I found out Monday that I’m not a jinx.
After multiple fruitless trips to Busch Stadium this season without seeing a Cardinals win, that changed in a critical Game 4 of the National League Division Series that afternoon.
I finally got to see the home team come away with a winner, besting the Atlanta Braves, 5-4, in 10 innings.
Few things can compare with that first baseball game of the spring, at the start of a new season, but playoff baseball is right up there.
However, the two are horses of completely different colors.
Spring for each team is filled with eternal optimism for the season to come and every fan is watching through rose-colored lenses, knowing that their team either has months to turn things around and become a contender or prove that they’re already there.
Baseball in October is gut-wrenching and visceral. The emotional dial is cranked all the way up to 11 and every play can be a heart-pounding adventure. The season hangs on every pitch and every swing of the bat.
Monday exemplified all of that, especially with the hometown Cardinals having their backs against the wall in a must-win game, trailing the Braves 2-1 in the series.
The Cardinals were playing to extend their season for one more game and early on they gave the Busch Stadium faithful a reason to be exuberant with back-to-back home runs by Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna in the first inning.
Ozuna’s home run sailed all the way up into the third deck, on par with Big Mac Land (or rather Big Ac Land currently thanks to Paul Dejong), but just a few seats over from the foul pole.
A home run getting up that far and that high is still a marvel to behold, even in this day and age where home runs are longer and more plentiful with this year’s baseball reportedly having a lower coefficient of drag.
There were still more smiling faces when Ozuna delivered a second home run a couple of innings later.
The situation got more dire though in the fifth inning as the Braves came back to take a 4-3 lead. All around me, smiles turned to nervous groans as everything started to go the Braves way.
A ball bounced off third base and away from Matt Carpenter for a Braves double. Another ball deflected off Carpenter’s chest for another infield hit. Then, a ball snuck in under the glove of Dexter Fowler in center field.
It was enough to seem like some higher power was working against the Cardinals through the fifth, sixth and seventh innings.
But perhaps there is no higher power in St. Louis than Yadier Molina.
Molina is not going to hit 40 home runs in a season. He’s not going to drive in 100 runs. But when the game is on the line, he’s one of the best hitters any team could hope to send up to the plate.
You need a run to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth? Watch Molina lace a slow line drive just out of reach of Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman to drive in a run from second base.
You need a run to win it in the bottom of the 10th? Pay attention as he turns on a first-pitch fastball and drives it to the warning track for a game-winning sacrifice fly.
Molina delivered in both those situations Monday and reinforced yet again his legendary status, not just in the Gateway City, but on a national stage.
Instantly, after that game-tying single, gone from the stadium were the nervous groans. That spring-like hope was suddenly shining once again on more than 40,000 faces.
A little uncertainty crept back in when the Cardinals called upon closer Carlos Martinez in a tied game in the top of the ninth and there was a mixed reaction to the announcement. Martinez, who struggled at points during the regular season, barely closed out the Braves in the first game of the series in Atlanta last week after allowing three runs in the bottom of the ninth to hold on for a one-run win. He then blew the save Sunday in Game 3 and came into Monday’s game with a playoff ERA of 23.50.
While the faith in Martinez was tenuous, he managed to get through the inning with the tie intact before turning the ball over to Miles Mikolas for the 10th.
The hope steadily built from there and then reached a fever pitch when Kolten Wong led off the bottom of the 10th inning with a double. It became too much to contain as the situation evolved to runners on first and third with one out and Molina coming to the plate.
Then, the magic happened. Molina collected the game-winning RBI and while the crowd didn’t necessarily “Go Crazy,” they did go home happy.
As Cardinals fans, we’ve been spoiled by being able to witness a bevy of moments like that through numerous playoff games through the years. Yet, it never gets old.
And the best part is, it means the season goes on with a chance for even more to come in Game 5 on Wednesday and beyond.