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Wednesday, April 30, 2003


PUJOLS' ELBOW Here are two opposing views on LaRussa's gamble playing Al Pujols, even though he's prohibited from unleashing any strong throws, lest he blow out his tender elbow.

From Bernie Miklasz: "All it takes is one lapse in judgment, and one rebellious throw, and La Russa could end up regretting his decision for the rest of his career. Suppose the Cardinals would lose Pujols, long-term, to elbow surgery? I respectfully disagree with La Russa... [He] shouldn't be jeopardizing the entire 2003 season to make short-term gains so early in the schedule."

And from Baseball Prospectus: "There's almost no scenario under which Pujols is injured for any length of time and the Cardinals have a shot at the division. Tony La Russa recognizes as much, and has Pujols and his sprained elbow back in the lineup even though he's under strict instructions not to make an overhand throw. It's a move that deserves some credit: Many managers would shy away from using a player who wasn't able to perform all of the duties expected of him, neglecting the fact that some are a lot more important than others. Using our PECOTA projections and MLVr -- a metric which is designed specifically to evaluate the marginal effect a player has on his team's runs scoring each game -- Pujols betters his likely replacement, Kerry Robinson, by a score of .309 to -.153, or a difference of nearly half a run a game. The opposition would need to have three extra base advances per game in order to beat that figure, and since left fielders don't handle that many chances, it's unlikely they'd be able to exploit Pujols' gimpy elbow that often. It's not an ideal solution by any means, and if the Cardinals had a better bench, the numbers would run differently, but La Russa is making the best of an unfortunate solution."


Notes from tonight's game Cardbirds 13, Mets 4

• Sometimes your hitters knock out the other team's pitcher. Other times your sluggers tee off so early and so often that the other manager gets himself ejected. But have you ever heard of knocking out the other team's GM? There are rumors out of New York that if the Mets don't play well during their current 6-game trip against us and the Brewers, that their general manager Steve Phillips will be fired on Monday's offday. After successive 13-3 and 13-4 losses, Phillips is like one of those movie villains, hanging by his fingertips before he plunges from the skyscraper.

• Exhibit A in the case against Phillips: Mo Vaughn is the highest paid player in the National League. You heard me. The highest paid player in the National League, $17 million dollars. Sportswriters have a field day with this kind of stuff, calculating, for example, that each home run Vaughn hits is worth $586,000. What they don't mention is that the Mets are getting an incredible deal on shit by the pound.

• J.D. Drew just plain dropped a flyball in the top of the 2nd and Buck and Hrabosky kept blaming it on the fact that he didn't use two hands. Why do sportscasters perpetuate this myth? Have you ever seen a catch made because the fielder muzzled the ball with his throwing hand? Catching the ball with one hand is every bit as safe as catching with two, and it increases your latitude and puts you in greater position to throw. Drew muffed the ball because he spaced out, not because his right hand was at his side.

• Little Frankie Vina popped a homer in the 2nd (which looked exactly like every other homer he's hit in his career, flicked over the rightfield wall) and added a double the other way in the 6th. It was Vina's first game after he shaved his goatee, so (in a reverse Samson sorta way) there's no chance he won't be shaving tomorrow, if not several times. Speaking of the new clean-shaven look, is Vina officially the handsomest Cardinal?

• Pujols hit a pop down the line in the 2nd and Alomar looked like he didn't even try for it. Have the Mets really given up before May?

• All the Cardinals had pretty swings tonight off of Astacio, who was throwing batting-practice fastballs. When Edmonds is in a groove, like he was during his double in the second inning, his swing looks so pretty, so smooth and effortless. But when he's not in a groove and striking out a bunch, he looks all contorted and herky-jerky. Sometimes after he strikes out I half-expect him to take off his batting helmet, then his batting gloves, and then unscrew his limbs and throw them to the ground in disgust.

• Tino was in the booth tonight, serving his suspension and acting like a college kid who comes back to his high school and peeks in on all the students taking tests. I think Tino officially became a Cardinal when he took off after Miguel Batista last week.

• Speaking of Batista, Bob Brenly (single-handedly responsible for about one-half of the dumbest baseball quotes that don't come from Bud Selig or Joe Morgan) recently defended his pitcher whipping a baseball at Martinez. Quoth Brenly: "I don't know what you're supposed to do as a pitcher. Just stand there and let the guy drive you down through the rubber?'' Um, how bout actually fighting like a man? If you're gonna throw at someone, and then stare him down on the way to first, you gotta be prepared to take the consequences; otherwise don't go head-hunting. Brenly acted like Batista could only fight Tino fairly if he brought a weapon. It's sad when even your own manager thinks you're a puss.

• Woody's no-hitter was broken up in the 4th. Any time a Cardinal pitcher makes it to the third inning without surrendering a hit, I immediately start thinking no-hitter. Seriously.

• Drew thought for a second in the 4th inning that he played for the Mets, turning the wrong way on Vance Wilson's gift double. That put Woody's ERA over 1 (barely) for the first time all year.

• Bert Pujols hasn't had a multi-homer game in nearly two years. That surprised me.

• Why does Fredbird have such a ghastly look on his face? It looks like he's just seen something truly awful, like his wife cheating on him or a child getting napalmed.

• E-Rent now has 24 ribs in April, second most in the NL, one more than A-Rod

• The Cardinal fans gave Mo Vaughn a standing O after his ferocious shot into the upper deck in the 9th. That's class. Wonder if Mo appreciated it.

• Pedro Martinez may have the game's best changeup; Big Unit may have the game's best slider; but there can be no doubt that Russ Springer has the prettiest hanging curveball in all of baseball.

• The Cardinals have scored 13 runs in two straight games (to the best of my knowledge, that's the first time we've scored 13 or more in two straight since we beat the Padres 16-14 and 13-3 in August of 2001). We're also back over .500, only 1 game out of first, and 1 game better than our record at this point last year. More importantly, the Cardinals run scored/runs against figures (156 scored; 114 given up) suggest a team that should fare much better going forward. Our Pythagorean won-loss record (which determines expected winning percentage based on runs for and against) is 16-9. Our actual record is 3 games worse than that, mainly because we've been so bad in one-run games. But that tends to even out over time, which suggests the Cardinals are, talent-wise, much closer to a team with a .600 winning percentage than a team with a .500 winning percentage. Tonight's game makes that easy to believe.


Notes from last night's game, Rednut 13 Mets 3
• Mo Vaughn looked absolutely hopeless against Matty Mo with bases loaded and one out in the first. As he himself seemed to predict, he was dispatched.
• I read Dave Duncan said that Matty needs to learn how to limit his pitch count in the first couple innings so he can finish more games. Damn right. It's a chronic problem, and if Morris wants to put himself among the top few pitchers in the majors -- and he's pretty close -- this is what he must do to get there.
• Renteria made a great play with the bases loaded and 2 out in the first on Wigginton's grounder in the hole. If he doesn't make that play, who knows how things unfold.
• Although I love Rolen's patience at the plate, he may be better served being more aggressive earlier in the count at times. This may partially explain why he's never hit .300, which I alluded to the other day. There's a difference between patience and effective pitch selection (although there's also a connection, of course). I'll be watching Scotty for that. I also noticed Leiter threw a couple inside fastballs by him tonight, which some have referred to as his weakness. This isn't to get down on Scotty at all, I love him, but he's just an interesting hitter to study.
• Great, great, smart move by Rolen/LaRussa to steal 3rd with one out in the first. Edgar took care of business anyway, but it was a perfect time to be relentless. Baseball, after all, is mental warfare.
• You think Leiter was affected by the rain delay? In his previous starts this year, he'd given up only 5 earned runs combined, and tonight he gives up 4 in the first inning. He only gave up one after that, and pitched pretty well, actually. That's the difference between a great pitcher like Leiter and your average guy -- he can have C stuff and manage to keep the score to a point (5 runs through 6 innings tonight) where his team still has a shot.
• Piazza's 1st inning grab of Matheny's pop that nearly hit the screen behind the plate was an awesome play. Maybe the only great play he'll make this year... Seriously, why would Piazza want to play catcher? It takes years off his career and he's gotta know deep down that he's no good at it. There's something admirable about his striving for it, though, I guess. Most stars don't seem to be like that.
• "Boy, these guys are just horrendous defensively." -- The Great Joe Buck, who I had the pleasure of listening to tonight for the first time this year. Like his Dad, he's in a league all his own. On the other hand, Al Hrabosky as color commentator is mostly darkness.
• Jedmonds' catch of Floyd's ball up against the wall in the 3rd for out #2 was, well, Jedmondsesque. But then in the 6th he cost us a run by totally misplaying Wiggington's triple in nearly the same place because he seemed to want to make it look good. That crazy Jedmonds. Anybody else and it would drive me nuts, but until he stops being so good I don't feel right criticizing him. We can't afford to give away any cute runs with our pigpen, though.
• Why can't Al Leiter keep Eduardo Perez in the ballpark? And Perez hit the hell out of another ball that Cliff Floyd made a nice play on, too. (Speaking of Floyd, look at his career stops -- is that guy bad luck or what?)
• Cincinnati has committed even more errors than the Mets. That's hard to imagine.
• With the team he's put out there, old and undisciplined and flat out sinful, Mets' GM Steve Phillips is just begging to be fired.
• In the 6th, Piazza failed to tag from 2nd base on a ball that Marrero caught against the wall. I cringe even when our opponents make those kind of fundamental mistakes. I cringed several times for the Mets tonight. Their play is ugly, a sin against the game.
• He didn't pitch great tonight, but we should trade for Mets reliever David Weathers. A guy like that is terminally underrated. I'm surprised Billy Beane hasn't gotten him. Guess he's too expensive.
• I feel like Edgar used to teeter between competent and real good, and now he teeters between very good and unquestionably great.
• I missed our rally at the end of the game. My TiVo screwed me when it was 6 to 2. Sad.
• From ESPN: the Cards' pitching staff is hitting .255, better than 10 teams. Actually, I don't know too much about Tomko at the plate, but Woodman is one of the best in the game, Simontacchi's pretty awesome, and Morris is very capable. Our staff should end up with the highest BA at year's end. What should the award for that be called? I'll take suggestions...

