One shot. That's all Randy Winn wants. One chance to play baseball in the chill of October, when the games take on increased importance, when every at-bat and every pitch seem more magnified.
Winn turned 36 in June, a dicey age for a veteran outfielder with October on his mind. Winn came into this season having played 1,601 regular season games over 12 productive seasons but has never reached the playoffs, baseball's serious season. It is the longest October dry spell for any current player.
"I've been in the chase," he said. "Will this be the year the streak ends? I'll answer that in October."
Winn played for Tampa Bay from 1998-2002 and finished in last place every season because that was before the Rays turned things around and became a postseason participant for the first time. He got to Seattle in 2003, two years after the Mariners won a record-tying 116 games.
"We were eight games up at the break," he said. They finished in second place. He reached San Francisco in 2005, two years after the Giants played in the World Series.
Clearly, his timing has been off.
He thought he had solved the puzzle by signing in the offseason with the defending world champion New Yankees. It seemed like a sure ticket to October. But it turned out not to be. New York cut him in May. Not to worry. He hooked on with the Cardinals, a perennial playoff team. Will this be his safety net, his ticket to his first postseason?
"There are no guarantees," he said. "I've learned that. There are no guarantees at all."
He accepts the October drought for what it is. "I don't know about frustrating," he said. "I realize it takes an amount of good fortune to make it even once. And then there's Derek [Jeter], who's been there every year but one."
Those are the fruits of playing for the Yankees during the team's most recent dynasty.
"You go to Spring Training every year," Wynn said. "You play a 162-game season. You need a lot of luck and a lot of things going your way. Play enough good baseball, and you might make it. Believe me, I realize how tough it is.
"The game is so unpredictable. You can never get too comfortable. You can't say, 'We played well last year or last week so we'll play well this year or this week.' Last year doesn't matter. Last week doesn't matter. What matters is every game, all 162 of them. It's almost like every one of them is life and death. Every game matters. Every game is important. Then you add it all up at the end and see where you are."
Winn goes about his business in a professional manner, equipped with a .285 career batting average. In his first six weeks with St. Louis, he had nine extra-base hits including two home runs, nine RBIs and four steals in a part-time role. He has contributed clutch hits as the Cardinals battled the Reds at the top of the National League Central.
"He's done a really nice job since he got here," manager Tony La Russa said. "He's been a tough out and had some clutch hits."
Winn thought he had abilities that would fit in nicely with the Cardinals' needs. He's a switch hitter who plays all three outfield spots. He is comfortable coming off the bench. He can be a useful piece for a team in the chase.
And the chase, of course, is what it's all about.
For a dozen years, Winn has watched postseason baseball from a distance. "I don't watch full games," he said. "I'll watch an inning here, an inning there, get up then go back. You play this long, you want to be in the playoffs at least once. It's a big deal. I'm tired of watching on TV."
Maybe this will be the year he won't have to spend his October that way.
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.