May 26, 2007: St. Louis, Missouri
Having visited Busch Stadium II during its final season in 2005, it would be only a matter of time before Mike and I made a return to the Gateway City for another installment of our Ballpark Tour. Busch Stadium III debuted for the 2006 season. It would be a modern-era, open-ended and privately financed ballpark with a scenic view of Downtown St. Louis and the famed Gateway Arch. Mike and I were ready for a night of baseball before making our way to Chicago. It would be a night neither of us will ever forget. The Cardinals organization had gone through a lot during their 1+ seasons at Busch Stadium III. The 2006 season brought the Cardinals their first World Series championship in 24 years when they defeated the Detroit Tigers in five games. On their way to the title, the Cardinals defeated the Mets in a hard-fought seven-game series. I was not looking forward to seeing the 2006 championship banner as, in my opinion, the Mets were the better team. The 2006 season brought 3.4 million Red Bird fans through the turnstiles, only to be outdone by the 3.7 million who visited during the 2007 season, but that is where the comparisons between the 2006 and 2007 seasons would end.
During the 2006-2007 offseason, I had read Buzz Bissinger’s Three Nights in August, a wonderful biography detailing the life and managerial career of Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa. LaRussa was one of the most successful managers in baseball history during his years with the Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics and Cardinals by blending baseball’s old-school philosophies with some of the new-age theories that have come along. After upsetting the Tigers in the World Series, LaRussa was on top of the baseball world, but during Spring Training he was found intoxicated in his car. This was the beginning of a trying season. On April 29th, Cardinals relief pitcher Josh Hancock was killed in a car accident; his blood alcohol level was above the legal limit. The Cardinals’ off-the-field troubles were not to be outdone by their lack of success on the field. They would finish with a sub-.500 record for only the third time in LaRussa’s twelve seasons at the helm.
Having had their rotation decimated by the free agent departures of Jeff Weaver and Jeff Suppan and the season-ending injury of staff ace Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals limped into their series with the Washington Nationals. Former reliever Brad Thompson would take the hill against the Nationals’ Levale Speigner. The Cards jumped on Speigner early with eight runs in the first four innings. Jim Edmonds (3-for-4, 3 RBI) and Albert Pujols (2-for-4, 3 R) would pace the offensive attack. A Scott Rolen RBI double would be the Cardinals’ only extra base hit in their 8-6 victory.
Going into the night, Mike and I were worried about a rain-out. The forecast called for a 50% chance of rain. We were only in St. Louis for the night and had to catch an early morning flight to Chicago. With the Cardinals leading 8-1 and the game official, Mike and I were making our postgame plans, but Mother Nature and the Cardinal bullpen had other ideas. The Cardinal bullpen’s inability to shut the Nats turned their 8-3 lead to an 8-5 nail-biter with the tying run on-deck. LaRussa would call in his closer Jason Isringhausen to seal the victory with two outs in the 9th. Isringhausen was greeted by a Dmitri Young RBI single; the tying run was coming to the plate. As Nationals catcher Jesus Flores stepped to the plate, the skies opened up. The umpires hoped to complete the game, but had to call the grounds crew to cover the field. What followed was a 1-hour-and-41-minute rain delay that soaked Busch Stadium. Mike and I were going to leave, but were having fun watching the Cardinals grounds crew pour over 100 bags of quick dry on the infield dirt. A tarp malfunction had left a part of the field uncovered and third base was soaked. After we finally decided to head back to our hotel, the Cardinals announced the game would resume. We made our way down to the Field Level with the few hundred hardcore fans that had waited for the game to resume. None of us could sit because the seats were wet and most of the ushers had gone home. Fortunately, Isringhausen was able to get Jesus Flores to pop out to preserve the victory and give two Ballpark Tour road-trippers a story to tell for years to come.