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.

News
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
News
i100
News
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

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

English Secondary Teacher

£110 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cambridge: English Teacher needed for ...

NQT and Experienced Primary Teachers Urgently required

£90 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: NQT and Experienced Primary Teac...

Year 1 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: Year 1 Primary Supply Teachers needed for...

Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: EY/KS1 Qualified Teaching Assistant J...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album