Can Cardinals Pull Through Season of Sorrow?

St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa tries writing out his lineup card, but his eyes wander to the newspaper clippings spread across his desk. The longer he reads, the more he feels the fury building inside.

"You can only swim upstream so long, right?" La Russa says. "You do that long enough, you get fatigued, and you g—damn drown. This whole season has been relentless. It has been a series of body blows. This club keeps getting back up and fighting. Now, we have to do it again."

The defending World Series-champion Cardinals, enduring a season of sorrow, tragedy and heartbreak to become contenders again, must deal with the latest to shake the team.

St. Louis right fielder Rick Ankiel, who energized an organization weary from calamity, was identified last week by the New York Daily News as the latest athlete associated with a Florida pharmacy distributing human growth hormone (HGH).

That story follows a driving while intoxicated charge against La Russa in the spring, the death of reliever Josh Hancock, injuries ending the season of six players and another player leaving the club to deal with substance abuse.

"I've never in my life seen anything like this," Cardinals pitcher Brad Thompson says. "It's something every week. And everything that has happened has been to impact guys on this team. It's crazy.

"They say everything happens for a reason, but we have no idea why this is happening to us."

Yet, refusing to succumb to the season of horrors, the Cardinals entered Monday just three games out of first place in the National League Central. They continue to endure injuries, with MVP hopeful Albert Pujols battling a strained hamstring and catcher Yadier Molina having knee woes. They have just four starting pitchers, using a bullpen by committee Sunday against Arizona and scheduled to do the same this week in Cincinnati.

They're finishing the season with 35 games in 34 days. If there are no postponements, it will be the longest stretch without an off-day to end a season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

But who's complaining? They're alive and scaring the daylights out of the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers, vowing to make this a season they'll forever remember.

"If we ever stopped to feel sorry for ourselves, we'd be 15 games out," says starter Adam Wainwright, 6-3 with a 2.48 earned-run average since the All-Star break, 13-10 overall. "We've been through everything you could possibly go through, and we're still in it. We have tremendous heart in here."

It's hard to fathom this is the same team that opened the season losing 25 of 41 games, sitting 10 games out of first place on May 21 and fearing the worst might be ahead.

"We were in danger of embarrassing ourselves," La Russa says. "We were getting our a—— kicked the first six weeks. The way we were playing, we felt we could end up being 15, 20 games under (.500). We lost some atrocious games. …We had to stay together, and we did. You never saw anybody pointing fingers. …

"Every team in spring training says, 'If we get to September with a chance to win, we'll take it.' Well, we got a chance, and now we want to be greedy. It's going to come down to whether we're good enough, not whether we care enough. That's all you can ask."

Unlucky streak

The Cardinals, a close-knit team with a stellar bullpen, say it's their togetherness and sheer will that have kept them afloat during their tumultuous times.

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