God bless you, and God bless Rednut.


Tuesday, April 29, 2003


MATHENY Loyal Redbird Nation reader and die-hard Birdnut fan Mark "Viv" Helmsing recently wrote in chastising me for my rhetorical question, "Why is Mike Matheny our everyday catcher?" Helmsing argues that Math is a superior major league catcher, and asks me to "reevaluate my thoughts" on Mike. Always eager to please, reevaluate I have.

First, I looked at Matheny's offensive numbers over the last two seasons.

2002 .248 BA .317 OBP .322 Slugging
2001 .220 BA .278 OBP .307 Slugging

Obviously not good numbers by major league standards. You could argue that catchers league-wide don't post terribly impressive offensive numbers, so Mike isn't doing too badly for himself. Here are some other NL catchers with comprable playing time over the last two seasons (I left out Mike Piazza, who everyone would acknowledge is an extraordinary hitter):

Brad Ausmus, Houston
2002 .258 AVG .323 OBP .355 Slugging
2001 .232 AVG .284 OBP .341 Slugging

Jason Larue, Cincinnati
2002 .251 AVG .327 OBP .409 Slugging
2001 .228 AVG .296 OBP .389 Slugging

Javy Lopez, Atlanta
2002 .233 AVG .296 OBP .398 Slugging
2001 .265 AVG .318 OPB .426 Slugging

Now, I wouldn't exactly call any of those guys "superstars." But they each have comprable or, mostly, superior numbers to Matheny. So offensively, it would be a stretch to call Matheny "superior," and only slightly more accurate to call him "average."

So let's call him average, and assume that it isn't his bat that makes him special; it's his defense. Defensive play behind the plate is hard to translate into stats, but I would make the case that the difference between a sieve of a catcher and a Patrick Roy isn't all that great. I mean, defense only comes into play when a pitcher is a little wild, and how often does that happen? How many times in a game does the catcher have to dig one out of the dirt with runners on base? And how many of those could any decent college catcher dig out? I'd say there is at most one time in an average game when a catcher needs to show special defensive range. So even if you allow that Matheny is an inpenetrable wall back there, it still doesn't make him invaluable to the team. It saves one or two total bases per game. I'll trade that for a decent OBP any day.

Finally, there is Matheny's arm. He's long been praised for being able to gun basestealers out with his cannon arm and cat-like reflexes. Here are the numbers.

Caught Stealing:

2001 .483%
2002 .348%

How about those other catchers?

Brad Ausmus
2001 .477%
2002 .323%

Jason LaRue
2001 .609%
2002 .452%

Javy Lopez
2001 .326%
2002 .379%

So, again, Mike is average at best. Certainly nothing spectacular.

And, finally, there's the age-old argument that he calls a good game, whatever that means exactly. All I know is that the Cardinals have had a no-hitter tossed since Math got to St. Louis, but Mike wasn't behind the plate. Eli Marrero was.

Which brings me to my conclusion: Mike Matheny shouldn't be our everyday catcher; Eli Marrero should. Sure, he's valuable as a platoon player in the outfield, but we have other guys for that. Check out his numbers and compare them to Matheny's:

2001 .266 BA .312 OBP .451 Slugging
2002 .262 BA .327 OBP .451 Slugging

He's no defensive magician behind the plate, granted. But he's capable. And if he can assist a weak-armed puss like Bud Smith to a no-hitter, he can certainly call a game.

The Rednut's offensive is as potent as it's been in my lifetime (78 years). And, for now, Matheny is a part of that potency. But when and if he returns to his old impotent self, we always have Eli, waiting...


Sunday, April 27, 2003


STUFF 'N CRUD As you may have read, Carl Everett, the center fielder for the Rangers, was hit by a cell phone thrown by an unruly fan the other night. When asked how it felt to be hit with a cell phone, Everett deadpanned, "Verizony."

I know very well that Steve Kline is not a closer, as I have him on my fantasy team and he's shat the bed on quite a few...

Tino Martinez is a good player, no matter what you say. I feel like if he goes to the Luis Gonzalez school of slimming down and improving his flexibility, that he might be a good player down the strech of his career. I think his problem over the previous few years was that he was too bulky. He seems slimmer this year and that may have helped. The guy had some monster years in Seattle and New York and he's not that old. He may have life left in the bat to go along with his fantastic glove.

The Cardinals defense is awesome.


THE CAESAR What's up with Mike Martz's hair? He looks like he's trying to be all young and hip and rad, but someone (C. Armey?) needs to tell him he's stuck in 1997. He belongs in a Zima ad.


Saturday, April 26, 2003


DISGRACE I'm referring, of course, to our bullpen. Dustin Hermanson is an embarrassment. And what ever happened to Steve Kline? As my colleague Matt pointed out, the guy has a history of blowing leads, especially in clutch situations (he's been on the mound both times in the last two postseasons when we lost a series). He's got good stuff, and is as durable as oak, but he's just too big a spaz to be a reliable relief pitcher. He says of himself, "I'm not a closer." What does that mean? If he's acknowledging a mental deficiency that prevents him from having the makeup to close out games, then he should address that. It's like a smoker who says, "Well, I know smoking is bad for me, but what can I do?" Here's an idea: CHANGE. Fix yourself. Especially since you're getting paid $2,870,000 to do so. If you're too weak to change, get off my team. We'll resuscitate Rollie Fingers.

(Remember in the 1981 off-season when the Cardbirds had both Rollie Fingers AND Bruce Sutter for a short time? A fantasy manager's wet dream.)

At least Matheny actually threw out a baserunner today -- that's a big accomplishment for Mike, even though it shouldn't have been since the guy was stealing third. It seems clear to me that the word is out on Matheny: run on him. The Braves certainly ran every time they could, including Vinny Castilla and Julio Franco, one of whom is as fat as Jose Oquendo and the other of whom is even older than Jose Oquendo. When Matheny's batting average returns to Matheny-like levels (say .255), I'll once again ask the age old question: why is this guy our everyday catcher?


