Cardinals under holy orders to clinch World Series for ‘Stan the Man’

Baseball is like a religion in St Louis, writes Rupert Cornwell in the Midwest city, and paradise will be beating the Red Sox

In the United States, three things alone are certain. Republicans will rant and rave over Obamacare. Congress will lead the country to the brink of disaster. And, resilient and serenely unflappable, the St Louis Cardinals will make a deep run into baseball’s post-season.

And so it has proved this October. National default has been narrowly averted, and the President’s health care reform is still besieged by enemy fire. Meanwhile, on Wednesday night in Boston, the Cardinals open their quest for a 12th World Series championship. The oddsmakers of Las Vegas have installed the Red Sox as marginal  favourites. But you do not bet against St Louis lightly.

The match-up could not be more fitting. Often the post-season is a lottery, where a three-week hot streak can see an underdog go all the way. This time though, baseball’s showcase event features the two teams with the best regular season records, and from arguably the two most baseball-mad cities in the nation – each though obsessed in a different way.

After finishing bottom of the American League East in 2012, no one expected much from the Red Sox this year. Instead, faithful to the zany, slightly manic traditions of the franchise, the team has grown beards and prospered mightily. The glitz is back as well, from Neil Diamond belting out the Sox anthem of “Sweet Caroline” to David “Big Papi” Ortiz (below), Boston’s most beloved player, smiting a story-book grand slam in Game Two against Detroit that turned the AL Championship series on its head.

Ortiz is the only survivor from the 2004 Red Sox who swept St Louis to break the celebrated World Series curse that haunted Boston since 1918 (when a certain slugger named Babe Ruth was sold to the arch enemy Yankees). This time, though, no one is expecting a Boston sweep, against a Cardinals organisation that nothing seems to faze.

If baseball is a passion in Boston, it is a religion in St Louis. The city has an eminent place in American history, and professional football and hockey teams to boot. But no institution there remotely compares to the Cardinals. Back last January, Stan Musial, arguably the greatest player in the club’s history, died at the age of 92. A pope’s mourning period is nine days. That of “Stan the Man” has not truly ended yet, in St Louis and the surrounding swathe of the American heartland that is the Cardinals’ earthly kingdom – and spiritual domain, too.

Even among the Catholic holy orders, loyalties can be shared. A neighbour in Washington DC had a sister who was a nun at a convent about 50 miles south-west of St Louis. Never, in her declining years, was there a more devoted fan. On the walls of her room were a crucifix,  a Raphael reproduction and a plethora of Cardinals gear. When she died this summer, they placed a red Cardinals cap in the coffin.

But if Boston is flashy, St Louis is the opposite, going about their business as imperturbably as a great ocean liner. A couple of years ago Tony La Russa, one of the most successful and esteemed managers in baseball history and who had guided the Cardinals to World Series titles Nos 10 and 11 in 2006 and then in 2011, retired. But La Russa’s going changed nothing. His replacement was the unheralded former catcher Mike Matheny. The Cardinals, meanwhile, just kept on winning.

Then they lost superstar slugger Albert Pujols on a free move, lured to the Los Angeles Angels by a 10-year $250m deal that St Louis could not match and turning himself in an instant from hero to traitorous ingrate. Indeed, for just one item among the nun’s memorabilia there were no takers. It was a signed Pujols jersey.

But once again, the franchise knew exactly what it was doing. In Los Angeles, Pujols has never been quite the same player. Meanwhile, in recompense, the Cardinals obtained an extra draft pick from the Angels. They chose a gangling 6ft 6in college pitcher named Michael Wacha. Needless to say, Wacha has been the sensation of this post-season. When St Louis were on the brink of elimination against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game Four of the National League Division Series, Wacha produced a no-hitter for seven-plus innings.

In the NL pennant series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, he went even better, surrendering not a single run in two starts, as he twice defeated the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, generally regarded as the most dominant pitcher in the game, earning the NLCS most valuable player award in the process.

If Boston are to prevail, they have to solve the Wacha conundrum first. But what if Boston do not, and St Louis repeat their earlier World Series victories against the Red Sox of 1946 and 1967? Then for the departed Stan Musial and a certain Catholic nun, it will be the perfect heavenly reward.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Jemma Gent: Year End Accountant

£250-£300 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Are you a qualified accountant with strong exp...

Jemma Gent: Management Accountant

£230 - £260 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Do you want to stamp your footprint in histo...

Beverley James: Accounts Payable

£22,000 - £23,000: Beverley James: Are you looking for the opportunity to work...

Beverley James: Accounts Assistant

£30,000: Beverley James: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a person looki...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower