In participation with a year-end United Cardinal Bloggers project, here are RetroSimba’s choices for the top 5 Cardinals stories of 2012:
1. SUCCESSFUL DEBUT FOR MIKE MATHENY
At 88-74, the 2012 Cardinals had only the fifth-best record in the National League and reached the postseason because the format was changed to include a second wild-card entry.
Nevertheless, 2012 ranks as a success for first-year Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. Among the reasons:
_ Even though he had no experience managing a professional team and had the added burden of replacing Tony La Russa, the most successful manager in Cardinals history, Matheny kept the Cardinals in contention all season and displayed consistent leadership.
_ Matheny is the first rookie manager to lead the Cardinals to the postseason since Eddie Dyer did it 66 years ago.
_ Showing he can adjust and adapt to challenges, Matheny prevailed even though the Cardinals lost Albert Pujols to free agency and played most of the season without injured stalwarts Chris Carpenter and Lance Berkman.
_ Matheny led the Cardinals to the National League Championship Series and got them within a win of the World Series.
2. POSTSEASON MAGIC VS. BRAVES, NATIONALS
The Cardinals added to their rich postseason lore with a pair of gritty victories in do-or-die games on the road.
On Oct. 5, 2012, in the winner-take-all game between wild-card teams, the Cardinals fell behind 2-0 and rallied to beat the Braves, 6-3, before a raucous Atlanta crowd.
In the eighth, with St. Louis ahead by three, the Braves had two on and one out. When a pop-up by Andrelton Simmons fell between rookie shortstop Pete Kozma and left fielder Matt Holliday, it appeared the door was open for an Atlanta comeback. But umpire Sam Holbrook, citing the infield fly rule, called Simmons out. Spectators littered the field with debris and it seemed a forfeit might be declared.
Instead, the Cardinals remained poised and advanced to the National League Division Series against the Nationals. Boxscore
In the deciding fifth game at Washington on Oct. 12, 2012, the Nationals led 6-0 after three innings and 7-5 after eight, but St. Louis rallied to win, 9-7, scoring four times in the ninth with two out. Kozma snapped a 7-7 tie with a two-run single. Boxscore
3. LYNN, LOHSE LOOM LARGE
Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia, perhaps the pitchers rated the two best Cardinals starters entering spring training, combined for a 7-9 record in 2012. Lance Lynn and Kyle Lohse put together the performances that kept the Cardinals from folding.
Lynn, who primarily was a reliever in 2011, his rookie season, was 18-7 for the 2012 Cardinals. He made 29 starts in 35 appearances and struck out 180 in 176 innings.
Lohse, 16-3 in 33 starts, had the best year of his major-league career. His winning percentage of .842 led the National League and was the best ever recorded by a Cardinals pitcher who qualified to be among the leaders. He walked only 38 in 211 innings.
4. BELTRAN, MOLINA: PUERTO RICAN POWER
Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina, natives of Puerto Rico, added to that island’s proud baseball heritage by powering the 2012 Cardinals offense.
In his first Cardinals season, Beltran hit 32 home runs, the second-most by a switch-hitter in Cardinals history. Only Rip Collins, with 35 for the 1934 World Series championship team, had more.
Molina hammered a career-high 22 home runs, joining Ted Simmons as the only Cardinals catchers to achieve 20 or more in a season.
5. JON JAY EARNS PERFECTION
In an achievement that didn’t get as much widespread attention as it deserved, Jon Jay became the first Cardinals everyday center fielder in 46 years to have a flawless fielding season.
Jay committed no errors in 2012. He handled 292 chances over 993.1 innings in 116 games. The last regular center fielder to complete a season without an error for St. Louis was Curt Flood in 1966.