Notes on last night's game, Rednut 9 Marlins 2
• Palmeiro showed surprising power to LC with his 1st inning double. I seriously didn't think he had any pop whatsoever to the opposite field, and I suppose the Marlin outfielders didn't, either.
• Pujols' jack to RC was beautiful. I think he's getting more adept at going that way. He's scary. And wasn't he supposed to be out for 3 weeks, only available to pinch hit? What is he, a cyborg? Yes, and a damn good one.
• With his discriminating eye and quick bat, it's a mystery to me why Scott Rolen has never hit .300. Maybe pitchers really can get him out with inside fastballs. I'll be watching to put that theory to the test...
• Renteria has been hitting the ball to RF with authority all season.
• Jedmonds' shoestring catch with runners on 1st and 2nd and one out in the 2nd inning was huge. It could have turned the whole game around. Where would we be without that lovable, lazy bastard?
• Todd Hollandsworth's wife Marci is very hot, which proves mathematically that being a below mediocre MLB player is roughly equivalent to having a net worth of over one billion dollars.
• Tomko's fastball can hit the mid-90s, with good movement. If Duncan can get him more confident with it, it may put him over the top. He was chivalrous tonight, just what we needed.
• Rolen's barehander on Castillo's nubber with one out in the 5th was incredible. Maybe 2 or 3 other third basemen in the majors make that play, but Scotty's the best I've ever seen at it (my apologies to Mr. Ken Reitz).
• After his bad first inning, Burnett pitched a perfect game for 5 1/3 innings before walking Jedmonds in the 6th.
• Tino's got a 12 game hitting streak.
• Renteria's got 17 RBI on 4/25. Not bad.
• Jeff Torborg is a clown. Burnett was obviously tired in the 6th (it's not like he didn't throw 40 pitches in the first inning or anything) and throwing more balls than strikes, but Torborg has him intentionally walk Matheny to load the bases before throwing a bunch of garbage to Tomko, finally walking him.
• Nice to see Eli muscle up with his homerunjobber in the 7th – I've been afraid he's showing signs of returning to his pre-2002 form with some of his at bats, especially when factoring in his weird health problems in the spring.
• Derek Lee is one hell of a bad first baseman.
• Dan is right about Bull Durham, but how 'bout "Bang the Drum Slowly"? The only thing I remember well about it is that Chewbacca dies in the end, but I do have the sense it was good overall.


Wednesday, April 23, 2003


BLAH The Cardbirds are starting to play like the Blues. Tonight and last night they have looked completely flat, uninspired, dull. Jedmonds catching out #2 with a man on 3rd and then lying on the turf, basking in his neat-o catch? Come on. That's Andruw Jones behavior.

All teams go through these kinds of slumps, but two things worry me. One, the Cards had been playing way over their heads offensively going into the DBacks series, and our winning percentage was still barely over .500. Two, the back end of our rotation stinks. I mean really stinks. As much as I love the guys for their moxie, Simontacchi and Stephenson barely qualify as big league pitchers. And I still hold out hope for Tomko, but how many years do you get to be a "potential" stud before you become an actual dud?

Something else that came to mind during tonight's moribund game: Matt Morris consistently sucks in the first few innings of a game. His splits are telling: in innings 1 through 3, hitters are averaging a .377 OBP and a .522 slugging percentage. He settles down in later innings though: in the 4th through the 6th, hitters are averaging a .125 OBP and .054 slugging. That's dominanting. Clearly, he's got a focus problem. Maybe he should get the 1st through 3rd innings section of his frontal lobe removed, R.P. McMurphy style.


Monday, April 21, 2003


COSTNER VS. COSTNER It seems that every year I get into an argument with someone about what the best baseball movie is. Simply put, Bull Durham is the best baseball movie ever made despite the fact that Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon are obviously Un-American. (If you don't support the war, then you don't support our troops, then you are supporting Saddam Hussein. Simple math.) How many times have you had arguments with morons who love Field of Dreams or The Natural? There are a lot of reasons why Ron Shelton's movie is better, but this is my favorite.

There's a scene early in Bull Durham where we hear Crash Davis' internal monologue as he's taking an at bat. He wonders what kind of pitch the guy will throw, and thinks about his timing. His mind turns to Annie and he says to himself, "get your mind off the girl." He needs to collect his thoughts so he calls time out and asks the bat boy for a towel. With great hope and encouragement the bat boy says to him, "get a hit Crash." And Crash replies with scorn, "Shut up."

If this were Field of Dreams, Crash might reply, "I will get a hit, young lad. I will get a hit for all of the fathers and all of the sons. For those who love the pastime. For the men who want to play catch but can't. For that guy from The Best Years of Our Lives who lost both arms in the war. And I'll get a hit, Timmy, to do my part to stamp out Communism."

Baseball in Bull Durham is a man's game. It is the point of the movie. The veteran Crash -- a man -- must turn the rookie Nuke -- a boy -- into a man, and therefore into a better baseball player. The game of Professional Baseball is not for kids. The game is not mythology. It is work. It is a craft.

By attaching all sorts of soft lighting, 60's idealism, and mythology to baseball, Field of Dreams and the Natural miss the point. And so do the people who like those movies better.


Saturday, April 19, 2003


DUMBY Maybe I'm an idiot, but why is so much importance placed on a catcher's ability to "handle" a pitching staff? Clearly, to a lot of big league managers and GMs, that outweighs a catcher's ability to hit or get on base. Aren't catchers pretty much calling the pitches the coaching staff tells them to? And when they go out to talk to a pitcher, the pitching coach often goes out there with them. So what, exactly, do they do that's so valuable? I mean, wouldn't any team rather have a catcher with an .850 OPS who isn't a wiz with pitchers than a catcher with a .500 OPS who is like The Horse Whisperer with them? Even the worst catcher can follow the orders of his coaching staff, can't he? No team would put a guy in centerfield who could catch anything hit in his direction unless he could also get on base now and then. Yet the majors are filled with catchers who stink up the joint at the plate. Ask any fantasy baseball GM -- there are about 4 decent hitting catchers in the majors.

Maybe 90% of catchers just plain can't hit. Maybe there's some cosmic disconnect between crouching all day and hitting a baseball.

Luckily, none of this harangue applies to Michael Matheny. Not this season. Not yet anyway. He's having it both ways. Keep it up, Math.


Thursday, April 17, 2003


SHOOTING STARS RedbirdNation recently got a shout-out from John Shiffert, who writes up an excellent e-newsletter called 19 to 21 (you can subscribe for free by contacting johnshiffert@mail.clayton.edu). Each week John illuminates some generally forgotten corner of baseball history -- this week he deals with one-time Cardinal farmhand Pistol Pete Reiser, a superstar for the Dodgers who was well on his way to joining the pantheon of greats were it not for his reckless tendency to run into outfield walls. I think everyone has at least one up-and-coming young player who breaks his heart. For some it's Pete Reiser; for others it might be John Stuper or David Green. For Bob Broeg it's Austin McHenry, a Cardinals leftfielder who hit .350 with 100 ribs for the 1921 Cardinals, then died the next year from a brain tumor. For me it'll probably always be Rick Ankiel.


YIKES Two things are clear after the Cubs 16-3 pasting of the Cincinnati Reds. (1) The Cubs can hit. Sosa, Hee Seop Choi, Alou, Patterson -- they're all ripping the ball. This is the team that had me scared all winter. (2) The Reds can't pitch. At all. They've given up 7 or more runs in 10 of their 16 games. The last six games they've given up 8, 13, 3, 11, 10, and 16 runs. Their team ERA is 6.62 and they've given up 122 runs -- that's 20 more than any team in baseball, including the Rangers. Their rotation is currently Ryan Dempster, Jimmy Anderson, Danny Graves, Paul Wilson, and Jimmy Haynes. I can hear Pujols' stomach growling right now...


Wednesday, April 16, 2003


LUMBER A couple days ago on this site, my brother Matt said that if the Cardinals get back a healthy J.D. Drew, they'll have the best offense in baseball, hand's down. At first I thought this was just Redbird boosterism -- after all, what about the Yankees lineup? Or the Red Sox? Or the Giants? Or the Phillies?

So I did a little tooling around. The Yanks scored 897 runs last year -- the most in baseball, 16% better than league average. The Cardinals had the second most productive offense in the NL, but they were only 9% over the league average. So the Yanks seem to have a leg up on the Birds heading into this season, plus they swapped out Rondell White and his puny (and sacreligious) .666 OPS for Hideki Matsui, who figures to have an OPS closer to .850. And if you're going to play the "if Drew comes back healthy" game for the Cardinals, you gotta do the same for the Yankees and Derek Jeter, which makes their offense, at its peak, even more formidable than ours...

On the other hand, just as the Yanks have upgraded from White to Matsui, we've traded in Placido Polanco for a full year of Scott Rolen. And indeed, the Cardinals this year have scored a whopping 7.23 runs per game, which is the best in baseball, even without benefit of the DH. With 601 team plate appearances, you can easily think of our team batting totals as one player's full season:

.....................AB....R......H.....2B...3B...HR...RBI....BB.....AVG...OBP.....SLG
Cardinals....524...94...162...38....1.....21....89....60....309.....388.....506

That's astounding. The collective Cardinal is virtually an All-Star. Except for walks and triples, every single one of those categories, on a per game basis (most teams have played one more game than the Cardinals), ranks first in the NL. Assuming that Drew's offseason surgery rids him of chronic pain from patellar tendinitis, we could indeed be looking at the majors' best everyday lineup...

