* How a trade, a number change, and Babe Ruth ruined the St. Louis Cardinals season.
For the second straight season, the St. Louis Cardinals made it to the National League Championship series, with a chance to win another World Series title. In the end, the Cardinals lost to San Francisco Giants in five games, thanks to an improbable San Francisco hero in Travis Ishikawa. Had the Cardinals reached the World Series, they would have lost anyways, thanks to John Lackey cursing the team.
Lackey was traded from the Boston Red Sox to the Cardinals for his postseason experience on July 31, for starting pitcher Joe Kelly and first baseman/outfielder Allen Craig, and then shortly after, made a trade of his own.
In the first-half of the 2014 MLB season, one of the feel-good stories of the year was the unpredictable season Pat Neshek was putting together for the Cardinals. While fielding contract offers to see if anybody in the MLB even wanted the reliever’s service, a week before Spring Training, Neshek found his new team, the Cardinals. The catch, however: Neshek signed a minimum, one-year, $1 million Minor League contract with an invite to Spring Training as a non-roster player. The thought of Neshek, 34, even making the Cardinals roster was an afterthought for most.
Neshek, indeed did make the Cardinals roster and pitched his way onto his first All-Star Game roster, in his home state of Minneapolis at the stadium of the team that originally drafted him, the Minnesota Twins. His numbers backed up his incredible story as well.
Pat Neshek First-Half Stats
43 Games, 38.1 Innings Pitched, 4–0, 0.70 ERA, 17 Hits, 1 Home Run, .131 oppBA, 0.574 WHIP
The Lackey trade was a surprise not so much that he was traded from the Red Sox during their massive overhaul, but who he was traded for. Craig, was easily having the worst year of his career, batting just .237/.291/.346 with just seven home runs, but he was coming off his first All-Star Game appearance last season, in which he finished 18th in MVP voting after being the best hitter in baseball with runners in scoring position.
Kelly, 26, was just 2–2 with a 4.37 ERA at the time of the trade, but like Craig, he produced his breakout season in 2013. He compiled a 10–5 record as a starter and reliever with just a 2.69 ERA, and was of course a part of one of the greatest staredowns in baseball history with Scott Van Slyke of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
John Lackey Red Sox Stats
21 Games, 137.1 Innings Pitched, 11–7, 3.60 ERA, .262 oppBA, 1.257 WHIP
Lackey has also worn No. 41 his whole career except for 2010, when he wore No. 40. The only problem: When he showed up to St. Louis, Neshek was wearing Lackey’s usual number on his road to the All-Star Game. So, how did Lackey convince Neshek, who was having the greater season of the two, to hand over his jersey number? A Babe Ruth autographed baseball, of course!
And just like that, Babe Ruth woke up on the sidewalk of “Halos,” the hottest bar in heaven, and spit a wad of tobacco down to Busch Stadium and started his curse of the Cardinals.
But, how you might ask? I mean, c’mon the Cardinals did take advantage of the Milwaukee Brewers’ epic collapse to win the NL Central, so there’s no way the Cards were cursed. Might have you forgotten that the Sultan of Swat had just drunkenly opened his eyes when he cast his curse? Let’s take a look at the stats after Lackey arrived and Neshek changed to good ol’ No. 37.
Pat Neshek Second-Half Stats
20 Games, 29 Innings Pitched, 3–2, 3.41 ERA, 27 Hits, 3 Home Runs, .245 oppBA, 1.069 WHIP
Uh, oh Neshek was Mr. Perfect no more in the second half. He lost two games after a perfect first-half record, gave up 10 more hits in nine less innings, two more home runs, and both his opponents batting average and WHIP increased. The Babe’s beer-soaked, week-old chaw still has life!
John Lackey Cardinals Stats
10 Games, 60.2 Innings Pitched, 3–3, 4.30 ERA, 69 Hits, .271 oppBA, 1.385 WHIP
The curser begins to get cursed! HA! Lackey’s ERA climbed over four, his record was worsened, and both his opponents batting average and WHIP increased as well. Despite the curse beginning to kick in for Lackey and Neshek, the Cardinals went on to win the NL Central and continue their season into the postseason once again, and both performed admirably enough to win the NLDS. So, where the hell is this curse?
According to my sources — Myself — after Ruth won the hot dog eating contest at “Halos” by scarfing down 71 dogs, the Colossus of Clout bought the whole bar pitchers of beer all night forgetting that playoff baseball was even being played.
As the NLCS began, Ruth woke up to a swift kick to the nose from his lady of the night for his wake up call, and the curse jumped back into his mind. The Babe scooped out his wad of tobacco, spread it across his dirty underwear, and let it slowly fly down onto the Cardinals’ team plane.
Lackey started Game 3 of the series, the first in San Francisco, and Ruth’s favorite kale-eating buddy, Hunter Pence, used that dirty pair of underwear to his advantage, knocking a double to right field to give the Giants a 1–0 lead in the first inning. Then, came the eventual hero, Ishikawa, who hammered a bases-clearing double, the farthest Ruth would ever run if the ball stayed in the yard, and made the lead 4–0 in favor of the home team.
Ruth slept right past his alarm clock during his daily nap, letting St. Louis tie the game at four runs apiece, but his inner clock woke him up during the 10th inning just in time to take a swig from his flask and sprinkle the curse on Randy Choate’s left arm for his disgraceful white chin hair, making his throw on a Gregor Blanco bunt sail into right field, allowing Brandon Crawford to score the game winning run.
Going into Game 5 of the series, Neshek was perfect. He hadn’t given up a run in three appearances, spanning three innings. Then, he met Michael Morse.
With the Giants down 3–2 in the bottom of the eighth inning, St. Louis manager Mike Matheny, turned to Mr. Reliable. On the opposite side, San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy, called upon Michael Morse to pinch hit and on the third pitch of the at-bat, Ruth walked into the street alongside “Halos” with his old bat that he has to carry around everywhere he decides to go. The Great Bambino stops traffic, and takes a ripping swing through the air and throws his hands up as he imagines the crack of the ball off the bat. As he jogs around the bases he pictures in the street, Ruth looks down and then, WHACK! Morse hammers a ball over the left-field wall, tying the game, 3–3.
The rest is history. Ishikawa wins the game, and the Giants advance to their third World Series in five years. Lackey received a measly uniform number, while Neshek got a baseball that is probably worth more than his whole contract for the season, and the St. Louis Cardinals are obviously cursed until Stan Musial’s great-great-great-grandson hits three home runs in Game 7 of the NLCS versus the San Francisco Giants on planet Jupiter.
So, who won the Lackey-Neshek exchange? There can only be one winner and it is… the Giants. Too soon? Good luck with the curse St. Louis. The Babe gives his condolences from “Halos.”