GAME 152: Agony And Ecstasy
The Cardinals appeared competitive in the early innings today after yesterday’s anesthesia-free castration. However, Adam Wainwright unraveled in the sixth, allowing the Cubs to quickly take over the game. They came within two outs of a 4-3 loss before a Beltran homer tied the game, setting the table for extra inning drama as the Cardinals won 5-4 over the Cubs in ten innings. Just ten games remaining – can they do it?
NOT SUPERHUMAN: I really feel sorry for any starter forced to pitch with the 2012 Cardinals supporting them. There must be incredible pressure to be absolutely perfect with every pitch. Deep down, you’re forced to admit that your teammates are chronically unable to score more than three runs, while also teasing you with endless wasted scoring chances. Take Adam Wainwright today. He pitched well enough to win (how many times have we used that expression this year??), but a lack of offense and some idiotic baserunning kept the Cubs close enough to let them back in the game. Meanwhile, Matheny left Wainwright out there in a tough sixth inning during which the Cubs crushed everything he threw en route to taking the lead. Being a starter on the 2012 Cardinals must be the most thankless job in baseball.
STOP THE PRESSES: After the Cardinals received a gift run on a bases-loaded walk in the second, they actually managed to combine two consecutive hits and score an earned run. Even more surprising, it came from the Cards’ heart of the order, which has been in need of defibrillation for at least a month. Carlos Beltran singled, and he scored when Matt Holliday ripped a double. A sac fly then tacked on the Cards’ final run until the ninth.
THE BASICS: Any decent baseball player learns about baserunning fundamentals in TEE BALL. For instance, when the ball rolls to the backstop on a wild pitch, a runner on first should sprint to second. Or when there is a fly ball hit into the outfield, a runner on third should tag up and make the effort to score. Both of these plays were missed during an infuriating sixth inning for the Cardinals. Even worse, both of these runners were stranded with two outs without being advanced at all. If little kids playing baseball for free across the nation can do this, then major league ballplayers making millions of dollars should be able to as well.
STARTER PROBLEM: Statistically, the Cardinals have one of the better rotations in the National League. However, none of these guys can apparently throw seven or eight innings – they are six inning creampuffs. Is there not a MAN in this rotation that can take the ball past the sixth?? Since Matheny regularly pulls his starter after six innings, the bullpen has been getting way too much work. Given the recent problems with the bullpen (including, of course, tired arms), the short and ineffective work by the bullpen is compounding the problem.
This came back to bite the Cardinals again today. I’m sure Matheny would’ve pulled Wainwright during his sixth-inning struggles under ordinary circumstances. However Matheny, saddled with an exhausted bullpen of his own making, was forced to leave Wainwright out there to absorb the loss. A frustrating situation that really builds on itself without any days off. It really comes down to POOR PLANNING.
OZZIE: Wainwright’s sixth inning might’ve been much worse had Daniel Descalso not soared through the air and snared a liner by something called Darwin Barney. It was vintage Ozzie Smith, and possibly one of the most athletic defensive plays of the season.
SUGAR SHAME: The Cardinals attempted a comeback in the eighth. With two outs, Descalso walked and Matt Carpenter coaxed a single after a tremendous at-bat. So Matheny called on thimble-sized Shane Robinson to pinch hit with the game on the line. After taking two strikes (while mysteriously backing out of the batter’s box like he was afraid of the ball), Robinson took a third strike that was called a ball. After escaping that strikeout, Robinson (finally) swung the bat, waving uselessly at a very low-and-outside pitch for the final out. Oh, and that glorious strikeout was the TENTH by the Cardinals (and a total of 12 altogether). GROSS.
LAST MINUTE SAVE: With one out in the ninth and the Cardinals facing Cubs closer Carlos Marmol (with 19 straight saves) while down by a run, Carlos Beltran finally decided to alter the course of this season by slapping his 30th home run to tie the game. The jubilation of the moment was short-lived, however, and may have ultimately done more damage in the end …
ONE BAD TWIST: With two outs and a runner on third in the ninth, Yadier Molina came to the plate with a chance to take the lead. But Marmol unleashed a fastball directly at Yadi’s groin, forcing El Capitan to twist out of the way. He instantly crumpled to the ground in pain while grabbing his left side. This is the area of the oblique, an important muscle in the torso that often takes six weeks to heal when injured. Fortunately, a later examination revealed that Yadi had lower back spasms.
It’s safe to say that any serious injury to Molina is a killer blow to the Cardinals’ chances in the wild card race and the postseason. Molina is the most indispensable player in the majors. The Cardinals were already attempting to go forward with Pete Kozma filling in for Rafael Furcal, but there really isn’t a replacement for Yadi. And without him, the Cardinals are significantly poorer. Hopefully Yadi can recover quickly in these final days of the season.
MATHENYISM: How’s this for brilliant: Following Beltran’s homer, Holliday walked. Matheny then took him out in favor of Adron Chambers! Yeah, I get it – Chambers was to steal second and get into scoring position for our two most-consistent RBI producers (Allen Craig and Molina). However, Chambers (who hadn’t ever managed to steal a base in the majors before today) had a minor-league stolen base percentage of 62%, while Holliday has a career percentage of 74%! Plus, the move took Holliday’s bat out of the lineup in case of extra innings! MAGIC MIKE DOES IT AGAIN!
OUT OF THE WAY JAY: Jon Jay seemingly has three hits this month, but all of them have been extremely important. With runners on first and second, Jay slashed a double down the first base line (after going a terrible 0-5 before that) to score the go-ahead run. I’ll take one big hit over four pointless ones any day.
A LITTLE REST: After a short breather (one game), Jason Motte found himself on the mound to save the game in the tenth inning. And boy, he was breathing fire! A snappy, no-nonsense frame full of 98 mph fastballs produced his league-leading 39th save, a tremendous achievement for a pitcher who was fighting for TLR’s respect at this time last year.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Jay, not only for his game-winner, but also his game saving catch earlier in the game against Barney.
CONCLUSION: They aren’t dead yet. With the win, the Cardinals returned to 2.5 games ahead of the Brewers in the wild card race. Despite the troubles, the Cardinals proved to themselves and the world that they still have some fight left. Can they hang on? Just ten more games remain in order to find out!