Then again, the Cardinals have racked up their offensive totals in some runs-a-plenty environments (we've played nearly half our games against the Brewers, and most of the other half in Coors and Used To Be Enron Field). And nearly a third of our runs were scored in only two games. What's more, the qualifier -- IF the Cardinals get back a healthy and prolific J.D. Drew -- is a pretty enormous "if" (Matt himself admitted that it would have to occur "by some miracle").

Right now I'd have to say that the Cardinals have among the best lineups in baseball. And if Drew comes back and hits like he did a couple years ago, then yeah, they'd have the best lineup out there.


Notes from today's game, Rednut 15 Brewers 2

• In the bottom of the 1st, Matheny made an awesome play to leap up and snare Morris's high pitchout before gunning a picture-perfect bullet to nail Sanchez (although, having been thrown out 4 out of 6 times this year, maybe Sanchez shouldn't be running so much).

• ESPN's Jeff Brantley is a pretty typical baseball color commentator – full of cliches, mostly things about players having special abilities they don't really have. Maybe this is because most of these commentators are former players still chummy with current players, or maybe because they think overselling a player's abilities actually makes the game more dramatic. I don't know, but I do know that it would probably be more interesting to listen to some drunken bleecher bum analyze the game – at least you'd get a more honest assessment of the players. Today, we had to wait until Bob Uecker got into the booth to hear some decent analysis, like when he detailed some of Wayne Franklin's problems. (I realize that putting "Wayne Franklin" and "problem" together, in the baseball pitching sense, may be a redundancy).

• Matty Mo's hitting the hell out of the ball – he drilled the ball to right a couple times against the Astros and now he hits a shot out in LEFT CENTER. Nicely drawn walk in the 4th, too. And taking the pitcher to a full count later in the game, too.

• Morris's fasball was in the low 90s and his curveball consistently in the low 70s, never going about 75. For all 6 innings he pitched. That's got to be hard to hit.

• Doing the little things: Matty Mo unhesitatingly hustled to first on a ball not too far over his head that both Pujols and Delgado went for – many pitchers don't make that play.

• Sometimes Matt Morris reminds me of Roy Oswalt, only smarter and better.

• Bob Uecker was very good on Mr. Belvedere.

• Not doing the little things: After Pujols drove in Rolen on a beautiful single to right in the 3rd, Vander Wal threw a total balloon home, over the cutoff man, Richie Sexson, who's the tallest guy in MLB, I think. Pujols took the gift of second base. It's astonishing how many times the Brewers will sin agains the fundamentals like this.

• "He's finally made his mind up that he's gonna hit to right field." – Bob Uecker, on Mike Matheny, whom he saw a lot of in the old days. Matheny will tail off, of course, but if anybody knows who his offseason hitting instructor was, let me know, because I'd like to introduce him to Eli Marrero.

• The way Alex Sanchez has played against us, it's only a matter of time before he defects to the Cuban National Team.

• AN OPEN LETTER TO TONY LARUSSA: MIGUEL CAIRO IS NOT AN OUTFIELDER

• Does LaRussa have to start Cairo, Marrero, and Eduardo Perez in the outfield on the same day? Today, of course, it didn't matter, but playing a couple guys in unnatural positions has hurt us in the past big time. It could have hurt us today.

• Bob Uecker's joke that Bernie Brewer is actually Brewer GM Doug Melvin was hilarious. I love Ueck.

• Contrast Rolen's and Pujols' approaches vs. Franklin to, say, Eli Marrero's, Wilson Delgado's, or Miguel Cairo's. Ted Williams was dead right – pitch selection may be the single most important aspect of hitting. Hopefully, Teddy Baseball will be unfrozen one day so he can remind all young players of that again.

• Nice to see Eduardo Perez knocking one out to RIGHT CENTER.

• Awesome play on Clayton's grounder in the hole by Renteria. Edgar's hustle is very steady, no matter the situation. He's very old-school like that. He also hustled like hell to beat out a potential double play ball at first when we were up 6-1.

• Marrero looks like he might be trying to pull everything, which is the worst hitting handicap he could give himself. He's got a natural inside-out stroke.

• Thinking of laughers interruptus... didn't the Mariners-Indians have one of the all-time greats the season before last?


ASS KICKING If you closely watch replays of the fracas at the White Sox game last night, you'll notice a couple of awesome things. One, Raul Ibanez reaches the scrum far after the attacker has been subdued, yet he still stomps on the dude's leg, clearly trying to break it. And if that didn't send a message to Chicago's hooligans, this probably did: Royals right-fielder Brandon Berger had just caught a routine pop fly when the brouhaha started. Seeing the ump getting jumped, he ran over to help. In replays, it's clear that as soon as he kneeled down next to the attacker, the ball popped out of his glove. He reached for it, picked it up, and smashed it right into the guy's face. That's where the dude's jacked up eye came from.

Commentators have talked about different ways to deter these kinds of attacks -- fines, mandatory jail time, the home team forfeiting the game. How about the promise of a good old fashioned ass kicking for the whole world to see over and over again on national TV? Sounds good to me.


LAUGHER One of the great myths in baseball is that a game "ain't over 'til it's over." You know the old argument: unlike football or basketball, there's no clock in baseball, hence teams can always come back, no matter how far behind. Well, yes -- it's possible. Back in 1990 the Phillies trailed 11-1 in the 8th against the Dodgers, scored 9 times in the ninth, and won 12-11. But these one-in-a-million tales aren't unique to baseball -- remember that playoff game where the Bills erased a 35-3 second-half Oilers lead? Fans cling to these games because they tell us that, no matter how bad things get, the impossible is possible.

Today's 15-2 laugher over the Brewers was not one of those games. It was over long before it was over -- over, in fact, by halftime: 14-1 after 4 1/2 innings. By that point Scotty Rolen looked like he was taking batting practice, our pitcher had already hit a home run, and the rest of the game played out like calisthenics. In the ninth inning Orlando Palmeiro lost a line drive in the lights, froze for a moment, and, at the last second, had to dive to make a catch. It reminded me of growing up, when my brothers and I would pretend like we were making the highlight reel of This Week In Baseball, turning routine catches into sprawling adventures. That's what kind of game this was -- a few innings of real baseball, and a few innings of goofing around. The only thing missing was someone like John Vander Wal coming in to pitch the ninth.

One thing that really does distinguish baseball from football is that it's a daily grind, a 162-chapter war of attrition. Anytime you can turn a day game into a day off, like the Cardinals did this afternoon, you thank the baseball gods. With so many of our games lately unfolding like psychodramas, it sure feels nice to take a little breather.


Tuesday, April 15, 2003


Inspecting this website yesterday, as that four-eyes brian was going on and on about nothing in particular as usual and I started slipping into a coma, I was awakened by his explanation of something called "Sciosciaball". I'll overlook the sacrilege of the White Rat, but I would like to point out that exactly one thing has ever happened in Mike Scioscia's baseball career and that was back when Brian Jordan bled Bird red and he free-safety'd Scioscia to collect his tally, flicking the catcher to the mud like a damp paper towel slowly oozing down the wall of the junior-high unrinal stall into a little puddle of urine. Scioscia's own mother was so disgraced that she immediately hanged all of her grandchildren and blew her own throat out with a sawed-off shotgun. Other than that moment, Scioscia's life resume is blank.

At least I think that was Scioscia. I'm pretty sure it was a Dodger, at least.

Joe Sheehan recently lambasted the Bird pen, and before I gave him a piece of the Judge for mistrusting the great Dave Duncan, I did a little research on the Bird coach's record with has-beens and other projects. His record with "project" starters is oft-noted and impressive (we love you, Greg Williams, oh yes we do). His record with "project" relievers was stunning in Oakville:
Storm Davis (played with Tito)
Rick Honeycutt (badass)
Joe Klink (you heard me. oh, you honestly didn't? I said Joe Klink.)
Good Jeff Parrett
ol' faithful Eric Plunk
and of course,
Eck

In The Lou, Duncan's history is, well, less stunning:
Jason Christiansen
Lance Painter (the first time)
Mike Morgan (59 years young)
Darren Holmes
Evil Jeff Parrett
Jose Bautista
(long sip of 151)
Mike Mohler
Scott Radinsky (still got love for him)
Fernando Valenzuela
(big gulp of Cuervo)
Danny Jackson

His most recent project, however, was Rick White. In my book, that equals 1 for 1.

Eat it, Sheehan.


THE MAGNIFICIENT MIKE SHANNON

Mike Shannon was just talking about Brewers' outfielder Geoff Jenkins' tendency to swing at bad pitches. He said, "You throw a peanut-butter sandwich at him, he'll smoke at it. Shoosh!"

When Jack Buck died, it was a tragic loss for Cards fans in many ways. But I, at least, took some consolation in the fact that we still had the magnificient Mike Shannon.

