The St. Louis Cardinals are in their third World Series in the last eight years. That's impressive; no other team in baseball has been in that many Fall Classics in that span.
Here's a tale of two regular season games that literally turned on one pitch.
On June 5 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, the Cubs took a 2-0 lead off Chris Carpenter in the fourth inning. Carlos Zambrano gave up a run to the Cardinals in the sixth, but both teams' bullpens held the other squad in check until the ninth, when Marmol came in for a save opportunity with that 2-1 lead.
Marmol, who was dominant in 2010 -- he struck out 41.5% of all batters he faced that year -- had been somewhat shaky in the early going in 2011. But on that June day, he gave up a single to Yadier Molina (who was then replaced by pinch runner Tony Cruz) and then struck out Daniel Descalso and Colby Rasmus.
That put Marmol's former teammate Ryan Theriot between Marmol and victory. Marmol threw Theriot two fastballs, which he fouled off. One strike to victory.
And then Marmol decided to get cute. He threw a slider out of the zone and a changeup out of the zone.
It was almost a no-brainer. Every Cubs fan knew it from watching Theriot for years -- throw him a fastball up, and he would likely have struck out. Instead, Marmol threw another slider; Theriot laced it into the left field corner, tying the game. In the 10th inning, Albert Pujols won the game for the Cardinals with a walkoff homer off Rodrigo Lopez, the second straight game Pujols had won in that fashion.
And once again, the Cubs took a one-run lead into the bottom of the ninth, having scored a run in the first inning. Lopez started for the Cubs and gave them six scoreless innings; Kyle Lohse and three St. Louis relievers allowed the Cubs just one run.
In came Marmol to save it; between June and September he'd been temporarily removed as Cubs closer, and had nine blown saves coming into the game, leading the major leagues in that category.
A one-out single by Matt Holliday put the tying run on base; Tyler Greene ran for him and stole second. A throwing error by Geovany Soto put Greene on third while David Freese was batting. Marmol put himself and the Cubs within one out of victory by striking Freese out.
And then Marmol completely lost command. He issued three straight walks, tying the game. Two of the walks were on 3-2 pitches, both times putting the Cubs again one strike from a win, as they had been in the June game.
With the bases still loaded, Rafael Furcal came to the plate. He didn't have a chance to win the game; Marmol's second pitch to Furcal bounced in the dirt, away from Soto, and pinch-runner Adron Chambers raced home with the winning run.
Two games, both winnable for the Cubs, both essentially given to the Cardinals by Carlos Marmol. If Marmol does what most closers do and puts those games away, the Cardinals are sitting home this October and the Braves are in the playoffs.
So maybe St. Louis thinks about sending a partial playoff share to Marmol. Or a small replica of the World Series trophy, if they win. Or at least a "Thank you" greeting card. The moral of the story is that games and seasons can easily turn on one at-bat or even one pitch. The Cardinals have had a fine season and have played well in October.
But if not for two memorable Carlos Marmol meltdowns, there might not have been October baseball in St. Louis at all.