Cardinals-Royals has become a showdown
Rivalry dominated by St. Louis has turned into an event with KC's recent success
DENVER -- Used to be the Show Me State Series was a nice little battle for bragging rights.
It's become a Big League Showdown.
The Cardinals flew home on Wednesday night, having salvaged a victory in the final game of their three game visit to Coors Field possessing the best record in baseball (39-21), and preparing for a weekend matchup with the Royals, who have the best record in the AL after a three-game sweep in Minnesota.
And suddenly the Interleague matchup between the teams that make their homes at the opposite ends of I-70 in Missouri has a national significance.
When the Royals took two out of three from the Cardinals at Kansas City earlier this season, it was easily the most significant matchup between the two teams since the Royals needed the full seven games to beat the Cardinals in the 1985 World Series.
There is no way to say a regular-season series has postseason significance, but all of a sudden a regular-season series between the Cardinals and Royals has postseason implications for the Royals, as well as the Cardinals.
The participants can feel the difference.
"No question, there's more of an edge," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. "When we went to Kansas City in the past there was a good portion of red in the stands, but this year I think the folks in blue [the Royals fans] bought up a lot of seats this year. It was livelier."
Busch Stadium is filled with red-clad fans most every game, and the energy level is always high. It is why the city on the west bank of Mississippi is felt by many to be the baseball capital of the world.
Now there's going to be some blue-clad folks who will elbow their way into the crowd, looking for home-state bragging rights and then some.
"The people in the stands tend to get excited all the time," said Matheny, "but now you have two first-place teams."
It's pretty much a way of life for the Cardinals and their fans.
In the first 18 years of divisional play, the Cardinals have had 15 winning seasons, and in the last 15 years they have had a losing record only once, advancing to the postseason four times, including winning four National League pennants and two World Series.
Well last year, when they earned their way into the postseason with an American League Wild Card spot, they ended a 29-year drought dating back to their 1985 World Championship that came at the expense of the Cardinals.
They are coming off back-to-back winning seasons, but they have had a winning record only one other time (2003) since Interleague play was introduced.
How bad was it? Well, since 2003 the Royals have had a winning record when they played the Cardinals only once -- 21-20 in the first series between the two teams in 2009. By the time they met a second time that year the Royals had stumbled to 29-37.
The Royals have won the season series against the Cardinals in just six of the 18 previous seasons of Interleague play and are 36-47 all-time in regular-season play against St. Louis.
It doesn't mean Cardinals fans will ever forgive umpire Don Denkinger for his missed call at first base in the eighth inning of the Royals come-from-behind victory in Game 6 of that 1985 World Series. The prefer to blame that for the Cardinals failure that postseason, rather than the Darrell Porter passed ball and Jack Clark misplay of a routine popup that followed the Denkinger call or the Joaquin Andjuar/John Tudor meltdowns in Game 7.
It does, however, underscore how much the Cardinals have dominated the Interleague competition.
It emphasizes why the fans of both teams have a bit more rooting interest this year in the Interleague games than in the past.
"It is always fun to know the other team is going to be in the game the whole time," said John Mabry, the former Cardinals player turned coach. "It brings out the best in both teams. You know nothing is being given to you. You have to earn it."
And the players feel it.
"It's the competitive nature," said Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter. "We embrace the series. It's good for baseball."
It creates an October moment in June.