Why hasn't Shannon become more of a national broadcasting personality? His enthusiasm for the game comes across in every syllable. He's got a unique way of speaking -- out of the side of his mouth and with a lazy tongue, almost a frat-boy drawl. He knows the game up and down, but isn't ever smug about it. He's likable and warm in a way that very few broadcasters are; listening to him do a game is almost like having a slight buzz -- he's that goofy and breezy. And he's got the funniest 'isms' since Yogi Berra.

Think of Shannie and his whimsical, cockeyed approach to the game next time you're listening to Jon Miller and Joe Morgan sleep-walk through a broadcast on ESPN.


Cardinals are on ESPN tomorrow (Wednesday) at 11am PST (that's 1pm CST and 2pm EST, if you're an idiot). This is the rare broadcast of a Cardinals-Brewers game that emanates from a place other than the back of Bud Selig's van, which you may not know doubles as a mobile chemical-biological weapons production unit.


Notes on last night's game, Cardinals 7 Brewers 5

• I don't really miss Vina in our line-up at all. In fact, Palmeiro is a more suitable leadoff hitter than Vine (I wrote that note before Palmeiro's great game – any doubters can just look at their OBPs), and should stay there when he plays. If there's one area in which our line-up needs to improve, it's that our first 2 batters need to get on base more.

• Pujols is reminiscent of Edgar Martinez, but he's actually better. Most RBI in first 2 seasons for all the individuals in baseball history:
Joe Dimaggio 292
Dale Alexander 272
Ted Williams 258
Bert Pujols 257

• Scott Rolen is leading the NL in OBP at .509.

• With Jedmonds, Pujols, and Rolen hitting 3-4-5, the 6th hitter is going to be in a ton of RBI situations. I'd rather have Renteria there than Tino, whether it's against a righty, lefty, or ambidextry.

• Pujols throw home in the 1st to try to get Alex Sanchez out was absolute garbage.

• Tomko's thrown enough ML innings that people shouldn't be talking as much about his "raw stuff" as they do. It's time for him to perform, and consistently.

• Can it really be a good day when it's minus the wit and wisdom of Hal Lanier?

• The little things: Cairo not only flubbed a grounder in the 1st, but Edgar had to bail him out on a crappy throw to him on the front end of the double play that got us out of the inning.

• Matheny's swing really does seem a little shortened from last year.

• Palmeiro could have caught Alex Sanchez's 2nd inning triple if he'd played it well.

• Our big 3 guns – Jed, Bert, and Scotty – each hit to all fields, with power. The Cardinals haven't had 3 such hitters since I've been alive (4/22/72).

• Tomko pitched a somewhat similar performance to the last time I saw him pitch, against the Astros. Rocky in the first couple innings, but settled down after that.

• After Orlando Palmeiro's home run, Jesus walked into my apartment and we shared a beer.

• Orlando Palmeiro says Houston's pitching staff reminds him of the A's, his old division rivals. Huh?

• Alex Sanchez looks GOOD.

• Can you imagine our offense with a healthy J.D. Drew? If by some miracle he can come back and regain his power, we will have the best offense in the majors, hands down.

• Sometimes Bud Selig's Brewers look like a Little League team – no better example than Eric Young making 2 inexplicable errors on the same play, totally donating a run.

• Jenkins could be Brett Favre's twin brother. 2 big hoosiers there, boy.

• What the hell was Pujols doing trying to score in the 6th?

• Leskanic's pitch that hit Pujols was right about where Wells hit J.D. Drew to break his hand last year. I've got a little more confidence in Pujols' bones than Drew's, however.

• Great, clutch, diving play at 1st by Eduardo Perez in the 7th. That's the second awesome defensive play I've seen him make this year (the other was when he gunned that guy out at the plate from right field).

• Cairo was a Dr. Strangeglove today.

• Russ Springer looks great.

• 7 runs on 17 hits by Rednut today. I'd like to get that hit-to-run ratio a lot closer to 2 to 1.


Monday, April 14, 2003


THE BIG O Are you secretly rooting for Fernando Vina to stay hurt a little longer? The mainstream press, which loves gritty little guys like Vina who lay down bunts and get their uniforms dirty, won't admit it, but it's true: Vina isn't aging well. He's lost 20 points off his OBP for two years in a row and he can't reach groundballs that he got to even a year ago. What's more, he rarely takes pitchers deep into the count anymore, and the upswing in his flyball/groundball ratio is alarming.

Orlando Palmeiro isn't vastly better than Vina -- both are slap hitters with little pop -- but I'm getting comfortable with OP out of the leadoff slot. Sure, I'm probably blinded by his 7 total bases and 4 ribs tonight, but Palmeiro has been a nifty little role player for awhile now. And unlike Vina, he's lost none of his patience at the plate -- 30 walks in 300 plate appearances last year vs. 44 in 648 for Vina.

I'll start to pine for Freddy Vine sooner or later, but for now I'd like to see a little more what Raffy's cousin can do.


THE POWER OF THE MONKEY The dominant model for building successful, turn-of-the-century baseball was refined by Billy Beane and the Oakland A's in the last 90s -- it favors offense over defense, power over speed, and on-base percentage over batting average. There are countless studies that support the wisdom of this approach, which is why it came as something of a shock last year when the Angels won it all by bucking nearly every one of its tenets. The Angels' brand of small ball looks very much like Whiteyball c.1985: lots of balls in play, lots of singles, lots of speed, few errors, few strikeouts, few walks, relatively few homers.

Most statheads predicted that the Angels couldn't keep winning this way for very long. Preseason predictions had them Most Likely to Recede. But Joe Sheehan over at BaseballProspectus.com says that Sciosciaball is looking less like a one-season fluke and more like a credible offensive philosophy. As Sheehan points out, "the Angels' primary positive point of differentiation is that they force the defense to make plays more than any other team does."

It's a beautiful idea, an evolutionary adaptation to the current baseball environment. Picture the protoypical modern ballplayer, the Beaneball slugger (say, Jason Giambi): big, beefy, not too mobile. What kind of ballclub can best exploit his weaknesses? One that puts a lot of balls in play and forces him to move around. One that sends a lot of runners, puts pressure on the defense, and, in turn, gains a competitve advantage by catching everything in sight. In other words, one very much like the Anaheim Angels.

What does all this have to do with the Cardinals? In many ways the Cardinals are the NL's answer to the Angels. The Cards struck out the fewest times in the league in 2002; they're next-to-last in strikeouts in 2003. So they put a lot of balls in play. What's more, with strong glovework all over the diamond, they're the best in the league at turning balls-into-play into outs (Defensive Efficiency Rating, which measures such things, currently ranks us #1). And our defense will only improve once J.D. Drew rehabs his way back to the field.

Of course, the Rednals aren't a perfect match for the Angels -- they rely on "traditional" weapons like walks and homers more than Anaheim. But that only makes our offense stronger. Here's hoping it gives our team the same results as it gave the Halos last year.


DEPTHLESS As usual, Jeff Gordon of the Post-Dispatch misses the point entirely. He claims that the Cardinals are playing good baseball lately -- in spite of injuries to Drew, Vina, Izzy, Painter, Marrero, and Edmonds -- because of their impressive team depth, which he calls "their best asset." Wrong. The team is winning b/c it has an impressive core of stars (Pujols, Rolen, Renteria, Edmonds, Morris) who are putting up the kind of numbers you expect from them. Their fill-ins are slugging only .370 and the new faces in our bullpen, despite good recent outings, are scuffing by with a 5.19 ERA.


SAMMY SOOSER Our East Coast correspondent Dan Keating reports that while there are still 17 guys with more lifetime homers than Sammy Sosa, the Cubs rightfielder now holds the all-time record for most home runs on steroids, with 490.


BRU CRU Tonight's opponent is the Brewers. Do you EVER think of this franchise as the same one we squared off with in the '82 Series? Their lineup back then was fierce -- Molitor, Yount, Cooper, Stormin' Gorman, Oglivie, Simmons... Getting past them was like walking across hot coals. The only thing similar about today's pathetic, Seligian Brewers is their name. It's sorta like if you worked with this really huge loser guy who happened to be named Charles Bronson.


Notes on yesterday's game, Cardinals 11 Astros 8:

• If Pujols 1st inning throw to home plate is on-line, he nails Blum for out #2. Probably didn't matter much, but I've determined noting these things may be the only reason I exist.

• Sometimes Roy Oswalt reminds me of Matt Morris with a bigger brain (of course, I jotted this down before we infant-slapped him; and I'm sorry, Matty, we'd be nowhere without you the past couple years, even if you are a little out to lunch much of the time).

