GAME 151: Matheny’d
A miserable day in Chicago (is there any other kind?) couldn’t dampen the electricity and excitement of legendary Cardinal Chris Carpenter climbing the hill in his first start of the 2012 season. Defying expectations, Carpenter delivered a start far better than anyone could’ve imagined (even some Cardinal blogs were dismissive of his return in a pennant race!), holding the Cubs to two runs over five innings. After a few good innings from the bullpen, Fernando Salas blew a save in the ninth, and the Cubs scored a scrappy run in the eleventh as the Cardinals fell 5-4 at Wrigley. Although many will blame Salas and Kelly for the loss, Mike Matheny’s ridiculous maneuvers (playing for one run, his use of the bullpen) conspired as much as anything for this terrible day. Just eleven games left, and that wild card lead is in danger.
WARRIOR: Today’s start was far from vintage Carpenter. He managed just one strikeout through five innings (a stat that usually indicates a bad start for him), and several balls were hit hard into the wet, chilly Chicago air that might’ve been more trouble under different conditions. I also noticed quite a few pitches sailed high, as if Carp couldn’t pull the ball down with enough force. However, given the fact that Carpenter just had a rib removed a few weeks ago and was thought to be lost for the season, his five gutsy innings were inspirational. Based on this performance, where would Carpenter fit into this rotation? I’d say Carpenter today looked vaguely like Joe Kelly, and certainly not our best option. Still, we potentially have one huge playoff game looming on the horizon – who else would you like on the mound then?
LOSER MOVE: Matheny, STOP BUNTING WHENEVER YOU GET A RUNNER ON FIRST BASE, GODDAMIT! He did it again in the first inning after Jon Jay doubled to lead off the game. Matheny, apparently suffering a stroke at that very moment, ordered Carlos Beltran, currently the team’s home run leader and among the league leaders in RBI’s, to bunt Jay to third. This is like declaring war on a country, assembling your army at their borders, and then sending one soldier across the border at a time. Did Matheny have a fucking sex change?? GROW SOME BALLS and LET THESE PROFESSIONAL HITTERS HIT THE BASEBALL! This is especially true IN THE FIRST INNING. By bunting there, Matheny is essentially saying, “We suck, we can’t score runs, and we’re already losing this game after two at-bats.” FUCK THAT.
BRUMMERIFIC: With the score tied 2-2 in the fourth, Pete Kozma tripled to lead off the inning. Matheny, seeing an opportunity to waste three runs, decided to call a safety squeeze with Daniel Descalso batting. This strategy hasn’t worked all season, primarily because the 2012 Cardinals bunt as well as a tee ball league on Ritalin. It wouldn’t have worked here, either, except that Chris Volstad‘s high fastball bounced off of Cubs catcher Welington Castillo, allowing Kozma to score standing up. Since Descalso failed to touch the ball with his bat (despite contorting wildly), Kozma was credited with a steal of home. Officially, this was the first Cardinal steal of home since July 3, 2002, when Kerry Robinson did it.
BLAZING: Shelby Miller entered the game in the sixth in relief of Carpenter, a wise move by Matheny that could potentially cover several innings. Unfortunately, Miller had a rough inning, managing two outs while creating a precarious first-and-third situation that threatened to ruin Carpenter’s day. Matheny elected to bring in Sam Freeman, the lithe lefty with the nasty fastball, and boy was Freeman awesome! He carved up Josh Vitters for the final out. Then, Freeman pitched the seventh and had another scoreless frame. Now that Freeman has relaxed a bit, I think he’s settled into a formidable left-handed reliever who can take over for the struggling Marc Rzepczynski.
IMPOTENCE: It’s a disturbing fact that this team struggles to score runs when it fails to hit home runs. Today was another example, as the rainy weather held up several well-hit balls. Instead of bunching singles and doubles, the Cardinals continued to shoot for the ivy walls. A little bit of small ball would’ve been a better approach on a day like this one.
INTO THE GROUND: I vividly remember watching a tired Atlanta Braves bullpen, overusued during the 2011 season, collapsing late in the pennant race last year and taking the team with them. The example sticks out in my mind now as Matheny continues to mercilessly work Edward Mujica and Jason Motte like they were contract mules. Mujica made his eighth appearance in 13 games in the eighth, a dangerous amount of work for a reliever not accustomed to it. Mujica managed some luck, however, as he received a line-out double play to end a threat. Still, give the guy a break … before he breaks!
NOT SO CLOSER: Fernando Salas came into the ninth inning to save the game for Carpenter in place of Jason Motte, who was unavailable because he had pitched in five straight games (including a 5-0 win against Houston). Salas got two outs before giving up a two-strike hit to David DeJesus. No problem, right? Darwin Barney was coming up next … nothing to worry about. But Barney CRUSHED a long two-run homer to instantly tie it. DEVASTATING. But the big question: why did Matheny waste Motte in a 5-0 win, making him unavailable for later games?? A foolish move for sure. Salas not only lost the game for Carpenter, but his failure also forced a weary bullpen to handle more innings. AWFUL. Like the winds above Wrigley, the Cardinals’ luck changed in a blink.
KILLER KELLY: I have no idea how little Joe Kelly creates such incredible torque, but he was producing fastballs in the 98 mph range. He even hit 99 mph on one terrifying strike. His pitches and his demeanor virtually SCREAMED anger and frustration over the lost ninth inning, and he seemed determined to reverse the momentum with his slender right arm. Unfortunately, the Cubs managed a single in the eleventh off of Kelly, and then they played small ball (when it counts, unlike Matheny) with a sacrifice and a single to win the game.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: You kiddin’ me? It’s CARPENTER.
CONCLUSION: A horrible, rotten cherry on top of Carpenter’s inspirational performance. Mike Matheny has guided this team into a quagmire with his nonsensical bunts and overuse of the bullpen. If they win, it will be DESPITE Matheny rather than because of him.