Cardinals saving their big celebrations for later
Seasoned St. Louis sets sights on more than just playoff berth
MILWAUKEE -- The postseason berth came to the St. Louis Cardinals the way the fog arrives in a Carl Sandburg poem:
"The fog comes
On little cat feet."
Yes, this was a postseason-berth clinching that was achieved with a real minimum of noise and notice.
Another regular season leads to another postseason for the Cardinals. Year in and year out, this group is operating at or very near the top of the class in the National League. You are not going to see them spraying champagne when the Central Division title is still undecided.
Sunday afternoon in the visitors' clubhouse at Miller Park, before they played the Brewers, the Cardinals learned that they had qualified for the postseason. After Washington lost the first game of a doubleheader to Miami, the Cardinals could do no worse than a Wild Card berth.
This development was greeted by the Cardinals with no visible show of emotion, or anything else, for that matter. Many players were watching the Indianapolis Colts vs. the San Francisco 49ers on the clubhouse TVs. Other players were utilizing their cellphones in one fashion or another. There was no hint that anything of any import had taken place.
When Cardinals manager Mike Matheny was asked what had generated more celebration, clinching the Wild Card berth, or his 43rd birthday, he replied:
The Cardinals did not officially acknowledge the Wild Card clinching until after their 6-4 loss to the Brewers Sunday night. This was a seriously atypical game for the Redbirds; their three errors leading to three unearned runs. What looked like it could be a patented Cardinals comeback fell short in the ninth.
So there was another reason for something other than high spirits.
"We just talked and acknowledged that's a great accomplishment," Matheny said of clinching a postseason berth. "You know, it's tough timing after a loss like that, and also knowing that we've still got some work to do.
"Everybody went around, shaking some hands, challenging each other to finish this thing right."
There is no disagreement on the goals and priorities of this club.
"It's a big accomplishment, obviously, but we still have stuff left that we want to do, which is win the division," said Sunday night's starting pitcher, Joe Kelly. "So we took the time to acknowledge that we were in with the Wild Card at least. But everybody in here knows what we really want, and that's to win the pennant."
The Cardinals have earned the right to aim high. They are one of two NL teams to have won two World Series in this century. They are the only National League team to have had winning seasons each of the past six years.
It is true that the Cardinals qualified for the postseason in both 2011 and 2012 as a Wild Card team. But this season, with a two-game lead in the NL Central over Pittsburgh and Cincinnati with six games left, qualifying for the postseason looks like a mile marker on the road to something much better.
"We're going to push right up to the end. I'm not so sure that's a bad thing," Matheny said. "You look at teams that head into postseason play that look sharp, a lot of times it's those clubs that were fighting right until the last minute. We just plan on going out and pushing and continue doing it how we've been doing."
The Cardinals have three-game home series remaining with the Nationals and the Cubs. On paper, this is an apparent advantage, The Pirates are on the road for the final six games, first at the Cubs, then at Cincinnati. The Reds host the Mets before their final home series against Pittsburgh.
But you will not find Matheny and his club spinning postseason scenarios, even though they have qualified for the postseason. Not with the division title still up for grabs.
"We've got work ahead of us, things we need to do here," Matheny said. "You hear me say this often enough, I hope you believe it, I try not to let myself go there. And I hope [the players] are not going there. Our mindset really should be, we've got to go out and win every day.
"I respect the game too much to let my mind go there, to play master puppeteer with how this stuff plays out. Let's get there and see who they put on the other side of the ring and let's go.
"We've got a division to win. We anticipate fighting until they tell us to stop fighting."
That would be the way the Cardinals typically conduct themselves. And should the division title come, you presume the volume of their celebration will be somewhat louder than little cat feet.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.