• One of the Astros' announcers on Fox Sports Midwest said that Oswalt gets more 0-2 counts on batters than any pitcher in the majors, and I think based even on his performance today that's got to be right. He was 0-2 on nearly everybody for about the first 5 innings.

• One of the things I love about Bert Pujols is that he consistently gets good at-bats against very good pitchers, as if he sees each pitch as a personal challenge. If he figures out how to 1) cut down on his DP's and 2) become more proficient at getting that runner from 3rd home when there's less than 2 outs, he's Jeff Peer gone to the majors (Jeff Peer, of course, is the greatest Little League baseball player I ever played with, a man among us boys).

• Renteria DRILLED his 2 run homer in the 4th. It got out faster than anything I've seen go out this year.

• There were spots today when Simontacchi's stuff looked good, but he couldn't put anything together. Oswalt obviously was out of sorts, too, but maybe it's confidence that explains something like this: Renteria hits a bomb off Oswalt and the next time Oswalt faces him he goes right after him and after Bagwell hits a bomb off Simontacchi earlier in the game, Simontacchi looked like the mound was the last place in the world he wanted to be in Bags' next march to the plate.

• Kiko Colero (who, believe it or not, is also known as KC from "KC and the Sunshine Band") has an awesome cut fastball that every man he faced had trouble with. Hopefully, he has that pitch more days than not.

• Pinch hitting Jedmonds in the 7th with Cairo on first was an uncharacteristically thoughtful move by LaRussa – sure, he struck out, but you gotta figure Jed's chances of walking there were much greater than his having an opportunity to come in a hit a home run or something off Billy Wagner.

• Tino's hit in the 7th to tie the game was huge. OUR LINE-UP IS GOOD. Oswalt had a lot going for him, with great stuff, so the only way to explain his downfall is that our guys can just flat out hit and wore him down.

• I just put another bead on my rosary and named it "Renteria."

• Clutch, clutch, clutch catch by Palmeiro in the bottom of the 7th to rob Kent of an RBI and extra bases and to keep Cal Eldred, who could be taking Simontacchi's job pretty soon if Jason doesn't improve in his next couple starts, in good spirits.

• Renteria's shot could be heard around Southern California, if not the world, and it will take something impressive to compete against it as the biggest hit of the young season. Demoralized those damn Astros. Justice.


ONE OLD DUDE Jeff Fassero closed out yesterday's game down in Minute Maid Park by getting Berkman on a fly out to right. Here is a list of players who are younger than Fassero: Todd Benzinger, Dale Sveum, Kal Daniels, Chris Bosio, Mariano Duncan, Mike Greenwell, Kirt Manwaring, Joe Magrane, Jose Lind, Sam Horn, Charlie Kerfeld, Jose Oquendo, Matt Nokes, Dwight Gooden, Bret Saberhagen, and Pete Incaviglia


Sunday, April 13, 2003


SEARCHING FOR JASON SIMONTACCHI I love Jason Simontacchi. I love that he rode buses in Venezuela, Canada, Australia, and Italy before making the bigs. I love that he had never been to spring training until this year. I even love the way he wears his stirrups Bobby Forsch style. But I keep wondering when Simontacchi is going to officially turn into a pumpkin.

He's now made 26 starts in the big leagues. In the first 13, he was 7-1 with a 2.82 ERA. In his last 13 he's 4-4 with a 5.93 ERA. So it's time to once again ask the question that's been asked a million times since he joined the Cardinals last May: is Jason Simontacchi any good?

His defenders say, yes, Simontacchi has a ridiculous ERA (14.14) this year, but 7 lousy innings don't make a career, especially when those 7 innings come in the two toughest pitcher's parks in baseball. He won 11 games last year, kept his overall ERA pretty reasonable, and when he hit an oil slick last July, he steadied himself to close the season well (a 2.60 ERA in four starts in September). He's a smart pitcher who keeps hitters off balance and he'll pitch out of it.

His detractors say the hot start to Simontacchi's career was a fluke. He never pitched all that well in the minors, he throws junk, he gets slapped around when he faces a team a second time, and his peripheral numbers (like a horrendous 76-63 lifetime K/BB ratio) don't look too promising going forward. What's more, his decent ERA last year was more a product of the defense behind him than anything else.

I tend to agree with the doubters. Mediocre stuff only gets you so far. But I hope I'm wrong, particularly when you consider that you can play this same sorta game -- does he suck or doesn't he? -- with a good half dozen other pitchers on our staff.


BRING IT Last week Houston Chronicle columnist John Lopez accused the Cardinals of cancelling their Sunday game against the Astros in order to avoid facing Roy Oswalt w/o Jim Edmonds and Albert Pujols. As he put it, "[b]arely a week into the season, the Astros had St. Louis looking like a bunch of Scared-y Cards. The Cardinals might call it what they want, but it seems Sunday's Astros-Cardinals game was called on account of reign."

It's a shame we cancelled that game, for whenever we face Oswalt he seems to give up just enough runs to lose. He really has a talent for it. Check out what's happened in his starts the last two years:

4/13/02 Houston scores 1 run; their pitchers give up 2
5/22/02 Houston scores 2 runs; their pitchers give up 3
5/27/02 Houston scores 3 runs; their pitchers give up 4
9/13/02 Houston scores 2 runs; their pitchers give up 3
4/13/03 Houston scores 8 fat-ass runs; Oswalt and Co. give up 11

And -- look, John! -- we did it with Edmonds on the bench and Pujols striking out and getting ejected in his biggest AB of the game.

The Cardinals and Astros may well have the best rivalry in baseball right now, although you wouldn't know it if you only read sportswriters who live in New York or Boston. The teams have won the past 7 NL Central titles, and nearly every game between them the past few years has been a knife fight. After Houston's win two Fridays ago, Billy Wagner -- good old apple-cheeked nice guy Billy Wagner -- said, "the Cardinals don't respect us... They have that air about them... They don't respect us."

A lot of this stems from an incident last year, when the Cardinals painted a "2001 Division Champion" flag on the outfield wall. The Astros feel that they were the sole division champs in 2001, whereas the Redbirds were mere wild cards. But fortunately the Astros' feelings have nothing to do with it: the Cardinals factually, inarguably won the division crown that year. The two teams finished tied for first and Major League Baseball acknowledged them as co-champs. Due to a worse head-to-head record, the Cardinals got a lower seed for playoff purposes, but MLB has never, in its entire 127-year history, used head-to-head records to determine any titles of any kind.

But I can see why the division title is so important to the Astros. It's the only kind they've ever won.


GOOD

This paragraph in the Post's recap of the Cardinals' game today stuck out to me:

Oswalt has not beaten the Cardinals in six lifetime starts. He is 0-2 with a 4.72 ERA. He gave up seven earned runs, the most of his career, against the Cardinals on July 18, 2001.

With all the smack being talked by the Astros in the last couple of weeks, these numbers are particularly glaring. Their best guy can't beat us. We've got his number.

By the way, ol' Roy gave up 10 runs today, 5 of them earned.

Imagine the Astros tonight, sitting on a cramped flight to San Francisco, pointing fingers after losing two out of three at home to the team they hate more than anything. They sent their ace out today in a rubber match, faced probably our worst starting pitcher, and still got slapped. It's got to be demoralizing. I can see it so clearly: cruising at 25,000 feet, Jeff Kent and Jeff Bagwell get into a shoving match that turns into a fist-fight that turns into tears.

I predict a 125 game losing streak for the Astros.


WEIRD YEAR SO FAR
..............................................................W-L.....IP........H.......ERA
Luke Prokopec, 2002.............................2-9.....71.2.....90.....6.78
Pedro, Maddux, Unit, Schilling, 2003......1-8.....75.2.....83.....6.78


Saturday, April 12, 2003


A FEW NOTES ON TONIGHT'S GAME

• George H.W. Bush and his ridiculous wife Barbara were at the game tonight. I can't prove it, but I'm nearly certain that I read G.H.W.'s lips correctly as he hurled a racial slur at Albert Pujols.

• Orlando Palmeiro is Rafael Palmeiro's cousin. Who knew?

• Jedmonds' tie-breaking single on a pitch a little up and out was exemplary professional hitting.

• Cardinal pitchers are very good at throwing the inside heat to opposing pitchers trying to bunt. It happened tonight, when Woody Williams hit Redding's bat and knocked Redding on his ass. It's a good strategy.

• By the way, do you think maybe Woody struck a deal with Lucifer before the 2002 season, in which he agreed to be hurt and unavailable for about 70% of his starts if he could be near perfect in those games he did pitch?

