Cardinals celebrate their 2011 title team

September 18th, 2021

ST. LOUIS -- There stood members of the 2011 Cardinals, back in town for the 10-year reunion of their improbable World Series championship run. They went from August afterthoughts to September contenders, and then from Wild Card ticket-holders to the apex of the baseball world.

When delivered the ceremonial first pitch to ahead of the Cardinals’ game Saturday night against the Padres (alongside throwing to ), watching in appreciation stood the 2021 Cardinals. The organization and city itself hope the ceremony precedes history repeating itself.

As in, turning a late-season revival into some hardware.

“It’s almost like looking into the mirror at this [year’s] team,” said , a second baseman on the 2011 squad.

Punto spoke outside a ballroom across from Busch Stadium on Saturday morning, where more than 30 members of the 2011 roster shared breakfast and memories from their championship run. Some hair has been lost, and other has turned gray. Kids have been born and grown older. Golf competitions (like one among , , and Freese outside St. Louis on Friday) have been spirited.

But nothing compares to being able to turn to one another, seeing old teammates and having the memories of 2011, both well-known and personal, wash over them.

“The thing that made the team special, besides winning the championship, is the guys that we had and the relationships that you foster during the course of that,” said former right fielder . “… It's kind of like picking right up where we left off, like being back in the clubhouse 10 years later.”

The 2011 Cardinals were 10 1/2 games out of a playoff spot as late as Aug. 24. But with some help from foes -- including a late-season collapse by the Braves (which they had a hand in by sweeping them) -- they snuck in as the National League’s Wild Card team.

With their pedigree -- , Berkman, , Carpenter, manager Tony La Russa and others – the 2011 Cardinals believed they just needed a ticket to the dance. When they got it, they didn’t look back.

“A group like we had gets hot, anything can happen,” said Freese, the hometown hero whose Game 6 walk-off homer was memorialized as a giveaway bobblehead on Saturday. “ … It's just a special group. We weren't scared, and we wanted it.”

The 2021 Cardinals were at a better spot on Aug. 24, 4 1/2 games back in the Wild Card chase. But just like the team of yesteryear, as those around them faltered, especially the Reds and the Padres (which they’ve had a hand in forcing), these Cardinals stand in position to will themselves into the postseason. With their talent -- perennial MVP candidates and countless Gold Gloves -- they believe they just need a ticket to the dance.

The 2011 team has taken notice.

“That's with anyone, it’s with this team that we have going on today, right there -- they're getting hot at the right time,” Carpenter said. “We knew that if we snuck in, with the ability that we had, we had a chance. And we were able to sneak in.”

Members of the 2011 team have taken especially keen notice in a select few members of this 2021 squad. Though was injured during the ’11 season, he was a key presence, making it his role to be a spiritual leader not just come the postseason but down the stretch in September.

Both Wainwright and , veteran presences in 2011, are just the same in 2021. It was a little different for , who was a rookie callup 10 years ago but did not make the postseason roster. Wainwright and Molina got the chance to show off in front of their old teammates on Saturday, making their 303rd start together, in a pivotal September game.

“I haven't watched a lot of the games,” Descalso said, “but every time Waino pitches, I check to see how he does.”

Wainwright and Molina know what it’s like to be in the situation they found themselves in on Saturday night. Ten years ago, they were around a team that knew it had the potential but struggled to find consistency until it mattered most. Ten years later, with the 2011 team in town, they hope to be part of the club’s 12th championship.