All That Matters Is What Happens Next

Jeff Roberson/AP Photo

Seventeen games?

In a row?

Without losing? Seventeen? In the big leagues?

Are you kidding me?

It’s almost unbelievable when you sit back and think about it. Seems like it’d be impossible. And as a player, someone who was right in the middle of it all, I gotta tell you … one of the best things about that streak was something that didn’t even take place on the field. Something that, in the grand scheme of things, is actually bigger than a bunch of W’s checked off on a schedule. 

I think the best way to put it is: If you’re a ballplayer, there’s simply nothing like pulling on that Cardinals jersey and going out and doing something special for the people of St. Louis.

Someone who’s never been to a game here when our team is really humming, or guys in the league who’ve never played for the Cardinals? They wouldn’t understand. They just wouldn’t. And I don’t hold it against them. I don’t blame them for hearing talk about how special this city’s bond with the Cardinals is, or reading this article, and being like, “Yeah, yeah, blah, blah, blah, whatever.” Because … how could they know?

It’s not their fault.

But let me try to make it as clear as I can. As somebody who is fortunate enough to suit up for this franchise and play in front of these fans … I really do believe that adds up to the ultimate honor in the game. And then, when you have success, and you’re going full steam and get on a roll and basically almost become one with the fans, for my money … there’s just nothing that can compare.

The fact that me and my teammates can bring joy — real, legit joy — to the lives of people in this city? I value and appreciate that so much. I hold that sacred.

So, to go on this run with my teammates over the past few weeks, and then to see and hear from our fans about how happy we’ve made them? That’s been truly special.

It’s something I’ll never forget. 

If you’re a ballplayer, there’s simply nothing like pulling on that Cardinals jersey and going out and doing something special for the people of St. Louis.

Harrison Bader

But, at the same time, with all that being said, let’s be real about something right now: As awesome as these past few weeks have been, as fun as they’ve been, as unforgettable … those games, all those wins, they don’t really matter at this point.

What matters is how this team shows up and performs right now, in these playoffs. How we play when everything is on the line.

What matters is what happens next.

Harrison Bader | St. Louis Cardinals | The Players' Tribune
Jeff Dean/AP Photo

For me, as a player, the streak … it’s history.

It’s over.

That run we went on is just one chapter in the overall story of our season.

It’s no secret that, for much of the year, things didn’t go as we would’ve hoped. And, early on, a lot of us … it seemed like we let it get to us. We got frustrated. It was something our manager, Mike Shildt, noticed. Something we had to work through, both as individuals and as a team.

The guys in our clubhouse have accomplished a ton over the years. And as players, we all take that history, those expectations, into every single game. So when you feel like you’re underperforming — based on the version of the player you’ve been in the past — when you feel like you’re letting your teammates down, letting the city down, it weighs on you.

Speaking for myself, being on the IL early, and then struggling to get things going with the bat after coming back, and then scuffling again in August with overthinking everything and getting too mechanical … it’s definitely been tough at times. 

I think the biggest thing for me was just to ask myself on a daily basis what my team needed from me. It was like: If I’m not hitting right now, then screw it. I’m gonna go make a diving catch, or I’m gonna get dirty out there. I’ll do anything I can to help.

And it seems like, as the season progressed, a lot of guys were doing something similar. I think that was a big reason why we went on our run. In some ways we all kind of took the pressure off ourselves as individuals. And when you displace that pressure and shed the weight of feeling like you have to do it on your own, you free yourself up. You become more intentional, more team-oriented, more dangerous.

Even as late as mid-July, we were still like three or four games under .500. But I think we all just eventually hit a point where it was almost like: I don’t care about my stats. I’m going to find a way to do at least one thing well for this team today to help us win. And when you have 26 guys with that mentality, winning gets contagious because it becomes all about how we fit into the puzzle together.

That’s when things start to really get fun.

I don’t care about my stats. I’m going to find a way to do at least one thing well for this team today to help us win.

Harrison Bader

Over this last stretch, I’ve definitely seen guys embracing that fun — the joy that goes along with playing as a team and seeing the results pay off again and again.  

You see it, of course, with guys like DeJong and Knizner. And me? I started talking even more s*** to my guys during the streak — getting on dudes for mismatching their clothes, or busting on teammates about a rough haircut. But I feel like that fun factor … it’s been even more evident in someone like Goldy.

