It’s only fitting that this series went to a Game 5 since these two teams have basically been playing one all season long.
The St. Louis Cardinals have had many rivals over the years. Some have been friendly but uncompetitive (see Chicago Cubs.) Some have been quite competitive and largely unfriendly (see Cincinnati Reds.)
For years, games at Busch Stadium against the Pittsburgh Pirates were hard to give away tickets to, but that’s not the case anymore.
After two decades of mediocre performance, the Pirates have come alive with a vengeance and Cardinals fans are taking notice.
Including the postseason, the Pirates have visited Busch Stadium 12 times. Those games include five sellouts topping 45,000 and no single game below 40,000.
While the Cardinals-Cubs series is still a bigger draw, that’s a serious statement as to how fans value this newly budding rivalry.
Sure, the Cardinals and Cubs is one of baseball’s historic matchups. It’s fun, but there hasn’t been serious competition between the two teams for several years now.
That may change in a couple of years as Theo Epstein and company continue trying to make the Cubs competitive, but for now you can take it at face value.
Through Game 4 of the 2013 NLDS, the Cardinals are 11-12 against the Pirates. They’ve been back and forth all year.
So far, the postseason has been more of the same.
It’s been more than just 2013. Below are the Cardinals record vs. the Pirates back to 2008.
2013: 9-10 (excluding the postseason)
As time has gone on, these two teams understand what this rivalry means, but in October they made clear, they are only concerned with success.
Is it only fitting that this season comes down to a single game between these two teams?
“Well, I don't think it's the way either of us had it pictured in our mind, but surprised, no,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said prior to NLDS Game 5. “We talked about that early on. We knew there were going to be some close games and we knew that everybody out here would be fighting till the end.”
That’s the way this matchup has been all season—neck and neck.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle also said that they have treated their games against the Cardinals in the postseason just like they did during the regular season. He also thinks this level of competition is helping to make the Pirates a better team.
“We are gaining so much experience on so many different levels,” Hurdle said. “We are becoming tougher. We are becoming—these are lessons that will be put in play for years after this for these men as well. So, I like the way they're showing up with a business mindset about going about it.”
Despite that, he said the Pirates are staying loose and keeping it fun during the games.
Plenty of people, Cardinals fans included, joked all year about when the Pirates would slip back into their losing ways. This year that didn’t happen.
I also wouldn’t look for it to happen any time in the near future.
For now, enjoy the new rivalry. It may not have brawls or a long history, but it’s definitely met its excitement quota.
These two teams mean business, and there’s reason to believe that won’t be changing any time soon.
All quotes obtained firsthand by the author.
Statistics current through Oct. 9, 2013 from Baseball Reference.