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Cardinals Overcome Loss of Their Fallen Leader and Stand Up to the Cubs

What a crazy weekend at Busch Stadium. For the Cardinals there was happiness and sorrow, deficits and comebacks, quiet stretches and late-inning lightning. There were three inspirational wins, and  a huge loss in the form of a fallen catcher, and the perfect response to seeing a beloved teammate go down. The Cardinals freed themselves from the frustration of the recent past and served notice to the Chicago Cubs: you’re in for a fight this time.

I believe this was the most important series win for the Cardinals in a long time. I say this for reasons I cited in this space Friday. Not to repeat all of that, but before the Cards and Cubs reconvened at Busch Stadium this weekend, the Cardinals had won only two of the last 17 series between the teams (with three splits) and the Cubs had won six of the previous seven series.

At what point would the Cardinals stand their ground and declare: ENOUGH.

This three-game sweep over the Cubs, with the resilient home team rallying to win in extra innings in the final two games, both times on walk-off homers, the first by Kolten Wong in the late Saturday afternoon sunlight, and the second struck by Dexter Fowler as the clock approached midnight Sunday.

The Cardinals (20-12) had to rise up in another way, pulling their emotions out of a deep-shock emotional state after watching Yadier Molina, their leader and unofficial captain,  go down late in Saturday’s game … it was upsetting, to say the least, to watch Molina on the ground, writhing in pain after taking a foul ball to the most sensitive area of the male anatomy..

Molina required immediate emergency surgery to alleviate traumatic hematoma, and he’ll be out for at least four weeks, perhaps six, with catcher of the future Carson Kelly beckoned from Memphis to fill a void that no one can fill. But let’s give kid Kelly a chance; he’s part of the Cards family and Molina respects him.

If you want to go full-on “Field of Dreams” with this stuff, please do. You can say that the Cardinals won Saturday’s game for Yadi. You can say that they won Sunday’s game for Yadi, who was watching the game at home on TV.

But this group of players had to win for themselves.

And you can definitely say  the Cardinals swept the Cubs for the good of the franchise, at least temporarily jolting a pattern of submission to the former weakling turned bully. This became  the Cardinals’ first three-game sweep of the Cubs at Busch Stadium since the last week of June in 2015; that was their last conquest for a while. The Cubs became the alpha males.

Well, maybe this weekend the Cardinals began to put some muscle on this rivalry and begin to turn it back in their direction. By winning three in a row, the Cardinals are 4-1 against the Cubs this season. And we’re talking about a Cubs team that doesn’t look like a superpower these days, having a 9-14 record in games against opponents other than Milwaukee.

The Cubs have averaged 2.7 runs, batted .203 and slugged .318 in their last 11 games, scoring three runs or fewer 10 times. The balky offense is prompting media questioning of the Cubs’ decision to fire successful batting coach John Mallee after last season to replace him with Chili Davis. Problem is, Davis is trying to convince Cubs hitters to shoot the ball to all fields, and stop obsessing over launch angles and home runs. The result: the Cubs rank 8th in the NL with an average of 1.03 homers per game, down from last season’s No. 3 ranking and 1.38 homers per game. You may recall that Davis was fired as Boston’s batting coach at the end of last season after the Red Sox finished last in the majors in homers.

The Cardinals, however, still must prove they can overcome any lingering psychological hangups from taking so many beatdowns from the Cubs. This is more about a test of the Cardinals’ own state of mind. It would take a strong Cardinals team to put the past away.  A tough, stubborn and determined team. A team that stood up after after their leader went down on Saturday.

A Cardinals team that held on tight Friday almost blowing a 3-0 lead but ultimately chasing the Cubs away from the gate, and slamming it shut for a 3-2 win. A team that lost RH reliever Dominic Leone to the disabled list after he had to depart Friday’s game because of a tingling sensation in his triceps. A team that would lose its closer, Bud Norris, for at least a few days after he was forced leave Saturday’s game as a precautionary response to tightness in his forearm.

A Cardinals team that fell behind 4-0 on Saturday, then tied it, then went down by two runs, then tied it again before Wong hit his baseball-hero homer for the 8-6 win. Not long after Molina walked off the field, on the way to the hospital, Wong and the Cardinals walked off and had themselves a mad celebration.

Flipping this rivalry would take a team that had the firmness of attitude to shoulder through two rain delays Sunday night, and to come back on the Cubs three different times during a marathon that lasted 4 hours 46 minutes. The Cardinals prevailed 4-3 when Fowler erased Javier Baez’ go-ahead homer in the top of the 14th with an infield hit by Harrison Bader, which placed Fowler squarely at the center of the Cards-Cubs universe. Fowler, handed a chance to ruin his old team’s weekend, was up to the challenge. With two strikes, and after fouling off two pitches, Fowler pulled a two-run homer just over the long, threatening reach of Jason Heyward’s glove in the right-field corner.

And this is how it must be done for the Cardinals to climb back to a higher place in this historical skirmish. And in a remarkable weekend of baseball the Cardinals showed the strength of mind, the power to believe, and an urgent desire to win the kind of games they’d been losing to the big bad blue crew from the North Side of Chicago.

The Cardinals didn’t have to talk, they didn’t have to posture, and there was no reason to lean on gimmicks. No, you make a so-called statement against the Cubs by beating the Cubs. And at least for one weekend, this sweep shook the rivalry.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More – Cardinals Bullet Points: ‘Comeback Kids’ Make Strong Statement By Sweeping the Cubs