Adron Chambers

How Adron Chambers’ first MLB hit pulled the 2011 Cardinals within 3 1/2 games of the wild card

With less than two weeks remaining in the 2011 season, every game was crucial as the Cardinals sought to catch the Braves in the National League wild-card race.

Entering their September 16 game against the NL East-leading Phillies, the Cardinals had won six of their last seven games and cut Atlanta’s wild-card lead to 4 ½ games with just 13 remaining in the season. As St. Louis fought for its playoff lives, Philadelphia prepared to celebrate its fifth consecutive NL East Division title, placing sheets of plastic over the players’ lockers while the game was played to protect them from a postgame champagne celebration.[1]

With the Mets’ 12-2 win over the Braves that evening in Atlanta, the Phillies needed just one more win to clinch the title. Thanks to two recent roster call-ups, however, the Phillies’ celebration was forced to wait another day.

In their quest to close the gap on the wild-card leading Braves, the Cardinals started 24-year-old left-hander Jaime Garcia, who had won his last two starts to enter the contest with a 12-7 record and 3.68 ERA. Philadelphia, which had scored just 11 runs in its last six games, answered with rookie right-hander Vance Worley, who was 11-2 with a 2.92 ERA through 116 innings.

Though Worley was in the midst of a successful rookie campaign, he walked three batters in the second inning, including Rafael Furcal with the bases loaded to bring in the game’s first run.

In the Phillies’ half of the second, former Cardinal Placido Polanco hit a one-out double and John Mayberry followed with a double down the left-field line that tied the game.

From there, Garcia and Worley exchanged zeros. Worley left the game after six innings and 105 pitches, having allowed just one run on six hits. His only three walks came in the second inning, and he finished with five strikeouts.

Garcia lasted seven innings, scattering five hits and two walks while striking out four. His day was done after 104 pitches.

“Sometimes you go out there and you’re trying to win for yourself personally. To me, this year and last year my thing is to win for the team,” Garcia said. “I went out there and gave us a chance.”[2]

Yadier Molina hit his 13th home run of the season in the eighth inning, a solo shot off Phillies southpaw Antonio Bastardo that glanced off the left-field foul pole. With a 2-1 lead, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa called on relief pitcher Marc Rzepczynski, whom the Cardinals acquired in July as part of the trade that sent Colby Rasmus to the Blue Jays.

La Russa also sought to improve the defense behind Rzepczynski. Ryan Theriot, who pinch-hit for Jon Jay in the Cardinals’ half of the eighth, took over at second base. Daniel Descalso moved to third base, Shane Robinson took over at center field, and Corey Patterson, who came to St. Louis in the same trade as Rzepczynski, took over in right field.

Rzepczynski got the first two outs of the eighth before Octavio Dotel took over with Shane Victorino on second. Dotel, a 37-year-old veteran in his 13th major-league season, struck out Hunter Pence to hold the Cardinals’ lead heading into the ninth inning.

Phillies reliever Brad Lidge worked around two Cardinal singles in the ninth, getting Nick Punto to ground out to first base to end the inning. With a one-run lead, the Cardinals called on their newly minted closer, Jason Motte. Originally drafted as a catcher, Motte converted to pitching in 2006 and made his major-league debut in 2008. Just a few weeks earlier, La Russa began turning to Motte in save situations, and the 29-year-old already had seven saves to go with a 1.56 ERA.

Motte retired the first two batters of the inning, but Lafayette High School graduate Ryan Howard, pinch-hitting for left fielder Ben Francisco, doubled into the right-field corner. One batter later, with pinch-runner Michael Martinez at second base, Carlos Ruiz hit a deep fly ball to right field. Patterson got under it but the ball popped out of his glove, allowing Martinez to score the tying run.

“A lot of guys may not get to that ball, but for me, I’ve got to catch that ball,” Patterson said. “I just dropped it. I may have gotten to it a little quicker than I thought.”[3]

Phillies reliever Ryan Madson held the Cardinals scoreless in the 10th, and the Cardinals’ Kyle McClellan returned the favor in the bottom of the inning. Finally, in the 11th, the Cardinals’ offense struck against Michael Schwimer, a 6-foot-8 rookie right-hander from Virginia.

Furcal led off the inning with a double down the right-field line. Patterson laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance Furcal to third, and Schwimer intentionally walked Albert Pujols.

That brought rookie Adron Chambers to the plate. The speedy outfielder had been a two-sport star at Pensacola High School, playing well enough to earn a football scholarship at Mississippi State University before the Cardinals drafted him in 2007.

Just 10 days earlier, the Cardinals called Chambers up from Triple-A Memphis to make his major-league debut. Since then, he had served primarily as a pinch-runner and late-inning defensive replacement. Now, he was getting his second major-league at-bat in a tie, extra-inning ballgame with runners at first and third.

Despite his inexperience, Chambers proved ready for the moment, pulling the ball down the right-field line to score Furcal and give the Cardinals a 3-2 lead. It was his first major-league hit.

“I got a hit, an RBI, and a win all at the same time,” Chambers said. “I’m just trying to take it all in. These guys are congratulating me and making me feel good. Hopefully, if the situation comes up again, I can produce again.”[4]

The next batter, Tyler Greene, had spent the first couple months of the season in the majors, but was sent to Memphis in June with a .198 major-league batting average. He briefly returned for two games in late July, but had only rejoined the club with the September call-ups.

Like Chambers, however, Greene proved an unlikely star of the game. His double off the top of the left-field wall scored Pujols to give the Cardinals a 4-2 lead. It was Greene’s first major-league at-bat since July 30 and his first hit since June 17.

Heading into the bottom of the 11th, the Cardinals handed the ball to Fernando Salas. The 26-year-old rookie had been the closer prior to Motte’s emergence and entered the game with 23 saves. He had no difficulty in earning save No. 24, working around a one-out single by Polanco to close out the crucial win and move the Cardinals within 3 ½ games of the wild card.

“It’s not great math,” admitted Cardinals outfielder Lance Berkman, “but it’s not insurmountable either.”[5]

Pujols reached base six times with four singles and two walks. Furcal, Berkman, and Molina added two hits apiece. McLellan earned the win after his scoreless inning of work.

“Mathematically, we’re still in it,” said third baseman David Freese. “We have that ‘We’re coming’ mentality. We just have to keep that going.”[6]

The Cardinals would do exactly that. While the Phillies won the next day’s game to clinch the NL East title, the Cardinals won their next two meetings to begin what proved to become an eight-game Phillies losing streak.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals won eight of their final 12 games, passing the Braves on the final day of the regular season to earn a playoff berth. The Cardinals went on to beat the Phillies in a five-game NLDS en route to the 11th World Series championship in franchise history.

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[1] Ray Parrillo, “Close, but … Phillies fall to Cardinals in 11,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 17, 2011.

[2] Joe Strauss, “Cards Reprieved,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 18, 2011.

[3] Joe Strauss, “Cards Reprieved,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 18, 2011.

[4] Joe Strauss, “Cards Reprieved,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 18, 2011.

[5] Joe Strauss, “Cards Reprieved,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 18, 2011.

[6] Joe Strauss, “Cards Reprieved,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 18, 2011.

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