GAME 158: Bad Moon Rising
With an ominous full moon hovering above Busch Stadium, Kyle Lohse pitched one of his most imbalanced games this season when it really mattered. A disastrous first inning, coupled with yet another late-igniting offense and another extra-inning failure from the bullpen, led to a 6-4 loss to the Nationals. With four games remaining, the Cards saw their lead dwindle in the wild card race. Let’s not bring up what happened last year, okay? Blinders on, everybody!
BIG MOUTHS: I was already frustrated prior to the game by comments by several Cardinals after last night’s 12-2 tromping of the Nationals. Several Cardinal players expressed how their lineup is “dangerous,” one that no team would want to face in the playoffs. Guys, it’s nice to be confident, but perhaps you should save the bravado for some imaginary time when you actually string together a few games featuring solid offense. No team in baseball fears what an opposing team looks like ON PAPER. A team can look good and sound confident, but until the production backs up the bluster, it makes the tough talk sound ridiculous.
SALAMI: In his last start of the regular season – one of this biggest starts of the year – Lohse crapped all over the first inning in an uncharacteristic 2012 meltdown. A single, a double, and a walk loaded the bases for Michael Morse, who drilled a grand slam over the right-center field fence. And when I say over, I mean just barely over. Originally ruled a double, the umpires correctly reversed it to a home run after reviewing film (why can’t we have this happen more often?). Bizarrely, the umpires made everyone return to their original positions. Morse then pretended to swing, and everyone rounded the bases again as Lohse was forced to stand there and watch the fiasco. Nothing like rubbing it in!
TURNAROUND: Despite the rough first inning, Lohse quickly found his Cy Young-like form for the next five innings. He struck out a season-high nine batters (including a strikeout of the side in the fifth. If there were any questions about the Cardinals’ intentions to pitch Lohse in the crucial play-in game, Lohse did a nice job of silencing those doubts after that first inning.
MOUTHS SHUT: Like I said above, big talk needs to be backed up with big performance. The Cardinals, however, failed that test again tonight. The most egregious moment came in the fourth. Matt Holliday led off the inning with a walk, and Allen Craig followed with what seems like his 936th hit of the year. With nobody out, this was the perfect chance to claw back into the game and rescue their season’s best pitcher. However, a line-out by Yadier Molina, a groundout by Carlos Beltran, and a strikeout by Skip Schumaker (wanna sit some more, Skip??) meekly ended the ”threat.” Too bad talk doesn’t translate to runs, because we’d be leading this division by many games considering how much we’ve heard about this dangerous offense.
THE FUNDAMENTALS: The Cardinals had several confounding moments at the plate and on the bases. Lohse failed to put down a bunt in the fifth, striking out with a runner on. This of course, has been a constant source of annoyance this season – can ANYONE bunt on this team? The bunting dyslexia has even started to affect Lohse, who has been one of our best. Then, in the big seventh inning comeback, Pete Kozma and Adron Chambers both failed to advance an additional base on outfield throws. These are the little things that can often lead to big problems.
COMEBACK CARDS: I wish every game didn’t need to be a late-inning pressure cooker involving last-second heroics. Singles by Carlos Beltran and Skip Schumaker put runners on first and second with one out. Up stepped pocket-sized Pete Kozma, and everyone alive or dead was thinking a bunt was coming. However, Kozma slashed a double down the left-field line to drive in both runners. After a walk to pinch-hitter David Freese, Jon Jay slipped a single into right to score the third run of the inning. Meanwhile, Lohse is sitting on the bench muttering, “I should be a 20-game winner, dammit…”
COMEBACK, PART II: With one out in the ninth, Kozma and Daniel Descalso hit back-to-back singles. Up stepped Jon Jay, who then lifted a fly ball to center to score Kozma with the tying run. So many big hits from Jay!! The good feelings, however, were shortlived.
EXTRA CRAPPY: The Cards entered the tenth inning with a dubious 6-11 record in extra inning games. And just like that, the bullpen coughed up two runs and the game inthe tenth and made that record 6-12. Sam Freeman couldn’t throw strikes, and walked the leadoff batter (a strategy with a failure rate of 99%). Fernando Salas came on and, with two outs, intentionally walked Danny Espinoza in order to face Kurt Suzuki. However, a passed ball allowed both runners to reach scoring position. Then Suzuki roped a double into the left-center gap, scoring both and effectively ending the game. Really not a good way to end things. Again.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Probably Kozma with his 3-5 night and two big RBI’s. Special mention for the bullpen combo of Edward Mujica, Mitchell Boggs, and Jason Motte, who did a great job holding the Nationals at striking distance.
CONCLUSION: Despite scoring late in many of their games, the Cardinals don’t have a very good record when trailing after five innings. They fell short again tonight. It was nice to see them suddenly fight back in the seventh and ninth, I’d prefer to see this offense produce more consistently with sound fundamentals. Even this late in the season, we just haven’t seen that often from this confounding crew. And so the wild card lead drops again (pending the Dodgers’ late-night outcome).