IN THE CHAMPAGNE HUMIDITY OF THE VISITORS' CLUBHOUSE at Miller Park, while their teammates doused one another in the aftermath of a four games to two NLCS victory over the Brewers, seven key Cardinals were about to have their photo snapped with the Warren C. Giles Trophy when they realized someone was missing. "O.D.!" they called to Octavio Dotel. "O.D.! Get over here!"
The Cardinals' bullpen was determined to celebrate communally, befitting its performance in the series, during which it transformed from a cobbled-together group of castoffs and retreads into the club's saviors. St. Louis became the first team to win a playoff series without having a starter pitch past the fifth inning. As the rotation struggled in its combined 24 1/3 innings, with an ERA of 7.03, the relievers came through with a 1.88 ERA over 28 2/3 innings. The Brewers hit just .155 against them.
While the Cardinals' offense was prolific—it averaged more than seven runs a game—even hitters such as David Freese, who batted .545 with three home runs and nine RBIs in the series, knew where credit was due. "If I could chop that thing up," said Freese of his NLCS MVP trophy, "and give it to the bullpen, I would."
"It's a freaky, weird postseason," said manager Tony La Russa. "It's very weird to be successful when your starters don't do what they usually do." La Russa had learned that he was in for an unusual series in the fifth inning of Game 1. His starter, Jaime Garcia, had a 5--2 lead but allowed a leadoff single to Corey Hart and a double to Jerry Hairston Jr. La Russa had Dotel warming up, but he left Garcia in to face Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, the Brewers' heart-of-the-order MVP candidates. On the first pitch Braun saw, he laced a two-run double. On Garcia's next pitch Fielder hit the hardest-struck home run of the season—it was measured at 119.2 miles per hour. The Cards trailed 6--5 and would not recover. Garcia, his manager would say, "was really good, and then three pitches—bam, bam, bam."
La Russa would not again be so hesitant to employ his hook. He made an NLCS-record 28 pitching changes, and nearly all of them worked. He used seven pitchers in a 12--3 blowout victory in Game 2, five each in wins in Games 3 and 5, and six as the Cardinals pounded the Brewers 12--6 in Milwaukee in the clincher. La Russa's final call to the pen led to the 99-mph fastball from closer Jason Motte that struck out Mark Kotsay to end the series.
In the victorious clubhouse the relievers allowed themselves to boast about their success against the Brewers, who had beaten the Cardinals in the NL Central by six games and rankled opponents with their exuberant style, including the Beast Mode symbol they flashed whenever they accomplished something.
"They don't do that today. What happened?" Dotel asked.
"They go on vacation," said shortstop Rafael Furcal.
"Beast Mode go on vacation!" crowed Dotel. The Cardinals, meanwhile, were going to their 18th World Series.