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Friday, October 4, 2013

The Magic Of October Baseball

The St. Louis Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Pirates are introduced before the start of Game 1 of baseball's National League division series on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013, in St. Louis. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

The St. Louis Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Pirates are introduced before the start of Game 1 of baseball’s National League division series on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013, in St. Louis. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

There is something special about October baseball. Maybe it’s the light of autumn casting shadows over the field during those afternoon games that open the playoffs. Like Thursday in St. Louis when my team, the Cardinals started their National League Division Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates with a 9-1 victory.

My connection to the Cardinals and post-season baseball stretches back to my parents, who used to go to Stan Musial’s steakhouse in St. Louis. It was called “Stan Musial And Biggies.” I went to my first game at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis in 1965, the season after the Cardinals beat the Yankees to win the World Series. The guy behind us spilled his beer on my grandmother. The Cardinals made it to the World Series again three years later and my dad got to go to Game One against the Detroit Tigers. The great St. Louis pitcher Bob Gibson struck out 17 Tigers hitters and the Cardinals won that game 4-nothing, but alas they lost the series in seven games.

The first playoff game I ever saw was Game Seven of the 1982 World Series between the Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers. I lived about three hours from my mom’s house near St. Louis and after I watched the Cards win Game Six, I convinced my best friend Jim Hennessey that it would be a good idea if we drove down there and went to the deciding game. My mom wasn’t that surprised to see us even though it was after midnight when we got to her house. We got some sleep and went to Busch Stadium the next morning and paid a scalper $35 for standing room tickets. That night we watched the Cards beat the Brewers 6-3 to win the title. Then we were part of the wild party that followed on the streets of St. Louis.

Three years later, the Cardinals are in the World Series again, against the Kansas City Royals. I’m on my honeymoon and watch an umpire make a terrible call that pretty much costs my team Game Six. The next day someone broke into our rental car and stole all our stuff. That was not a good October.

The Cardinals have won 11 World Series titles, most recently in 2006 and 2011. They have a chance to make it an even dozen this fall. Our hometown Boston Red Sox also have a chance to add to their total, which is seven. And as they start their 2013 playoff run I am thinking back to those incredible games I covered for WBUR in 2004, when the Sox were playing the Evil Empire, the New York Yankees.

First, there was the Saturday night massacre. On October 16, 2004, the Yankees clobbered the Sox 19-8 to take what at the time seemed like an insurmountable 3-0 lead in the American League Championship Series. I don’t think I have ever been in ballpark more dreary than Fenway Park was that night as Hideki Matsui got a hit, seemingly, every time he came to bat for the Yankees. Resignation seemed to be dripping off the fans who trudged out of the park after that game.

But then, over the course of many, many, many hours the next two nights, we were transfixed by some of the best playoff baseball anyone has ever seen. The mood changed and the rest is history.

October. It has magic in it.

Alex Ashlock is a producer for Here & Now and director of the show. He tweets @aashlock.

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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