NLCS GAME 6: Rising Anxiety
All season long the 2012 Cardinals have resisted the urge to become the dominant team their statistics describe. On paper, this is the best team in the National League; they hover among the league leaders in ERA, they led the league in saves, they led the league in most offensive categories, and their defense has been at least average.
Yet, for some inexplicable reason, the Cardinals continuously fail to seize their rightful crown. Give them a lead, and they’ll blow it. Give them fifteen gits, and they’ll strand every last runner. They’ll squeak into the playoffs on a wild card technicality, and then fumble game after game until their backs against the wall. We all love melodrama, but this is starting to get ridiculous.
The Cardinals have added another level of drama and anxiety with tonight’s clumsy 6-1 loss to the Giants. The NLCS is now knotted at three games a piece, with the deciding game – yet another elimination game – staring the suddenly-limp Cardinals directly in the face. How badly do they want it?
NOT THE SAME: There once was a time when a Chris Carpenter start in the postseason meant a gutsy, dominating performance resulting in a win. In fact, we saw that almost a year ago to the day. But that particular Carpenter is nowhere to be found this postseason.
I have no doubt that Carpenter put everything he had out there. The fact remains, however, that Carpenter came back too soon from a rib-removing surgery and doesn’t have the strength following a year off. The Giants decimated Carp for four long innings of seven hits and five runs. Of course, three of those runs were unearned, but it was obvious that Carpenter had lost control of the game quickly and never recovered. It was a near-repeat of his failed Game Two start. What a disaster it was to set up this rotation so that Carpenter and Lynn pitched twice in this series.
EMBARRASSING: What in the goddamned hell kind of showcase did the Giants put on for a national audience tonight? They had Jeffrey Leonard, minor character in San Francisco lore, throw out the first pitch. Then James Hetfield of Metallica (??) came out and screamed obscenities. The version of God Bless America was belted out by some dumb bitch in a stupid diorama hat who didn’t even know the words to the song. It was, to say the least, a clusterfuck.
CLUMZY: With Carpenter obviously struggling, the last thing the Cardinals needed in a bumbling second inning was an error on a groundout by Ryan Vogelsong. That’s exactly what happened, however. Vogelsong faked a bunt, then hacked at a high inside breaking ball and grounded to Pete Kozma. With his eye on the baserunner heading home rather than the baseball bouncing toward him, Kozma booted the play, allowing everyone to reach base safely. That extended the inning to Marco Scutaro (who has bedeviled us the entire series), who doubled home two runs and really put the lid on the Cardinals.
WAKE THE FUCK UP: This is the second game in succession in which Mike Matheny has promised to manage as if it’s the seventh game of the World Series, yet he doesn’t do that. Maybe he doesn’t know how, given his pathetic lack of management experience. But when your starting pitcher is barely reaching 90 mph and is getting hammered in the second inning, you have someone ready to replace him immediately. Like Friday night, Matheny stood on the top step of the dugout, staring vacantly into space like someone tripping on LSD. I think perhaps Derek Lilliquist needs a cattleprod to poke Matheny when he’s casually dozing in the dugout. Some get the Aqua Velva and give Matheny a couple of brisk slaps to the cheek! He’s asleep again!
DEAD AND DEADER: It’s impossible to single out the problems with the offense right now, because they all suck to similar degrees. Jon Jay hasn’t had a hit since he made those #HighSocksSundays tee-shirts; it literally feels like Jay has gone 0-∞ in this series. And even though Allen Craig drove in the Cards’ only run, he’s batting a grotesque .150 in the postseason. We have enormous black holes in this lineup. And apparently everybody thinks you get out of a slump by swinging at the first pitch with your eyes closed and all of the force your body can muster, regardless of the situation. FACT: It ain’t gonna get any better like that.
THE KID: After paramedics dragged Carpenter’s corpse from the field, Shelby Miller went to the mound and displayed amazing poise and talent in his two innings of thankless work. Miller struck out two, and looked tough. It’s that kind of raw, energetic talent I wanted starting Game One or Game Two of this series. Imagine how different this NLCS might look had they gone with this incredible young arm.
DUMB MOVES: After spending the entire game doing nothing, Matheny whipped into action in the crucial eighth inning with the score 5-1 Giants. After Fernando Salas struck out Hunter Pence (the only guy we can consistently retire), Matheny saw his chance. He sprinted from the dugout, waving in Marc Rzepczynski from the bullpen to save the game with one out and nobody on. Of course, Zeppo couldn’t handle even that low-pressure situation. Instantly, a single and a walk set up a chance for Ryan Theriot, who then singled to tack on the final insult of the night. THANKS, MATHENY! NICE MANAGING!
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Um … Um …
CONCLUSION: Give the Giants and their fans credit – they never gave up, and have remained vocal and proud despite being down three games to one. Meanwhile, the Cardinals are playing scared and tight. Now, thanks to their baffling inability to close out an opportunity, they face a decisive Game Seven against Matt Cain in front of a roaring San Francisco crowd. I find it difficult to believe that this team, now playing so lifelessly, has any more fight in them. We’ll know for sure in 24 hours.