I recently wrote a melancholy essay for The Paris Review's blog in which I discussed the ways that, for this St. Louis son, the 2012 baseball season has felt like a pale encore to last year. The magic that defined 2011 was gone, I wrote, and whatever happens in this postseason won't live up to the Cardinals' incredible run to the World Series title, in part because that title coincided with a remarkable string of happiness in my own life (senior year of college, youth and beauty, etc). In all sorts of ways, the fall of 2012 has felt like a diminished season.
A sentence from that essay: "Sport, like life, retains an inalienable ability to surprise."
On Friday night, the Cardinals showed me all the ways in which my essay failed to heed that observation. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Bernie Miklasz wrote, last Friday "felt chilled and charmed, just like the enchanted autumn of 2011." The Cardinals dug out from under a six-run deficit. The Nationals had them down to their final strike twice, and twice the Cardinals stretched the season out for at least another batter until rookie Pete Kozma hit a two-run single, lifting the Cardinals into the NLCS.
More than one friend texted me to joke that I'd have to revise my essay now, and I laughed and eagerly said that I'd be happy to do so. After publishing the piece, I worried that it had been too gloomy. What I wrote about my life was true, but it was only one kind of truth, one that excluded many possibilities for joy. If my life in St. Louis occasionally feels disappointing in light of last year's hopes for embarking on a literary life in a coastal city, it's also an incredible gift, every day a chance to experience the vulnerability of teaching, a chance to spend time with the teachers and friends and family I missed so often in college, a chance to enjoy some of the neighborliness that may truly be in greater supply in the Midwest.
The Cardinals' win refreshed everything for me, helped me to see all the ways in which this year, I'm exactly where I want to be. It was a joke at my expense that I badly needed. I went over to my old friend Andrew's house for the game, listening to the Nationals shell Wainwright in the first inning as I drove, resigned to the grim probability that Andrew and I and our friend Tim would probably be gathering to watch the end of the Cardinals' season, swept aside at the hand of a young and brash Washington team that was hungry for a victory in a way we in St. Louis, still glutted on last year's magic, weren't. The Nationals' third inning made defeat a near-certainty, as they added three runs that widened their lead to six runs, a chasm in October baseball. My essay was feeling prophetic.
And yet, though I really didn't believe we'd come back—the magic was gone, after all—something prompted me to respond to a despairing text from my dad with the words "Keep the faith." The Cardinals scored a run, and then another. Tim left to go to a wedding party, leaving Andrew and I to guard our hope cautiously as a corona of the old magic began to gather around the game, a delicate flame that threatened to blow out if we sought too much warmth from it. And then, stunningly, the Cardinals won the game with a four-run ninth inning, leaving us jumping and high fiving and yelling.
It's possible that Friday was a fluke, a final flare-up of last year's we-can-do-no-wrong mojo. A World Series title would be nice, and while I'm hopeful, I don't need a championship to certify what happened Friday night, the rare joy of being proven wrong, of watching my city's team flout probability yet again. I wasn't in Philadelphia, I wasn't with my old friend Matt, and the future was as big a question mark as ever. But I was with my old friend Andrew, and I was home, and the Cardinals had won. I called Matt, who happened to have scrounged standing room only tickets to the game, and we spoke briefly about how incredible the game had been. "I'm definitely thinking of you, man," I said, and Matt concurred, and then I told him to go celebrate, and that's what we did.