ST. LOUIS -- The 19 regular-season games between these two National League Central foes began amidst April showers, continued on into a summer series in which the Cardinals knocked the Pirates around a bit, and then moved into September, when the tables turned.
And now St. Louis and Pittsburgh are meeting in a decisive Game 5 of the NL Division Series, scheduled for 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday at Busch Stadium and on TBS, with companion coverage live on Postseason.TV.
Of course the Cards and Bucs have gone the distance. This series was practically destined to go that far from the moment it started, a tossup just like the regular-season series and the division race that went down to the final week.
These two teams have been duking it out for six months now, delivering wallops to each other on the scoreboard at times, but going toe-to-toe in the standings along the way, always knowing that the other had something else in store and aware that nothing was quite settled between them.
Until now, that is. It's down to one win-or-go-home contest.
"It will be our Game No. 168," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "It will also be now the 24th time we've played the Cardinals. We've played them close. It has been a very respectful challenge series."
Indeed, what has emerged is a new rivalry in the NL Central -- new only because the Bucs have elevated themselves to where the Cards have been for years, among the elite teams in the NL. While both teams have had their issues with this year's third wheel in baseball's tightest division race -- the Reds -- the Cardinals and Pirates have something cooking that's closer to friendly than bitter.
Then again, friendly goes out the window a bit in October, doesn't it?
"I'm not sure I'd go 'friendly,' as much as, I think, mutual respect," Cards manager Mike Matheny said. "We respect the talent that they have, the way they go about the game. They fight until the end, just like the kind of baseball we want to play."
This one is going right down to the end. It's a matchup that was tight in terms of wins and losses in the regular season, the Bucs winning 10 of the 19 meetings. And while both sides posted lopsided victories -- 14 of the 19 regular-season games were decided by four runs or more -- they wound up two runs apart: Cardinals 87, Pirates 85.
Those trends continued into the first postseason meeting between two of the original NL clubs, each team winning big in St. Louis before a couple of tight games in Pittsburgh resulted in one win for each.
So through 23 games, the Bucs have 12 wins and the Cards have 11. On the scoreboard, including this NLDS, it's St. Louis 102, Pittsburgh 99.
More important than all of that, it's 2-2 with one more to play.
As Game 5 approaches, familiarity might not have bred contempt, but it certainly has created the potential for a chess match, both sides knowing plenty about the other, especially having spent the past week playing on the same October playground together.
Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright, who has been through many a postseason battle over the last seven years since he arrived on the scene in 2006, understandably plays it close to his chest this time of year, not wanting to tip off the Pirates to any adjustments he might have in store for them on Wednesday.
"Well, listening to Andrew McCutchen talk, he said they're going to be ready for me, so I'll make sure I'm ready for them, too," Wainwright said Tuesday. "You know, I'm going to go out there and not try to do too much. I will have a good game plan, I'll be very prepared, and if they make me get off of that game plan, then I'll adjust in the game."
Wainwright's teammates, meanwhile, will have to make an adjustment to Gerrit Cole, the Bucs' rookie starter who turned in a dominant performance in Game 2 at Busch Stadium. In a series with so much familiarity, that was the first time the Cardinals had seen the 2011 No. 1 overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft, and the Cards' hitters are now a little more educated about facing the young right-hander.
"It helps," said Matt Holliday. "Obviously, he's got that kind of stuff, so it doesn't necessarily make it easy. But at least you've seen his pitches. At least we've had some at-bats off him now. You know what his fastball looks like. You know what his slider looks like."
Cole might be a rookie, but he knows that baseball is a game of adjustments on both sides of the ball.
"They have seen me now a few days ago, but at the same time, I've seen them," he said. "So it's just going to come down to executing a handful of pitches, and, you know, being able to hit the spot or execute the pitch when I need to."
This Cardinals team has a history of success in elimination games, especially in St. Louis, although Monday's win in Pittsburgh certainly qualifies, too.
This Pirates team staved off the ghosts of the previous two Septembers to reach the postseason for the first time since 1992, then took the NL Wild Card Game against the Reds and flipped this series on its ear with a Game 2 victory at Busch Stadium.
It's Game 5. Something has to give.
"The game is going to be out there for somebody to win it," Hurdle said. "You've got to make plays. You've got to execute pitches. You've got to have quality at bats. And every once in a while, something completely apart from that could happen. You don't know whether it [could] be a rundown.
"That's what makes it so exciting, I believe."
Cardinals: Holliday breaks out
For once, it wasn't Carlos Beltran delivering the fireworks from the plate for the Cards in Game 4. It was the only other veteran in the lineup -- Holliday.
Holliday's two-run homer proved to be the difference in the game that sent the series back to St. Louis, as he sent a shot deep to center field after the Pirates walked Beltran for the second straight time. Whether or not they were pitching around the postseason star to get to him, Holliday didn't know, and didn't really care.
"I don't take that personally or anything," Holliday said. "I'm glad Carlos was on base."
For Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, it was a moment for one of his few veteran position players to come through and get his due.
"I've always thought he's one of the more talented hitters in the game," Mozeliak said of Holliday. "To see how consistent he's performed over the years, we're ... grateful to have him. To see him do something like this today, it's special, and he's deserving."
Pirates: Struggles at top continue
All year long, Starling Marte and Neil Walker set the table for the rest of the Bucs' lineup. But so far in this series, they've been unable to get anything going.
Marte went 0-for-4 in Game 4 and is now 1-for-15 in the series. Walker drew a base on balls in the ninth before being stranded with the final out, and he stands at 0-for-16 in the series.
"We would like to get a little better action up top," Hurdle said. "These guys are trying, they're working. The pitching has been challenging for them. They're gaining valuable playoff experience. ... We've just got to keep grinding -- they have to get in there and keep trying. Both are capable."
• Pedro Alvarez became the first Pirates hitter to record an RBI in his first five postseason games with his solo homer in Game 4.
• The Cards hit a homer in each of the two NLDS games in Pittsburgh after hitting zero there in 10 regular-season games.
• St. Louis is now 28-14 in Division Series games. The Cardinals have won eight of the 10 Division Series they have played.
• The Bucs are seeking their first postseason series victory since the 1979 World Series, having lost in the NLCS three times from 1990-92.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.