Trophy envy: Why the Cardinals have become the team Kansas City has learned to hate
JUN 05, 2014 10:42a ET
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Hate, the good kind, the old-fashioned kind, the powerful kind, is a layered beast. Over the last 20 years, a generation, the city of St. Louis has seen its pro sports franchises play in four World Series as well as -- even more galling to western Missouri's largest city, where football is king, queen and executioner -- two Super Bowls, winning one.
The Rams luck into Kurt Warner.
The Chiefs luck into Elvis Grbac.
Since December 1994, St. Louis NFL teams have collected six postseason victories. Kansas City's pro footballing charges have appeared in seven playoff tilts over that same span -- all of them losses, four of those defeats by seven points or less.
East side: Ricky Proehl.
West side: Lin Elliott.
So there are reasons that your typical Kansas City sports fan wants St. Louis to shove it up its toasted ravioli, thank you very much, reasons why the shock jocks on the afternoon drive radio shows here go out of their way to snarl about Yadier Molina. Not the least of which is this:
The Cardinals absolutely, completely, unapologetically own Kauffman Stadium.
They own it in every sense of the word, save for the bricks, the mortar and all the water works in between. Going into Thursday night's I-70 Series finale at 1 Royal Way, the Redbirds have beaten the hosts a stupefying 30 times in 45 tries, all-time, at The K.
In fact, of the 29 franchises the Royals have hosted since their inception in 1969, the Boys in Blue own losing records at home against just eight. And of the five clubs they've played at least 20 times over the history of the franchise, none has singularly turned away more hearts unhappily in Kansas City than the Cardinals, who boast a .667 winning percentage in the City of Fountains, tops -- by far -- of any Royals opponent. (No. 2, curiously enough, is Houston, which totes a record of 13-8 here, for a winning percentage of .619.)
Although, granted, that broken-hearts count is open to dispute, given that the stadium tends to bleed anywhere from 45 to 65 percent red -- deep red, proud red, loud red -- every time the Redbirds roll into town.
Take late Wednesday night, a 5-2 St. Louis victory in 11 innings. (Take it, please. For the love of God.)
The Royals' Lorenzo Cain singles home the tying run in the bottom of the ninth. Raucous cheers.
The Cardinals' Matt Carpenter doubles in the winning run in the 11th. Just as bonkers.
"Well," Kansas City lefty Jason Vargas, Wednesday's starter, said after the tilt, "when you're playing, you don't really notice the crowd."
Like heck you don't. Royals left fielder Alex Gordon takes an inside, coulda-called-it-either-way ball four from St. Louis reliever Trevor Rosenthal, loading the bases with no outs in the ninth. Half the stadium screams with delight; the other half screams for blood.
It's like an audience at "The Jerry Springer Show," minus the flying chairs.
They just never seem to take a hint, these Cardinals, whether it be Carpenter laser-beaming a Brett-esque 5-for-5 night at The K or ace Adam Wainwright painting little masterpieces around the strike zone: four hits allowed, two runs (both earned), two walks, eight strikeouts. They are the house guests who break the screen door, raid the ice box, smash the crockery, drive the cat to psychoanalysis and whittle your supply of potent potables down to a test tube.
Other than that, hey, sure, Mike Matheny, come back anytime, pal.
The Redbirds' skipper will return, of course, along with tens of thousands of his closest friends and acolytes. Because if a generation of trophy envy breeds contempt, well, it also breeds plenty of converts. Cardinal Nation has spread far and wide -- and far beyond Missouri -- since radio was young, a gallon of gas was a dime, and Harry Caray and his liver were still on speaking terms.
Springfield, some two-and-a-half hours to the south, is home to the Redbirds' Class AA farm team, giving the red swarm a foothold in the northern Ozarks and another launch point for the annual crimson invasion. And just because it veers toward the insufferable and the condescending -- the Royals are to Cardinal fans what Wichita State's Shockers are to Jayhawk fans, more or less -- doesn't make the turnout any less impressive.
"I did see a lot of red shirts in the stands," Royals manager Ned Yost observed Wednesday, "but I think it was a good atmosphere."
A little hate never hurt anybody. Especially at the gate.