GAME 36: Last Minute Rescue
After blowing lead after lead for three hours, a two-out walk-off single by Yadier Molina sent one of the largest crowds of the year (45,000) home happy as the Cardinals (21-15) overcame their arch-rival Cubs and ended their losing streak with a dramatic 7-6 win.
BLACK CLOUD: The lineup was a bit of a scramble today. Jon Jay went on the disabled list with renewed pain in his right shoulder. Carlos Beltran sat out for the second straight day with knee pain. And Lance Berkman was a mysterious late scratch as well. One of the biggest concerns about this team going into the season was their ability to stay healthy. That is looking like a pretty legitimate concern these days. Stay calm, Cardinal Nation!
NO OTHER CHOICE: Kyle Lohse was shellacked for nine hits and five earned runs (including a homer) in 6.2 innings. But what can Matheny do? The starting rotation has been struggling so badly of late that Matheny couldn’t immediately go to the bullpen. Lohse was pretty awful, though. He put the Cardinals in a first inning 3-0 hole in the first, then coughed up the lead he was given in the fifth two batters into the sixth. Lohse has been good so far this year, but we need him to step up right now and lead this rotation when it’s struggling.
STEPPING UP: You always hope that someone comes through when your big guns go down, and the Cardinals benefited from several key performances. Tyler Greene had an impressive day, going 3-3 with a single, double, and triple. Allen Craig continued his torrid start with a 3-4, 2 RBI day. But the best was Matt Holliday, who went 3-4 with 3 runs scored and a laser-like home run while reminding everyone what he can do when he heats up. These guys gave the whole team a lift again and again.
GAGGING ON PUBES: The Cardinals managed to keep Bryan LaHair to a 1-4 day, but that one hit was a monstrous home run that tied the score in the sixth. How many home runs does this guy have against us anyway?? LaPubicHair is like a Northside Boogeyman who seems to bat 15 times a game and hits a decisive home run in every game. I HATE Bryan LaHair.
HAMMER AND NAIL: Matt Carpenter‘s batting average is a modest .273, but the guy is a major RBI machine. He has 18 RBI in 88 at-bats and three home runs. His solo bomb in the eighth gave the Cardinals a rare (and all too brief) lead in this series, clearly shocking the Cubs in the process. Carpenter is the LaPubes of our team – how d’ya like that, Cubbies?
DEAD COLD: Hometown hero David Freese is officially in the first definite funk of his career. Freese hit into two more double plays, the second one in the seventh a particularly awful rally-killer that left the game tied and a runner on third. Some of his struggles can be attributed to bad luck (like the seventh-inning broken bat double play), but Freese is swinging at pitches he wouldn’t ordinarily touch. Adversity is part of growth in the game, so I hope Freese can overcome it.
EL CAPITAN: When you have a runner in scoring position and a chance to win the game with a hit, there isn’t anyone else in baseball I’d rather see at the plate than Yadier Molina. He defines clutch at this level of the game. So as Molina strode to the plate in the bottom of the ninth and Matt Holliday on second with two outs, the huge Busch Stadium crowd began chants of YADI YADI YADI as much for hope as it was respect. They know their leader. And Yadi didn’t disappoint, slashing a single through the right side to score the winning run. The entire team converged on Molina at second as he gestured to them to “bring it on.” A glorious way to end a beautiful day of baseball!
RIVALRY: Why do Cards/Cubs games always end up like this? They could be the two worst teams in baseball, but they will fight with their last breath to defeat each other in spellbinding, last-minute duels to the death. This was just the latest in a long history of such matches.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Several names pop out at me, but it must be Molina, right? Had he not ended the game right there, a depleted Cardinals team might not have had the juice to finish this one.
CONCLUSION: The Cardinals needed this one badly. They are bruised and battered right now, the pitching is erratic, and the hitting has been plentiful in bunches. Sometimes winning a battle like this one can rejuvenate a team and ignite their enthusiasm. Let’s hope so – their schedule is unforgiving throughout this month, and a little adrenaline might be desperately needed.