The St. Louis Cardinals barely reached the playoffs, needing both a terrific winning streak of their own as well as a historic collapse by the Atlanta Braves just to see October baseball. For all their toil and trouble, they were paired with the formidable 102-win Philadelphia Phillies in the first round. With four top-flight starting pitchers, the Phillies had been tipped as the National League champions before the season even began. Although the offense had been inconsistent, the pitching staff had led the Senior Circuit in ERA. Facing elimination and Roy Oswalt in game 4 of the NLDS, the Cardinals fell behind immediately. The Phillies took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning at Busch Stadium. But just when it looked like nothing could stave off the inevitable elimination of the home team, an unheralded champion took center stage and vanquished the mighty Phillies.
The Rally Squirrel.
Well, that's sort of how it happened.
With Skip Schumaker at bat and Oswalt on the mound during the home fifth, a fluffy-tailed squirrel ran across home plate. The Phillies' fourth ace was visibly perturbed as the encroaching rodent dashed across his sightline. The pitch he was in the midst of throwing was called a ball despite his pleas for it not be counted.
The box score from the game may suggest that Cardinals third baseman David Freese was the key player in the Redbirds' win, but fans and media have lionized the squirrel. After St. Louis pitcher Chris Carpenter tossed a shutout to win decisive fifth game back in Philly, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa was still talking about the squirrel. Based on the rambling, squirrel back story that La Russa shares with Craig Sager of TBS, it would seem that even he had spent plenty of time thinking about this critter.
Even if St. Louis fans have no idea what on earth La Russa was talking about in that interview, they have still adopted the animal as their unofficial mascot. He has been dubbed the "Rally Squirrel," and is the breakout star of the postseason -- sorry, Nelson Cruz. The Cardinals' marketing team placed the squirrel front and center when the NLCS shifted to St. Louis on Wednesday night, dubbing it "Rally Squirrel Night" at Busch Stadium and distritbuting commemorative towels to fans as they passed through the turnstiles.
To it's credit, MLB has also apparently realized that the rally squirrel is a more marketable commodity than Freese, the hitting star from the squirrelly game. The latest commercial in Major League Baseball's "Legends are Born in October" series -- the ones pairing the song "Written in the Stars" by Tinie Tempah with memorable MLB playoff moments -- features footage of the squirrel's debut. The accompanying voiceover describes the rodent's game as "One of the greatest you'll ever see," while lauding "What a series he's had thus far."
Nearly a decade after a rally monkey helped the Angels to a title, the Cardinals are hoping that another representative of the animal kingdom can help delver a World Seres crown.
Oh, and don't forget to follow the Rally Squirrel on Twitter -- 24,000 followers and counting. Seriously.
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