The Rally Squirrel strikes again.
In last year's National League Division Series, a squirrel ran between Phillies pitcher Roy Oswalt and Cardinals batter Skip Schumaker at a key moment, and the Wild Card Redbirds were on their way to an 11th World Series title. The Cardinals even added a squirrel mascot to make it official.
In the 2012 NLDS, Washington won the first game at St. Louis on Sunday. The next day, Paul Layton and daughter Alexa of Brentwood, Mo., were on the center-field concourse at Busch Stadium as Game 2 was about to begin, and they were randomly chosen to be contestants for episode 21 of the hit new MLB.com game show, "Bucks on the Pond." Both fans held a Rally Squirrel puppet on a hand as they proceeded to answer trivia questions.
The Cardinals proceeded to pound the Nationals immediately after that taping, evening the series at 1-1, before continuing to pour it on Wednesday with an 8-0 Game 3 rout as the NLDS shifted to Washington. The first "Bucks" show ever taped at Busch was released on Thursday, and you can watch the Laytons as their squirrel "cousins" chest-bump each other on correct answers throughout the show ... and decide for yourself whether the Rally Squirrel just did it again in 2012.
"We were here last year," the elder Layton said. "The squirrel runs across home plate, we thought that was awesome. Right away we got a squirrel puppet, and put some clothes on him, went to town and had a blast -- at least 500 high-fives for the squirrel last year."
"Bucks on the Pond" is hosted by Jeremy Brisiel, and you might be a part of it when you least expect it. Fans at the ballpark interact with MLB.com's studio through the magic of technology in conjunction with game action inside. In creating a new experience for fans, MLB.com is giving people a chance to earn bucks while they spend bucks at the ballpark.
Contestants are asked a trivia question -- general knowledge and baseball -- on each pitch during a half-inning of baseball. Get the question correct and win money. Get the question wrong and it's a strike. Three strikes and you're out.
The questions' difficulty and value increase with the number of outs in the on-field action: $5 easy questions to start, $10 medium-difficulty questions after one out, $20 hard questions after two outs. If the contestant lasts longer than the team's at-bat, they win the bucks in their bank.
When interviewed immediately after they taped the show, father and daughter were asked if they were enjoying having the postseason back in St. Louis.
"We loved it, although yesterday was rough," said Layton, an engineering manager at Emerson Electric/White-Rodgers. "We've got to bounce back."
And did they ever, which is why we are talking Rally Squirrels again.
One of the questions asked what animal ham comes from, and when Alexa responded correctly with "pig," J.B. asked if they were sure it doesn't come from a squirrel.
"Uh, no it's definitely from a pig," Paul said. "No, don't eat the squirrel."
"You can't," Alexa added, "you just can't do that."
The Laytons have been to plenty of Cardinals games, including "the wonderful Game 6" of the last World Series, where Texas twice was a strike away from clinching. Now the pair is back.
"I love it, actually," said Alexa, an eighth grader "and a baby-sitter." She added: "It's a good thrill. You get adrenaline rushes."
What did she think when the "Bucks" crew asked them to be on the show?
"Um, at first, I just thought it was a little survey," she said. "And then I was like, 'Yes, we won a lot of money!'"
As for how much, you'll just have to watch the show. And count the Rally Squirrel chest-bumps.
"The game show is just a blast," said Paul. "I'm so happy and grateful that MLB.com asked us to be on it."
This was the second postseason special edition of "Bucks" -- following a pair of face-painted Tigers fans who answered questions at Comerica Park before Game 2 of the ALDS against Oakland.
In addition to the Cardinals and Tigers, teams visited by the "Bucks" crew in 2012 include the Astros, Cubs, Marlins, Red Sox, Reds, Royals and Orioles, White Sox and Yankees. Bookmark MLB.com/bucks and be on the lookout for the "Bucks" crew at your ballpark.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog.