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On The Cardinals: '09 Cardinals season faded to black

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 10, 2009 - Well, that's that.

The season is over, folks.

While not picked to do much in 2009, the St. Louis Cardinals waited until the National League Division Series to live up to the preseason billing.

Out-pitched, out-hit and out-smarted by the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Redbirds will now spend the winter wondering how they were swept 3-0 by a team they dominated during the regular season.

A team that was fundamentally sound for six months unraveled before our very eyes when it counted the most. Matt Holliday's traumatic error in Game Two set the stage for Saturday night's season finale. But in reality, the lackluster performance began in September after the Cardinals had secured the NL Central title. They've stunk for three weeks, in reality.

The Cards hoped to flip the switch to “on” when the playoffs began. Unfortunately, the bulb had burned out.

With the exception of Adam Wainwright, pretty much everyone else on the team can share blame. The unfortunate point man for criticism is the skipper.

Manager Tony La Russa didn't have any answers this time. In fact, his team played tighter than a clock spring.

It failed to hit in the clutch. It failed to close innings once there were two outs. It ran the bases like maniacs.

In fact, any chance the Cards had in this series were erased by Colby Rasmus and Yadier Molina being thrown out at third base in the second and third games of the series, respectively. Forget the ridiculous number of men stranded in scoring position. Men running the bases crazy was even more costly.

As the Cards sat somber in their morose clubhouse, the champagne flowed in the Dodgers.' Manager Joe Torre gathered his coaches together and they had a quiet toast before returning to the revelry.

It had to be a satisfying moment for Torre who was run out of town to make room for La Russa.

Anheuser-Busch had pretty much abandoned the Cardinals while Torre was at the helm before announcing it would sell the team.

Yet he figured out a way to at least compete for a division title. He fell short before things fell apart for him in the mid-'90s.

New ownership took over, and La Russa was given much more to work with than his predecessor.

The Cardinals became contenders as Torre became unemployed.

But the New York Yankees called and Torre answered their prayers. Torre led a mini-dynasty during the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Meanwhile in St. Louis, the Redbirds also became a power and reached the World Series in 2004 and then won the crown in 2006.

If the Yankees had not blown a 3-0 lead in the American League Championship Series in 2004, Torre and La Russa would have squared off. Instead, the Red Sox did the unthinkable and came back from that 3-0 deficit. They then bopped the hapless Cardinals in four games.

Five years later, Torre got his shot at the team he once played for and then managed. He whipped his former employer.

It wasn't even close.

On paper the better team lost.

On the field, the Dodgers were the better team.

Torre was by far the better manager during this first week of October.

I've always enjoyed the offseason in baseball because more than any other sport, it defines who will be what the following year.

As the Dodgers prepared for the NLCS, the Cards are already deciding what to offer free agents Mark DeRosa and Holliday. The team must decide if Ryan Franklin is its closer in 2010.

And, most important, La Russa must decide whether he wants to comeback next year - and the front office must decide if it wants him back.

It will indeed be a winter of discontent.

Alvin A. Reid is editor of the St. Louis Argus and a weekend host on the new ESPN 101.1 FM. His weekly Major League Baseball - St. Louis Cardinals column, which is now published on The Beacon website, was honored by the Missouri Press Association as Best Sports Column in 2004 and 1999. He is co-author of the book, "Whitey's Boys: A Celebration of the 1982 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals" and was a member of the inaugural staff of USA TODAY Baseball Weekly.