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September comeback done, Cards set for October run

September comeback done, Cards set for October run

Posted: Friday, September 30, 2011 7:01 pm

By R.B. FALLSTROM
AP Sports Writer
ST. LOUIS (AP) — As the euphoria of winning the National League wild card wore off in the wee hours, the St. Louis Cardinals collectively took a deep breath.
Savoring a celebration that seemed more spontaneous than scripted, they’ll try to take the September groove no one thought they had in them into October.
St. Louis trailed Atlanta by 101⁄2 games on Aug. 25, then won 23 of the last 31 games to finish its improbable charge.
The Cardinals also owe the Philadelphia Phillies a tip of the cap for ending the season with a sweep of the Braves, who lost 18 of their last 27.
“To me, forever and ever, I have the Phillies in the highest regard,” manager Tony La Russa said. “It’s just not to think they won three games, but it’s the way they competed.”
But come Saturday, the 102-win Phillies will be hosting a confident, 90-win club.
“It’s a great feeling to be able to come from so far down,” Lance Berkman said. “We felt like we had a run like these in us, and we executed it just in the nick of time.
“And here we are.”
The Cardinals and Nationals were the only two National League teams to post a winning record against Philadelphia. St. Louis took the season series 6-3 and took three of four on the road earlier this month.
Berkman batted .467 against the Phillies with two homers and seven RBIs.
“A lot is going to be made of the fact that we played pretty well against the Phillies this year, but with the playoffs it’s a different story,” Berkman said. “We just have to come out and try to be the team that we’ve been over the last month this year.
“If we do, we have a chance.”
La Russa remembers wondering at one point in August if the Cardinals would finish above .500 and relishes his ninth playoff appearance in 16 years with St. Louis all the more. After trailing the Braves by 101⁄2 games on Aug. 25, the Cardinals took nine of 10 series and swept the Braves and NL Central-champion Brewers.
They won 16 of their last 21 to finally overtake the Braves, who are the first team in major league history to blow a lead of at least eight games for a playoff spot in September.
“We came from so far back,” La Russa said. “It’s nice to be part of history because the club deserved it. We were great for four months, and we had a little bad period, then we really came charging back.
“Adversity was something that we embraced.”
More adversity lingers for the postseason, with Matt Holliday (hand) and Rafael Furcal (hamstring) questionable for the Division Series opener.
Allen Craig has given the offense a big boost in place of Holliday and finished with a .315 average, 11 homers and 40 RBIs in only 200 at-bats.
Published in The Messenger 9.30.11

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