GAME 133: They Just Won’t Go Away
This damned team continues to baffle and confuse its loyal but dispirited fans. Just when they look like they’re ready to plant white flags in their b-holes, they crawl to their feet and give a little more. Do they really have enough to launch another September miracle? Hope, fragile and fleeting, re-emerged with an inspirational 10-9 comeback win over the surging Nationals.
WHAT WE DIDN’T NEED: Crushed by a succession of terrible starts, the Cardinals looked to their most consistent starter for redemption. Unfortunately, Kyle Lohse left everything up, and the Nationals hacked away at everything he threw. Within two innings, the Nationals had a 6-2 lead and it looked like the Cardinals were going to fall into another abyss. Lohse looked awful early on (and probably deserved to lose), but he hung around long enough for a rare save from the offense. Lohse needs to be much better than this down the stretch. I hope he’s not tiring out already.
PLUS DEFENSE: Lohse was undermined by some truly shitty defense in the first. With the Nationals leading 1-0 and the bases loaded, Ian Desmond launched a long fly ball to left-center. Matt Holliday strolled over to the ball and let it bounce off of his glove for a two-run error. Holliday supporters are always boosting him as a plus defender in left field, but seriously … he makes some boneheaded plays out there, and they are almost always costly ones. Skip Schumaker followed Holliday’s gaffe with an error of his own to set up a fourth Nats run. It was a stupid and unnecessary start to the game.
BACK TO LIFE: It’s been a quiet month for David Freese. He had a blistering end to July, only to suddenly go cold in August. But Freese broke out today, lacing a two-run homer, a double, and a single for three RBI in five at-bats. His two-run shot in the second – representing the first RBI’s the Cardinals scored in 40 innings – sliced the Nationals’ early lead in half, and really seemed to open the Cardinals up emotionally after four soul-deadening games. He then pushed the game-winner across in a dramatic ninth inning. Freese, who has an early reputation as a clutch hitter, needs to turn it on RIGHT NOW if this Cardinals club is going to make a September run.
REDEMPTION: Matt Holliday had just four home runs over the last 30 days. However, there have been signs that Holliday was shaking his August doldrums, batting over .300 in the last seven games. Following his grievous, run-scoring error in the first, he owed the team something. He delivered a two-run homer in the third that pulled the Cards within two runs of Washington and gave the team a bit more hope. Even better, Holliday wasn’t swinging at balls four feet outside. Can he be getting hot again?
LIL CARP: Our number one bench player has been Matt Carpenter – what a year he’s having! The little guy is hitting .307 with a shocking .493 slugging percentage. Incredible! Lost over the last two days due to a sprained ankle, Carpenter hobbled up to the plate with the bases loaded in the fourth, and stroked a bases-clearing double to finally – FINALLY – give the Cardinals their first lead in a week. The lead would prove precarious thanks to Lohse, but, for the moment, Lil’ Carp was the hero. Love that guy!
BUNTING: It’s a known fact that Matheny loves to bunt. It’s just too bad that his team has no idea how to bunt properly. I’d imagine that they fail 90% of the time. Even worse, they most often fail at bunting by popping the ball up for an out. This happened yet again with Lohse at the plate, which short-circuited a rally. It’s baffling. Can we please work on this a few times in September?
RZEPSHITTY: I’ve had enough of pug-nosed left-handed relief “specialist” Marc Rzepczynski coming in against a left-handed batter and walking them. This is probably the single most inexcusable thing I’ve seen repeatedly this season. A left-handed specialist has just one function on a baseball team – get lefties out – and Zeppo walking them is absolutely infuriating. Still, it leads me to this …
SLOW LEARNING CURVE: Mike Matheny appears to be learning a few lessons. He pulled Lohse in the sixth after he surrendered a home run and a double, something he wouldn’t have done in May. Later in the inning, Matheny correctly pulled Zeppo after he walked lefty Bryce Harper. Perhaps Matheny will be a full-fledged manager by the time we get eliminated from the playoffs.
SUPERMAN: Bryce Harper plays the game hard. He’s a little sparkplug, and I wish he was on our team. He showed by he’s so valuable in the sixth. After being given a gift walk from Rzepczynski, he found himself on second when Ryan Zimmerman stroked a single into right field. Harper rounded third and barreled home to draw an errant throw from Descalso. Harper slid under the tag for the go-ahead ninth run, and knocked a bruised Molina over in the process. Harper is an awesome player, and I’ll be glad when we don’t need to face him anymore.
BEST OF THE MUJICANS: Edward Mujica continued his resurgent work out of the bullpen with a perfect seventh inning, his 14th straight scoreless inning. The rest of the bullpen watched in confusion, asking, “Are we not supposed to give up runs?” Of course, Mujica was assisted by a twisting, diving catch into deep center by Jon Jay, saving a double to end the inning.
REST DOES HIM GOOD: Carlos Beltran has been struggling since the All Star Break, batting just over .200 with an OBP around .250 as well. It’s a testament to his first half that Beltran remains among the league leaders. Matheny wisely gave Beltran the day off to collect his thoughts, but needed his big bat off the bench with Sugar Shane Robinson on second and one out in the eighth. Beltran delivered (after a few bad swings), stroking a clean single to center to score the speedy Robinson and tie the game. It was one of Beltran’s biggest hits in the second half – can it rejuvenate him for the final month?
DRAMA TIME: Allen Craig began the ninth inning with another single (does this guy EVER stop hitting?). With one out and David Freese at the plate, Craig stole second on Drew Storen to get into scoring position. This was critical, as Freese then lined a single just over third baseman Zimmerman to score Craig with the winning run. Talk about a gut check!
SHAME: Where are the Nats fans?? Their stadium was half-empty despite the hometown boys playing electric, league-leading baseball. How pathetic!
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Freese!!!
GOAT OF THE GAME: Fucking Rzepczynski!!
CONCLUSION: With the team reeling and their playoff hopes falling away, something needed to happen to wake this team up. Can this be the turning point, the moment when the Cardinals realized they can still claw their way to victory? It happened like that around this time last year, and this is, for the most part, a better team. Despite all of the obvious talent, they really needed to look within themselves and find out if they still believed. If this game is any indication, they do. Let’s see where they go from here.