09/16/2005: Magic Number Watch:
The Cardinals won their game against the Cubs 6-1. We piled on three runs against Mark Prior in the first inning, and then exploded for another three in the eighth inning against Rich Hill and Todd Wellemeyer. Derek Lee went yard in the Chicago half of the ninth (okay, we'll throw the Chicagoans a bone for being such wonderful hosts ;-) ), and then Chicago managed to load the bases with the assistance of the rain--Yadier Molina muffed a pop foul (giving the Cubs an extra out, as it were) and then the next batter reached first when David Eckstein's legs shot out from under him fielding a hot grounder to short on the rain-slicked Wrigley infield mud. That's when home plate ump Jim Wolf called for the tarp, and after a 58 minute rain delay they called the game on account of rain. I'm sure that the Wrigleyville fans weren't pleased with that decision, because, of course, the stage was set (bottom of the ninth, two out, bases loaded) for the kind of dramatic last ditch rally that makes baseball such an exciting sport to watch.
With that win, the Cards are guaranteed the NL Central Division Championship; MLB.com's Cardinals beat writer Matthew Leach explains:
The Cardinals guaranteed on Thursday night that they will once again be the champions of the National League Central Division. Their magic number, however, remains at one, and according to their manager, "one is not zero."However, Tony LaRussa is a purist:
It may be the first time in baseball history that a division championship was more difficult to understand than to achieve.
This much is entirely clear: The Cardinals beat the Cubs, 6-1, at Wrigley Field on Thursday evening. The game was delayed 58 minutes due to rain in the ninth before eventually being called off. The Cards won behind a tremendous outing from Jeff Suppan and a pair of three-run innings, and with two RBIs each from John Rodriguez and Larry Walker.
The math beyond that, though, is a little fuzzy.
The win was the Cardinals' 94th of the year. Second-place Houston has 68 losses, so the possibility still exists that the Cards and Astros could finish the year with the same record. However, thanks to the Phillies' loss to Atlanta earlier in the evening, all of the other teams in Wild Card contention have at least 69 losses.
So if the Cardinals and Astros finished tied, both teams would be in the playoffs. A tiebreaker -- head-to-head record between the clubs -- would be used to determine which team is the division champ and which is the Wild Card. Because St. Louis is already guaranteed to win the season series against Houston, the Cardinals would be crowned division champions via the tiebreaker. That is to say, in the absolute worst possible scenario for the Cards, they would still be division champions.
But manager Tony La Russa wants none of it. And the Cardinals did not uncork the champagne following Thursday's win.
"As a team, we're traditional to think that we're not going to get into Wild Card formulas," said La Russa. "The magic number has got to be zero to celebrate. And it's one, right? Trust me, it's one. But because of our record against Houston and all that, technically... But we went through this last year. When it gets to zero, that's when we celebrate."
Len on 09.16.05 @ 07:42 AM CST