Good Afternoon
Good Afternoon
SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Hard to argue with success of St. Louis and its Cardinal Way

St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny looks on

St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny looks on in the dugout before taking on the Pittsburgh Pirates during Game One of the National League Division Series. (Oct. 3, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

BOSTON - Because it's always about the Red Sox, we whined when they didn't get to face the Indians this October, thus depriving us of the Terry Francona spectacle. Then it was the Dodgers who ruined our World Series narrative by failing to deliver the villainous Beantown castoffs, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, back to Fenway Park.

The Cardinals?

They're just here to play baseball, folks. Well-groomed, respect for the game, youngsters thankful for the opportunity and an aging star worth rooting for in Carlos Beltran, whom you may remember as the guy who took that called third strike from Adam Wainwright in what feels like another lifetime ago.

We know what you're thinking. What about my anthem stare-downs? The Mickey Mouse ears? Magic Johnson dancing with Tommy Lasorda? Yasiel being Yasiel?

That's all put away for the winter. But if you're still jonesing for something silly or sensational, all this World Series has to offer along those lines is the Red Sox's unnatural obsession with facial hair. And really, what's there to say about that? After a few ZZ Top references, it gets old fast.

For the next week or so, those tuning into the World Series will have to settle for baseball. But before you get all nostalgic for A-Rod, we have some good news: It should be great baseball, as in a classic, remember-when, tell-your-grandkids type of series that features the best the sport has to offer.

For starters, it has the two top seeds, the first time that has happened since the Yankees swept the Braves in 1999. The Red Sox and Cardinals both won 97 games. They also are the only two clubs with as many as three World Series appearances in the past decade. This will be a rematch of 2004, when Boston lifted the 86-year Curse of the Bambino by sweeping the Cardinals, but David Ortiz and Yadier Molina are the only legacies from that October.

Lately, we've heard a lot of talk about the Cardinal Way and how that organizational mind-set has set the tone for a franchise that has 10 playoff appearances, seven NL Central titles and two World Series rings -- with a chance at a third -- since 2000. The label may seem corny, but it's hard to argue with success, and how else do you explain such an impressive track record from reloading on the fly?

After the 2011 title, a stunning upset of the Rangers, Tony La Russa put a red bow on his Hall of Fame career, which included a 16-year run in St. Louis.

So what happened next? Chaos? Anarchy? Not quite.

"I think we've been fortunate to be in an organization that winning is a tradition, winning is an expectation," Matheny said after closing out the Dodgers. "We start talking early on about the history of the championships, the great players who have been through here and people who made their mark on the organization . . . So we take a lot of pride in trying to carry ourselves like a championship club."

But this is not about image or swagger. It's confidence.

With a rotation anchored by Wainwright and Michael Wacha, a lineup powered by Molina, Beltran and Matt Holliday, and a bullpen stocked with flamethrowers, including newbie closer Trevor Rosenthal, this is not some flavor of the month.

Unlike 2004, the Cardinals aren't here to be the waiter serving the Red Sox during their date with destiny. To them, this World Series could be the difference between talking about a dynasty and actually building one at Busch Stadium.

"I think we all want to get it done," Beltran said. "Sometimes it doesn't work, sometimes it works. But at the end of the day, what is important in October is that we don't think about individual statistics. We think about how we can go out there as a team and win."

With the Cardinals, it never seems to get any more complicated than that.

New York Sports