Cardinals triumph over tragedy

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Our St. Louis Cardinals are showing some tremendous character this summer. Amidst the passing of perhaps the greatest Cardinal ever, broadcaster Jack Buck, and the shocking, saddening loss of arguably the Cardinals’ most consistent starter, Darryl Kile and despite rumors of an impending strike, talks of steroid abuse, roster holes, and a score of other adversities, the Cardinals are pulling together and are winning ballgames.

The Cardinals (51-39) struggled after Kile’s shocking passing in June, losing 8 of the next 10, including some mind-boggling late-inning collapses. But upon their return from the All-Star break, the team seems to have a new peace and a new focus about them, winning 4 out of 5 games on a west coast road trip, including a sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The composure seems to have returned to the Cards. The usual lock, Jason Isringhausen, who blew 3 of his last five save opportunities before the All-Star break, has returned strong as ever posting 3 saves in as many attempts. Bud Smith picked up his first win of the season against the Padres, giving his best performance since his no-hitter against the same team last September. Rookies Travis Smith and Jason Simontacchi have combined for a surprising 10-1 record and even Andy Benes has returned pitching four solid innings in a winning effort against the Dodgers.

Offensively, last year’s National League Rookie of the Year, Albert Pujols, is continuing his assault on opposing pitchers. He leads the team with 21 home runs and 67 RBI’s. While Edmonds continues his consistent performing, he is getting some timely support from veterans Placido Polanco and Edgar Renteria, who have brought their averages up to .293 and .290 due to some excellent numbers posted in July.

The sobering thought is the Cardinals are posting wins in time when, quite honestly, they shouldn’t be winning. The loss of Jack Buck was hard enough. The shock of Darryl Kile’s passing devastated the team.

Kile was, to a great extent, the heart of this team. He was a seasoned, talented veteran who provided support for the young and veteran players alike. He was a leader and he was well loved. Yet, the Cardinals have turned what could have been a legitimate excuse to let the season slide away into a tribute to honor the friend they so tragically lost.

As the Cardinals enjoy their greatest record (12 games above .500) of the year, so close after a time when it seemed they might collapse, now the question at hand seems to have become, “how high can they go?” With unlikely rookies and veterans putting in great pitching performances, and a solid and developing run-support unit, it seems that the Cardinals are just a few moves from leaving the class of the “Not quites,” to joining the elite status of true contenders.

Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty is looking to make such a move. He is working tirelessly to bring in a talented pitcher that can bring the Cardinals pitching staff closer to that of a real contender. Many names have been tossed around, most notably Colorado pitcher Mike Hampton and Oriole pitcher, Scott Erikson. No official moves have been announced just yet, but a move, perhaps a large one, seems very likely.

It is mid-July here in St. Louis and the Cardinals are looking good, leading what is poised to be a tight race for the Central Division. It should be an exciting stretch to follow along with.

This is definitely a baseball town.