That guy — I mean, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been around him for three seasons now, and I truly do idolize him as a teammate. He’s an amazing baseball player, an amazing athlete. But I’ve never seen that guy smile more than he has this past month. I’ve never seen him laugh more or make more jokes.

And then he locks in like crazy at game time.

In a lot of ways, it’s just emblematic of where we all are right now. And it’s something we can continue to build on.   

Everyone is taking the pressure off themselves, and that enabled us to come up big at the exact right moment.

Harrison Bader | St. Louis Cardinals | The Players’ Tribune
Kamil Krzaczynski/USA Today Sports

This October, we just have to carry that vibe over into the playoffs and show that we truly belong among the best teams in baseball.

It’s up to us to make that happen in this moment.

The teams we’re going to play won’t care about that winning streak. They’re not going to somehow be scared or play worse against us because we won a bunch of games last month. That streak isn’t going to make any difference to our opponents.

All that’s going to matter is how we perform.

If we pitch well, and play defense, and we hit, then we’ll win. And if we don’t, then….

We’ll have to pack up our s***.

That streak isn’t going to make any difference to our opponents.

Harrison Bader

At the end of the day, it really is that simple.

Thankfully, we’ve got an entire clubhouse of guys who are not really keen on packing up their s*** just yet.

Starting with two absolute legends.

Adam Wainwright | Yadier Molina | Harrison Bader | St. Louis Cardinals | The Players’ Tribune
Taka Yanagimoto/St. Louis Cardinals/Getty Images

You knew I couldn’t wrap up an article like this without gushing about Waino and Yadi, right? I mean, come on now.

The leadership qualities present in those two guys are off the charts, and if we make a run here in the playoffs those two are going to be a big reason why.

Waino, throughout the whole season, that guy has been just as solid and as dependable as ever. He’s the model, man. If you’re a pitcher — any pitcher … starter, middle reliever, closer, whatever — he’s the guy. He’s done it all, and he’s had success in every role possible. Now, 16 years into his career, he is no doubt the spine of our pitching staff. He’s the spine of the most important part of our team.

Dude is 40 years old, or whatever it is, and still doing it at a very high level every time he takes the mound. That conviction, that mind-set, it’s contagious. The presence that he provides is absolutely crucial to our team.

And it’s the same deal with Yadi.

I mean, you want to talk about presence? Yadier Molina exudes presence.

That’s the calmest, coolest cat I’ve ever met. And as athletes, as competitors, everyone on this team benefits from that. I’ve learned so much just by listening to and watching Yadi. He knows how much energy and how much focus it takes to win a World Series, and he’s just such a good example of somebody who applies every single ounce of his energy toward the task at hand every day. He never gets rattled, always stays cool.

And with both him and Waino, even aside from ball, you’re just talking about great people — both Roberto Clemente Award winners. So believe me when I say that I have never for one second taken for granted a good morning from Yadi or a hug from Waino after a big win. My level of respect for those guys can’t even be put into words.

I trust them completely, and I would never bet against them leading this team to the pinnacle of our profession.

Harrison Bader | St. Louis Cardinals | The Players’ Tribune
Kareem Elgazzar/The Cincinnati Enquirer

Now it’s just gonna come down to our resolve — this team’s ability to follow the lead those guys set and lock in and get it done out on the field.

There’s nothing magical to what’s about to happen.

All that stuff about: “This is meant to be. It’s fate. We’re destined to win!”

That’s all bulls*** if you ask me.

That’s a fantasy. It’s not real.

What’s real — what counts — is what we actually do. What we prove, both to our opponents and to ourselves.

There’s nothing magical to what’s about to happen.

Harrison Bader

I believe that this team deserves to go deep into the playoffs, that we belong. And that we can play with anyone right now.

I truly believe that if this team — top to bottom, all 26 of us — if we just play ball, and do our thing, and keep it simple, we’re going to win the World Series.

That belief only goes so far, though.

If we don't go out there and do it, starting right away with this wild-card game, then we actually don’t belong.

There’s no margin for error here. 

It’s show up for real or ... pack up your s***.


But when you have all of St. Louis behind you — pulling for you like crazy, showing the love and support that our fans are known for — this team, all of us in that clubhouse, we can feel unstoppable sometimes.

And you know what? This just feels like one of those times to me. 

Harrison Bader | St. Louis Cardinals | The Players' Tribune