• Jedmonds probably could have caught Blum's leadoff single in the 6th, but he forgot to care about whether the ball landed on the ground or not. Jedmonds may be the one player that I frequently forgive for the sin of unhustling, maybe because there's something funny about how obvious it is or maybe it's because he's one of the most productive players in baseball.

• After facing Bagwell, Berkman, and Kent in the Astros' line-up, is there any Cardinal fan that doesn't sigh with relief and say, "Whew... it's Hidalgo."

• Wilson Delgado played a very good second base tonight, but I cringed when in the 8th he swung at a couple bad pitches early in the count with runners on 1st and 2nd and Jedmonds on deck. If he takes Bruce Chen into a deeper and more favorable count, he sees unapologetic strikes.

• Rednut is hitting .302 as a team going into the game.

• Scott Rolen's 4 walks tonight draw a humorous contrast with the man he replaced. Polanco might walk 4 times in a month and a half. Seriously.

• Brian wrote earlier about that hunk of junk Dale Petroskey, the CEO of the National Baseball Hall of Fame who recently spit at the spirit of the Bill of Rights. If you're as outraged as I am, email him on his personal address at work, which is dpetroskey@baseballhalloffame.org


A LOVE LETTER

Dear Mike Matheny,

I feel like a total jerk. I've been badmouthing your for years behind your back. I'm not exactly sure what had me so ticked -- maybe your career-long slump at the plate, or your chronic inability of late to throw out base stealers, or LaRussa's ignorance when it comes to your sub-shitty play. Whatever it was, I apologize. I realize how blind I've been.

I can now see the truth: you're awesome.

This season, you've dazzled me. I'm not just talking about your .425 batting average or your 6 RBIs, or even your 2 walks (although those really caught me off guard), or even seeing you hustle around the bases tonight against the Asstros. I'm talking about your style. Yes, you're beefy and hunky and hot and all those things everyone's looking for in a major league ball player. But you're also, I don't know, sturdy. Manly. Your new batting stance -- kinda squat, kinda not -- reminds me of a young King Kong so so balanced atop the Empire State Building, clutching a breath-taken Fay Wray, swatting all those pesky fighter planes out of the too dark sky. Oh to be your Fay Wray!

I think I know when this feeling inside of me started: April 8th, 2003. When you bitch-jacked that homer in the 13th inning against the nasty Rockies, giving the Rednals the sweet taste of victory. And when you tagged out that ugly gentleman trying to score? Damn, I wished I was your lover.

Alas, it can never be: you are a superstar, I am but a jackoff. But you will be in my dreams tonight, Mike Matheny. I will dream of you being this very same man for the rest of the regular season and beyond. So you keep running hard, keep your new squat stance at the plate, keep taking balls and smacking strikes (and maybe work on your throw to second, but that'll be our dirty secret!).

I am proud of you.

Love,
Mark


I need to respond to the asinine opinions expressed by that Brian guy and the sabr-egghead. Their "mathematical" evaluation of former Birdinal players had absolutely no foundation in actual kick-assedness or awesomosity. Using a formula developed by me, the Judge, I have a comprehensive list of the greatest Birdinals ever. (I won't get too technical, but the logarithm combines complex algebra, the atomic numbers for each member of the Gas House Gang, and Ernie Hayes at the organ.)

The Greatest:

C St. Glenn Brummer
1B Orlando Cepeda (blue glove; liked to kick it)
2B Red Schoendinst (redhead)
3B Tracy Woodson (now a professional basketball ref)
SS Mike Ramsey, the Rammer (hair)
LF Cesar Cedeno (.434)
CF Willie Dean (McGee's Famous Cookies)
RF Curt Flood (with Leon Trotsky, began the Bolshevik revolution)

Bench:
Floyd Rayford (VERY cute)
Steve Lake (3-run jack in extra frames)
Jack the Ripper ("every time up to the plate I try to hit it harder than I ever have before")
Marty Marion (embassador to the octopi)
Manny Lee (never failed)
David Green (owns a dog-grooming business)
Hard Hitten' Mark Whiten (12)

Starting Pitchers:
Tudor (Tudortacular)
Dave LaPoint (taught kitty kaat a new pitch; is younger NOW than kaat was then)
Ernie Broglio (we should have never let him go)
Paul Dean (combined with another guy for 49 wins in '34)
Scipio Spinks (that name again is Scipio Spinks)

Relievers:
Neil Allen (once raced in from the bullpen to start a fight)
Jeff Lahti (once offered to bean HoJo for a free pizza)
Al Hrabosky (once light-heartedly accused Mickey Hatcher of beating his wife)
Gibson Alba (once requested to be sent back down to the minors)
Rick Honeycutt (once scratched his face with a tack he was using to doctor the ball)

check the facts.


MOST KICK-ASS YEARS EVER A few columns ago, Bernie Miklasz presented Tim McCarver's picks for the Top 5 all-time Cardinals at each position. This weekend he provides us with a rebuttal from sabermetrician Jim Henzler, who bases his selections on an evaluative tool he developed with Bill James called Win Shares.

Henzler does correct some of McCarver's bigger blindspots -- but by favoring cumulative, career Win Shares over concentrated, peak Win Shares, Henzler arrives at some oddball selections, like Ed Konetchy as the #4 Cards first-sacker and Mark McGwire 8th. I can't totally argue with Henzler's approach -- he WAS going by career totals, after all, and McGwire's career in red was like a magnesium flare, brilliant but brief. But I thought it'd be cool to give the all-time highest Cardinal Win Shares at each position, going purely by their best year (since 1900). Here's what we come up with:

C Ted Simmons, 1978
1B Mark McGwire, 1998
2B Rogers Hornsby, 1922
3B Joe Torre, 1971
SS Ozzie Smith, 1987
LF Joe Medwick, 1937
CF Willie McGee, 1985
RF Stan Musial, 1948
RHP Dizzy Dean, 1934
LHP John Tudor, 1985 & Harry Brecheen, 1948
Relief Lindy McDaniel, 1960
Trainer Gene Gieselmann, 1982


EERIE Mike Shannon was shocked. Matt Morris was stunned. And the mood in the Cardinal clubhouse after the game was downright funereal.

Games in early April aren't supposed to be this foreboding, but tonight's game was an apt end to a week's worth of eerie, ominous Cardinal baseball. It all started last Friday, when we let ourselves get battered around by professional doormat Brad Ausmus and then, for good measure, ran ourselves into a loss. Next came a brilliant performance by Matt Morris last Saturday, flushed away by an unlikely Rolen miscue in the field and our utterly hapless bullpen. Since then we've experienced a blowout in Colorado, some bad blood with the Rockies, an excruciating triple play, a rash of injuries to Painter and Isringhausen, another late-inning collapse, and, worst of all, tonight's one-hopper to Tino Martinez in the ninth inning that should have capped off a masterful 2-1 win for Matt Morris... but instead of nestling safely into Tino's glove, the ball took a freakishly wild hop, ricocheted off Tino's hand, and gave the Astros just enough daylight to bust through our hard-fought lead. The whole thing had a queasy, Through the Looking Glass quality to it.

You'd like to say that freak moments like this even out over 162 games, that the law of averages will sandpaper the rough edges on our 0-4 record in one-run games. But consider this: in 2000, the Astros went 15-31 in one-run games, transforming a middling team into an embarrassing 90-loss team. In other words, sometimes these trends don't reverse themselves overnight.


BASEBALL'S HIGHEST HONOR
Two Cardinals added to the team's collection of postseason hardware. Gay sports website Outsports.com has given Jim Edmonds a 2002 Brass Balls Award as "the game's most watchable center fielder" and Jason Isringhausen a Brass Balls Award as "the game's most watchable relief pitcher."

About Edmonds they write, "While he verges on being too pretty, he is quite the physical specimen. He has beefed up into nearly a muscle god. And he's stopped doing stupid things with his hair. (Those highlights he had last year were a little too 1998, weren't they?) Now if he would only smile a little more and wipe that Jeff George scowl off his game face."

When Playboy magazine asked Edmonds about the honor he replied, "I didn't know [laughs heartily]. I guess it's flattering that people like me. But I'm more into ladies, I have to say.''

Izzy, who won the same award for Oakland in 2001, also gets a glowing write-up from Outsports: "Second year in a row. Different team. Uniform color changed from green to red. Still, Jason has the same big save numbers, the same big cute Dumbo ears, and the same big package, possibly the largest looking basket in any major league bullpen. Immense."

The first Redbird to win a Brass Balls Award was infielder Solly Hemus in 1955.


