CHICAGO -- The ball off Rafael Ortega’s bat took one hop into Paul Goldschmidt’s Gold Glove. He fired home to Yadier Molina’s, who fired it into Nolan Arenado’s for the first out. Quickly and instinctually, Harrison Bader entered the fray from center field while T.J. McFarland, the pitcher, was “spinning around in circles.” Bader found Paul DeJong, who turned the second out to end the rundown and the eighth inning.
A cacophony of limbs, directions shouted into the wind and powder blue jerseys had descended upon second base to result in one poetic image: All nine Cardinals on the infield dirt as an out-of-body double play was turned for a perfect encapsulation of the accomplishment it helped solidify.
These 2021 Cardinals, with a come-from-behind 8-5 victory over the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Saturday afternoon, own the longest win streak in the storied franchise’s history. They passed the legendary Gashouse Gang’s mark of 14 consecutive wins set 86 years ago in 1935. And in doing so, they have catapulted from fringe postseason contenders to a team firmly entrenched in the second National League Wild Card spot, their magic number trimmed to three with seven games remaining.
“It's an incredible feeling. It’s a complete elation of knowing every time we come to the field that we’re going to win,” McFarland said. “It’s that confidence -- I don’t want to say arrogance -- but it’s almost that motivation every time we come to the field, we’re expecting to win, and we’re rising to the occasion when we need to.”
“It's hard to do something in this organization that has never been done,” added manager Mike Shildt. “For this group to be able to do something nobody's done, and what I love about it, it speaks to the team aspect of it. It’s a team.”
The Cardinals have been wary of leaning too far into the novelty of their accomplishment, fully aware that their mindset has to stay pointed forward. The hole they dug themselves this season -- from injuries, sloppy play and heartbreaking losses -- hasn’t allowed them to operate under an air of confidence like the one they possess now.
A week ago, when the organization celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the 2011 World Series winners -- a talented club that underperformed and went from peripheral postseason contenders to start September to champions -- members of that team highlighted an absolute affirmation that any day they arrived at the ballpark, they had the chutzpah to win.
They did not, as remarkable as their season was, win 15 games in a row. No one in Cardinals history can say they have, either, other than the 28 on Sunday’s active roster -- and the others who have come and gone along the way.
“We're not going to sit back and pump the brakes in terms of, ‘All right, we won this many in a row, we’re not going to continue winning,’” McFarland said. “Every day's a new day. Tomorrow, we're going to show up and just try to win the day.”
In Shildt’s words, the manner in which the wins have come has involved the entire lineup. Bader, who said he never practiced swarming into the infield dirt, had the first four-hit game of his career and became one of just seven Cardinals with that many hits, one homer and two stolen bases in a game. His slide over the glove of Rowan Wick on a wild-pitch strikeout in the ninth was the spark-plug nature he has strived to provide this club. DeJong, the starter at shortstop again with Edmundo Sosa on the shelf, hammered a homer in his second consecutive game one at-bat after Bader scored. He also laced a go-ahead sac fly in the seventh, part of a three-run rally for a lead the Cardinals would not relinquish.
The Cardinals gave Jon Lester, a winner of three World Series rings, cushion to fight through his start -- during which he was paid a visit from the trainer on the mound -- and feel confident when he left that the loss he was in line for would not hold.
The Cardinals are inventing ways to win. More important, they are winning, running wild with their destiny after they got themselves back in the postseason race.
“It all works in concert,” Shildt said. “That's the reason we do everything that we do and the guys work as hard as they work, is so if you don't know what's going to take place in the game. … Nothing is too small.”
There’s a swagger about these Cardinals, one that allowed Tyler O’Neill to watch in awe, hat in hand and hand on hips, from the shortstop position as the eighth-inning double play was turned. It gave Bader the chance to strain his vocal chords during DeJong’s home run in the ninth, with three young fans taking his example just behind the dugout.
It has given them permission to go to sleep in Chicago on Saturday night with no evidence to think they won’t extend their franchise record on Sunday.
“There's no reason as to why we can’t make it 16 tomorrow,” Bader said.