Behind six stellar innings including nine strikeouts from Miles Mikolas and a steady drum beat of offense up and down the lineup, the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Milwaukee Brewers 6-2 at American Family Field on Tuesday night, securing their 90th win of the season and with it first place in the National League Central.
The division title is the franchise’s 16th overall and 12th in the Central. Though the Brewers could also reach 90 wins by winning all of their remaining games, Tuesday’s win locked up the season series between the teams in favor of the Cardinals, thus securing the tiebreaker in the first year of this postseason format.
It’s their first division title since the 2019 season, making Oliver Marmol the second consecutive Cardinals manager — and third of four under current ownership — to win the division in his first full year at the helm of the club.
Unable to catch the champion of the NL East, the Cardinals will play in the Wild Card round as the third seed in the National League, hosting a best-of-three series at Busch Stadium that’s set to begin Friday, Oct. 7.
Before the postseason could begin, there was a celebration to be unwound. It began, as these things tend to do, with Marmol giving a short speech. What most teams don’t have, however, is Albert Pujols to follow.
His was the first cork popped.
“To come back here and finish my career being in the playoffs, this is just one step, guys,” Pujols told the team. “Just remember this moment. This is what we want to do deep in October and hopefully win the championship, bring it to the city of St. Louis.”
From there, bedlam.
It was 10:14 p.m. exactly 20 minutes after the final out, when the already-drenched team realized that the black carts filled to the brim with ice and beer — Anheuser-Busch products, not Miller — had been emptied.
A cry went up for more, and of course, as so befits him, it was Lars Nootbaar who first dove behind the protective plastic covering the locker stalls and returned with drinks in hand. A loud cheer of “NOOOOT,” the same which has filled Busch Stadium and so many others on the road, greeted him from his teammates.
It was that brief break in the celebration which found Marmol, a wide grin plastered on his face and a burning concoction pouring off his backward cap, clutching hitting coach Jeff Albert. When they disentangled, Marmol was asked when he first imagined this celebration. “The day I got the job,” he said.
Willie McGee, who once played in a World Series in Milwaukee which ended in some acclaim, took the empty carts as an opportunity to start his wide path through the clubhouse.
‘We’re not done’
With his phone in hand, there wasn’t a player, coach, or member of the support staff who didn’t have his or her face dragged next to McGee’s, smiling ear to ear, for a certainly blurry but undoubtedly precious collection of selfies.
Pujols, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright took a few for their private collection, but also had plenty of assistance to assure their night together was officially documented. Arms interlinked and broad smiles on their faces, they posed in a corner not long after Pujols had to interrupt a television interview. Molina, coming up from behind, uncorked a full stream of champagne directly into his eyes. The burn was a very minor inconvenience.
Nolan Arenado, who has unflinchingly repeated his desire for a division title throughout both of his years in St. Louis, finally found the first of his career in hand, alongside his bottle of champagne. “It’s incredible for everybody here,” Arenado said, “but we’re not done.”
He was dragged away for a photo. There were so, so many. The team’s Latin players and staff gathered for one. So did the starters. So did the members of the front office, and the coaches, and notably, José Quintana grabbed Chris Stratton, his teammate first in Pittsburgh before in St. Louis, for a shot of the two of them. Pulled from worst to first, now bound for the postseason.
“P.I.M.P.” by 50 Cent
Right around the time a long, silver-blue bottle with a rounded stopper filled with a clear liquid of indeterminate origin made its appearance, one teammate stared across the room at rookie reliever Zack Thompson, who was holding a beer that was 80% foam to the rim. “I remember my first beer,” he cracked, though it was uncertain whether he truly remembered even his first of the evening.
There weren’t always beers available. First base coach Stubby Clapp instead had clutched in his fist a mango-flavored alcoholic seltzer, drinking anything but slowly and thrilled to have found a port in a storm. It was in the same spot that Miles Mikolas was attempting to open a bottle on a hard edge when he commented that it was time to put on some “good music.”
Fortuitously, the song switched at that moment to “P.I.M.P.” by 50 Cent, and president of baseball operations John Mozeliak came breezing by, stutter stepping and dancing to the beat as the first chorus dropped.
Focus and discipline left at the door
The players, coaches and executives all said the right things. This, in their estimation, was only a first step. There was more work to be done. With another week to play, focus and discipline must be maintained, and the team would need to enter the postseason with their heads on straight.
Focus and discipline were left at the door on Tuesday night in Milwaukee, stacked in the hallway next to the piles of clubhouse furniture neatly stacked in an attempt to avoid soaking. That mission was a success; the chairs and couches stayed dry.
They were perhaps all that did. The rest will air out overnight and be ready to go tomorrow.
The deluge was well earned.