You know, the Cards-Cubs rivalry tends to get all of the press around these here parts, but I much prefer the rivalry with the Astros.
Over the weekend, we saw again a prime example of why this is one of the truly great, and truly underappreciated, rivalries in all of baseball. You put Houston and St. Louis on the field, and no matter what time of the year it is, no matter where the teams stand relative to each other and the division, you have Instant October. I suppose the rivalry between the Cubs and Cardinals may very well get back to being a truly great one, if the little bears' success proves to be less fleeting than that of 2003, but for now, I'll take Cards-'Stros any day.
It's been building for a while, since a time even before the ''co-champions'' banner, years before Albert silenced Minute Maid on a magical October evening, long, long before Brandon Backe decided he didn't like time-out being called when he was in his wind-up. These two teams have been the preeminent franchises in the NL Central virtually since its inception, with only the Cubs slipping in to really mount much of a challenge. They won the division title in 2003 and again last year; outside of those two years, either the Cardinals or Astros have sat atop the division every year this millennium.
What's strange about this rivalry, at least to me, is how I feel about the Astros. I love it when the Cubs are bad; I occasionally daydream about that decrepit museum they call a stadium just falling into a giant sinkhole. I despise Cincinnati, for reasons I'm not completely sure I understand. I used to like the Brewers, until they got good enough to be a real threat. Now I hate them too.
Houston, though, I don't hate. I don't even wish for them to be bad. I actually like it when the 'Stros are good, because it usually indicates great baseball to be played in the autumn. I'm not sure why, but I find myself hoping the Astros will find some way to get into the playoffs, just so we can see another series played between Busch Stadium and that ridiculous amusement park they have in Houston.
See? That's a perfect example. I make fun of their park, but I've seen a couple of games there, and the atmosphere is great. I love it every time the Cards go there, even though I'll rant and rave about how stupid those box seats out in left field are. Hell, I even sort of like the train, mostly because I can point to it and say, ''See, now that's the sort of gimmick that would never fly here in St. Louis.''
I suppose that every hero needs a villain; otherwise, what is he fighting against? For me, the Astros are the villain. I suppose I do hate them, in a certain way, but there's nothing so satisfying to me as seeing both them and my Cardinals playing in October, with each team's season hanging in the balance. It's a little like the later Mega Man games, when they tried to move away from Dr. Wiley being the villain. Somehow, it just wasn't the same. That's the Astros.
I love you, but I must kill you, and all that.
I suppose all that I really mean is I love it when these two teams play, and this weekend was pretty much perfect. The Cardinals won the series, the benches cleared, sparks flew. Thank you, Houston. That was just what I was hoping for.