of the younger guys talk they have a an endless amount of respect for the former homerun king and his talents. As an illustration, David Freese has worked with him on his hitting in several offseasons. I rest my case.

David Duncan, longtime pitching coach who had his season interrupted by a family emergency that ranks higher than the game, still came through for his team despite all of the adversity they had to overcome. His hurdles began even before Day 1 this season when the team's ace had to be sat for the season to recover from Tommy John surgery.

That was the day when the majority of the media wrote off this team.

Duncan's ability to repair the mechanics in veteran pitchers as well as nurse the education of the young ones played a key part in keeping this altogether.

That's the reason LaRussa took his word for it when he siad Carpenter was good to go for game seven.

"You like to look at all your options, and [Thursday] night with Dave there was so much going on after that game, and I said, let's be smart and I call you in the morning," LaRussa recalled. "I called him and said, "Let's lay out the options." And he said, "It's Carp," and he hung up on me. So it's Carp."

That is how much faith this organization has in Duncan. Even though he's often brushed aside and not the first face to talk to the media, Duncan's skill and eye for greatness make him possibly the best pitching coach in the major leagues.

All I'm ask is that if you are going to kick these guys when they're down, give them the respect they deserve because today it's due.

None of what transpired in this truly magical season has come the easy way, and the team and staff alike deserve credit for turning the improbable (nearly impossible) into an amazing reality.

Congratulations to an impressive team and to a legion of World Series hungry fans. Cherish this moment and don't ever forget it because what you've witnessed this week will always have a special place sitting very high in Cardinals history.

11 in '11. Enough said.



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Corey Noles, staff writer for The Daily Statesman and Editor of The North Stoddard Countian, is the author of a regular baseball/St. Louis Cardinals column and also uses his blog to sound off on various happenings in sports. He also operates a weekly baseball mailbag column.

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