NLCS GAME 5: Happiest Flight
The Milwaukee Brewers played their worst game of the year at the worst possible time, and the Cardinals capitalized on every one of them behind a decent start from Jaime Garcia and a brilliant bullpen performance. The Cardinals’ 7-1 victory sends them to Milwaukee with a commanding 3-2 series lead and two critical chances to get to the World Series. Astonishing. This team makes it hard, but they have the steely resolve of a championship winner.
FIRST STRIKE: The Brewers are one of the very few teams in baseball who are worse than the Cardinals defensively. It really showed in the second, when the Cardinals spun Lance Berkman‘s leadoff single into a three run outburst thanks to two defensive miscues by Milwaukee. First, Corey Hart crashed into the wall trying to nab Yadier Molina‘s long drive, which fell for a run scoring double. Then Jerry Hairston missed Jaime Garcia’s hit at third base, which produced two more runs. This kind of feasting is exactly what the Cards have not done throughout most of this series.
BIG GAME PITCHER: The World Series hopes of Cardinal Nation fell on the angsty shoulders of young Jaime Garcia, and he did not disappoint. His curve was unhittable, and he was placing his fastball perfectly on the inside corners of the plate. His stuff was as perfectly groomed as his hair. Thankfully, he seemed composed, too. His most important work came in the third, following the second inning runs scored by the Cards. Garcia set the tone by preventing any damage in the inning, and making a case that tonight might be a special start.
WANTING IT: You could almost feel the desperation on both sides of the field tonight; both teams wanted this win badly. Everyone was extending themselves with terrific defensive plays, their bodies twisting and straining to make the impossible happen. This is the beauty of evenly-matched teams fighting each other in playoff baseball.
SPEEDSTER: Lance Berkman easily stole a base in the third, his second of the postseason. That’s exactly the number he had all season. Maybe next year we should bat him leadoff and send him every time.
BULLSHIT: During the fourth inning, one of the television announcers, while lamenting the beating Zack Greinke was absorbing, said that he thought the Cardinals only deserved one run due to defensive problems. I’ve had just about enough of the favoritism. At that point, the Cards clearly deserved two runs, and the other two runs (scored on Hairston’s error) happen when good teams capitalize on mistakes. I’ve been privately stewing at what I’ve felt was favoritism throughout this series, but now it’s obvious: these guys are clearly homers for the Brewers. No excuses.
NEW LEADOFF: It’s time to reconsider our leadoff options. Rafael Furcal is a fiery player and seems like a good guy, but he’s hitting .150 in this series and swinging at garbage like he’s Mark McGwire. TLR is loyal to a fault, but sometimes a manager needs to make tough decisions. In this case, it’s time to get Furcal out of there.
THE FIFTH: Garcia ended up surrendering three consecutive hits in the fifth for the first Milwaukee run. SHOCKER! Unlike the Game 1 disaster, TLR didn’t stand in the dugout with his thumb in his ass while Garcia completely disintegrated. Instead, TLR immediately called for Octavio Dotel to face Ryan Braun. I guess an old dog can learn something new.
THE BIG O: There probably wasn’t a bigger moment in the game than Octavio Dotel coming in to face Ryan Braun with runners at first and second and two outs in relief of Garcia. Dotel pounded the lower outside corner repeatedly for two strikes, before blowing a rising fastball past him for a huge strikeout. Then Octavio came into the sixth and ripped through Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, and Yuniesky Betancourt. A brilliant performance from Dotel at a critical juncture in this series.
DETROIT, JUNIOR: The Brewers played possibly their worst game of the year, committing four errors behind one of their “aces”, and the Cardinals, smelling blood, went in for the kill every time. It reminded me of how the Detroit Tigers fell apart against us in the 2006 World Series. Could it be an omen of things soon to come?
LEFTY LEFTY: A sweaty-palms moment occurred in the eighth. The Brewers had runners on first and third with one out and the dangerous Prince Fielder (0-3 at that point) coming up. TLR summoned Marc Rzepczynski to face him. And, just like the other day, Zeppo dismantled Fielder with some wicked, tailing fastballs. Watching Zeppo fan the big slugger in that situation is one of the highlights of this series, and instantly justifies the Colby Rasmus trade. Anybody complaining now??
A FIRST CLUTCH HIT: Matt Holliday has been robotically-good for the Cardinals since coming over in 2009. He puts up solid, consistent numbers throughout the season. However, you’d be hard-pressed to find a huge, game-altering clutch hit from him during that span; his most influential moment to date was probably the fly ball he took off of his nuts to ruin the 2009 postseason. But tonight Holliday ripped a two-run double in the eighth to really put the Brewers away for good. After his struggles, Holliday has really turned a corner offensively, and that hit was his biggest moment yet.
MOTTE A CHANCE: After Zeppo sliced Fielder open, Jason Motte came on to face Rickie Weeks in a tough spot. But Motte needed thrree pitches to induce a grounder to David Freese to end the inning and the threat. He then mopped up the ninth in efficient fashion before a delirious Busch Stadium crowd.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Holliday and the bullpen. WOW.
CONCLUSION: This remarkably talented and gritty ballclub is one win away from going to the World Series. I cannot believe I can type that sentence. Think about where we were, and where we’ve gone in the last two months. And think about where we’re going! This is one of the most incredible stories in the history of a franchise filled with glorious moments. Kids, I think it’s time to chill the champagne!!