Cardinals' playoff run cut short, Rock Hill's infamous traffic cop will retire his radar gun; and Up in the Air is good to fly

Did we just witness Swingin' Dick Ankiel's last at-bat as a Cardinal?

The decade of the 2000s is over for the Cardinals, and it was ended by the man who, for better and for worse, was the ultimate story of the decade. The decade began with Rick Ankiel a fireballing young phenom melting down on the mound in the playoffs. It ended with Rick Ankiel a deeply flawed but still talented outfielder swinging through a belt-high fastball to send the Cards home to an early offseason. It was likely the final at-bat of Ankiel's Cardinal career, and the end of one of the strangest and most fascinating chapters in Redbird history.

From a slightly less widescreen view, though, it was fitting for Rick Ankiel to make the final out of the season for other reasons, too. For all Ankiel's talent, he was ultimately undone by a lack of fundamentals and discipline, an inability to make the adjustments all ballplayers, no matter how talented, must make if they are to take that next step.

Did we just witness Swingin’ Dick Ankiel’s last at-bat as a Cardinal?
James Escher/Icon SMI
Did we just witness Swingin’ Dick Ankiel’s last at-bat as a Cardinal?

What went wrong with the Cardinals in the playoffs wasn't something completely out of the blue. It wasn't a lack of talent, but a lack of execution. We all saw it coming from a mile away, as the team struggled to score runs throughout September. Poor at-bat followed poor at-bat, with plate discipline seemingly a dirty word in the Cardinal clubhouse. On days when they strung together a bunch of hits, they scored runs. Most days, though, they didn't. It got to the point where Tony La Russa, ordinarily one to bemoan a lack of aggressiveness in his lineup, began instead to worry about the lack of patience. Even so, the team proved incapable of making any adjustments. As a team the Cardinals amassed 1,061 at-bats in the month of September, and they struck out 219 times. There's nothing wrong with striking out in and of itself, of course; a strikeout is just an out, after all. But to whiff more than 20 percent of the time as a team — that's a bit worrisome. There's an awful lot of contact not being made in there.

Also a bit like Rick Ankiel, the Cardinals were largely done in by the failure of their magic beans. Ryan Franklin and Joel Piñeiro both had outstanding performances this season, and little in their past performances to indicate either could keep it up indefinitely. Franklin in particular scared the crap out of many of us (and by many of us I mean me); a pitcher who throws almost exclusively high-leverage innings has very little margin for error, and a pitcher who strikes out as few hitters as Franklin is living on the edge to begin with. At some point a few of those balls in play are going to drop in, and bad things are going to happen. It was much the same with Piñeiro. Yes, it was incredibly enjoyable to watch him impersonate Christy Mathewson for most of the summer, but there's a reason it's unheard of for a pitcher to do the job in just that particular way nowadays: It just doesn't work. Back in the days of balls that were used for weeks at a time and huge parks with irregular dimensions, allowing hitters to put absolutely everything into play wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Plus, maintaining a 70 percent-plus ground-ball rate is virtually impossible. At some point Jo-El was going to regress.

More than anything, though, the Cardinals just picked the absolute worst time of the year to go completely in the tank. For a month and a half, they looked completely unstoppable; a juggernaut to rival the 2004 team. Then everything came crashing down and reality flooded in. They weren't an offensive juggernaut that could score at will. They couldn't come back against the game's top closers every single night. No, ultimately, this Cardinal team was a group of talented ballplayers who, when the chips were down, just didn't execute.

So I say goodbye to the 2009 Cardinals, a wonderful bunch of ballplayers who came up short in the end. Fun to watch, an outstanding story and at times utterly brilliant — but ultimately lacking that last little bit to put them over the top.

As I believe I said at the beginning of this, it's fitting Rick Ankiel took the last at-bat, isn't it?
— Aaron Schafer

Speed Freak
Gentlemen, start your engines. Twenty-six years and 150,000 traffic tickets later, Rock Hill's rainmaker is hanging up his radar gun. You heard right, folks, Officer Ronald Zeigler will soon write his final speeding citation. To be more precise, you have until his shift ends at 7 p.m. on October 20 to get his autograph, which he'll only be too happy to oblige.

With Zeigler riding into the sunset — or at least to his home in Marthasville (the site of Daniel Boone's original grave) — the city's coffers may never be as full again, and most assuredly, Manchester Road will never move as gingerly again.

"He's an institution," marvels city administrator George Liyeos.

"He's the man," exclaims Mayor Julie Morgan.

"He was the highest monthly performer we ever had," boasts Rock Hill Police Chief Paul Arnett, who runs the ten-man department.

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