Friday, April 11, 2003


EYE OF THE TYGIEL I'm sure you've heard by now about the Hall of Fame's decision to cancel a commemorative screening of Bull Durham (in my mind the greatest sports movie ever made) because it's president, Dale Petroskey, can't stomach the political views of two of the films stars, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. This is idiotic for several reasons, but no one articulates such idiocy better than historian Jules Tygiel. Here's a reprint of the letter he sent to Petroskey:

Dear Dale:

As the holder of a lifetime membership in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, someone whose personal papers currently reside in the library at the Hall of Fame, and the author of the introductory sections (including those on patriotism and nationalism) to the Hall of Fame publication, Baseball As America: Seeing Ourselves Through Our National Game, I wish to strongly protest your imperious decision to cancel the commemoration of the anniversary of Bull Durham in Cooperstown, due to the opposition to the Iraq war voiced by its stars Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins.

The presidency of the Baseball Hall of Fame is, in effect, a sacred trust. By politicizing the Hall of Fame, you have violated that trust. Your position does not give you the right to impose your own political views on the events at the Hall to the exclusion of all others. One must assume that if people who protest American military actions are not welcome at the Hall of Fame, then Abraham Lincoln who opposed the Mexican War, Mark Twain who opposed the Spanish-American and Philippine Wars, and Martin Luther King, Jr., who opposed the war in Vietnam would not be welcome at the Baseball Hall of Fame. I also must assume that this letter jeopardizes my own future relationship with the Hall.

You write of Sarandon and Robbins, "We believe your very public criticism of President Bush at this important -- and sensitive -- time in our nation's history helps undermine the U.S. position, which ultimately could put our troops in even more danger. As an institution, we stand behind our President and our troops in this conflict." How was this institutional position arrived at? Were the employees or trustees polled? Were the people who pay dues to the organization asked? Were those enshrined consulted? Or is this the fiat of one person, yourself? Since when does the Hall of Fame take a position on political issues or voice open support for political figures and why is the opinion of the head a baseball museum more valid or valued than those of other public figures, like movie stars? I doubt very much that the expressed opinions of two celebrities "put our troops in danger." But actions like yours place our basic constitutional rights in dire jeopardy and disqualify you from representing the American national pastime. If you cannot see clear to reverse your position, then hopefully you will have the decency to resign.

Sincerely,
Jules Tygiel

I do disagree with Tygiel on one point. He appropriately skewers Petroskey's histrionic claim that Sarandon and Robbins' criticisms could "put our troops in danger." But in the next breath he makes a histrionic claim of his own, warning that Petroskey's actions "place our basic constitutional rights in dire jeopardy." Come on. Since when is having your movie screened at a private institution a "basic constitutional right"? Petroskey's decision has no bearing on our civil liberties. But that doesn't make his choice any less idiotic.


SUCKING UP TO THE BIG BOYS La Russa has once again chosen a screwy lineup for tonight's game, this time slotting Miguel Cairo (who has less plate discipline than my baby cousin Griffin) to lead off. Last week TLR pencilled in Orlando Palmeiro as his #3 hitter and had Cairo hit cleanup (in a game where the runs were predictably scarce).

But there may be a method to this madness. As blogger David Pinto (baseballmusings.com) points out, La Russa is often loathe to shuffle his stars from their fixed spots in the lineup. For example, tonight La Russa gave his regular secondbaseman, Fernando Vina, the night off, but rather than move a competent lead-off hitter up in the order (Renteria), he just swapped out Vina for his backup, Cairo.

Similarly, last week La Russa started both Rolen and Martinez, who would have made perfectably acceptable 3/4 hitters. But, says Pinto, "I know why La Russa didn't do that." Why? "There is this perception that batters like to know where they are hitting, and they don't want to change on a whim. John McNamara was famous for this. Boggs would leadoff for the Red Sox, but when Boggs got a day off, Ed Romero batted first. A better lineup then would have been for Barrett to lead off, move Dwight Evans into the two hole, and everyone behind Evans up a spot, then bat Romero 9th. But the players liked a set lineup, so runs were sacrificed to make everyone happy. I think that's a ludicrious way to run a team. If you can't convince players that a lineup change is best for the team, you shouldn't be managing."

That's a bit extreme. And at the end of the day I'm not convinced that lineup selection (i.e., the batting order, as opposed to who is chosen to play) has much bearing on run totals. But that doesn't make La Russa's choices any less screwy.


OHME SWEET OHME If you saw replays of Lance Painter getting picked off by a sniper yesterday, you could probably guess that he tore a hamstring. He's been replaced on the roster by some guy named Kevin Ohme.

First the good news on Ohme (pronounced OH-may): He's a lefthander; he pitched superbly in spring training (the Post called him the Best Player Who Did Not Make the Team); he's given up zero runs out of the pen in Memphis; and, best of all, he spent two years in Tokyo pitching for the coolest named team in history, the Nippon Ham Fighters.

Now the bad news: Those zero runs he gave up in Memphis were in only 3.1 innings, and his track record after 10 years in the minors isn't so hot. He's given up more hits than innings pitched, and he doesn't have enough juice on his fastball to strike out many minor leaguers (5.75 K/9 innings last year), much less many major leaguers.

But fortunately, you don't need prize relievers to cobble together a decent bullpen, particularly if you use your personnel wisely (see Atlanta Braves c.2002). Perhaps Duncan can make something out of Ohme, just as he squeezed blood out of those old turnips Simontacchi, Fassero, and Woody Williams.


Thursday, April 10, 2003


BACK TO .500 There were at least 4 times during today's game when I thought the possession arrow favored the good guys, when I thought, okay, we're going to win this one:

1) At the end of three innings, when Stephenson had yet to give up a hit and seemed at ease with an early 2-0 lead;
2) In the top of the sixth, when Rolen walked, Tino reached on an improbable bunt single, and the Cards seemed primed to erase a 3-2 deficit;
3) In the top of the eighth, when E-Rent's single put us up 6-4; and
4) In the top of the ninth, when Rolen drilled a lead-off double into the gap.

And each time the game slithered away. A triple play here, a freak injury there, and soon enough the Cards were limping out of town, losers 4 of their last 5. Why does God hate us so much?


TP I confess: part of me found today's triple play by the Rockies totally annoying (b/c it killed our inning and possibly cost us the game), but part of me found it sorta rad (b/c it's a goddamn triple play). The last triple play I saw in progress was 22 years ago almost to the day -- April 11, 1981, opening day, and I was at the game. It was a pretty wild play. Top of the 8th. Cards losing 5-2. Gary Matthews at the plate. Mike Schmidt, Bake McBride, and Manny Trillo on the bases. Jim Otten (!) on the mound. (All of these details are courtesy of the good folks over at retrosheet.org.) Matthews hit a low liner that Garry Templeton speared for out #1, who threw to Porter at home for tag out #2, who threw to Hernandez at first in general confusion, who threw to Herr at second to tag out Schmidt for out #3. In some ways it was a quadruple play, as we retired Matthews both by catching the line drive and by getting the force at first (it wasn't clear at first whether Tempy caught the ball, hence the confusion).

By the way, I've always thought there were 5 things every true baseball fan should do in person before they die (I've only done the first three in person):

1. See a triple play
2. See a title-clinching game
3. See a bench-clearing brawl
4. See a no-hitter
5. Catch a foul ball

Once you've accomplished each of these things, you may lie down in a field and expire.


NUMBNUT OF THE GAME

The candidates are:

A) Tony LaRussa for pulling a red-hot Jim Edmonds in the 8th with runners on first and third with one out.
B) Albert Pujols coming up with the bases loaded in the 7th and popping out, then grounding out in the 8th with runners on first and third.
C) Miguel Cairo for being a piece of shit who swings at any half-assed pitch thrown his way, even if the pitcher he's facing can't throw a strike to save his life.
D) Lance Painter for jacking up his groin or hamstring or whatever caused him to faint.
E) Matheny for his game ending double-play.
F) Red Schoendienst.


Correct Answer: A. I think the Rockies may have walked Jedmonds, loading the bases for Pujols. Then you put in a pinch runner. Even if they don't walk him, let him have the at-bat and pull him right after. I mean, is the danger of Jim Edmonds suffering an injury while either swinging the bat or running the bases THAT significant? If so, maybe he should just retire right now.

I guess LaRussa thought a two run lead was plenty in Coors Field. Maybe he should follow major league baseball a little bit.


3-1 Those are the odds, according to Mark Gunn, that there will be a brawl in today's game. Most of the time it's more like 200-1. These are about as good odds as you'll see for any game not involving Piazza, Clemens, or Guillermo Mota.


THE QUESTION OF THE DAY Is Preston Wilson an asshole? Tony LaRussa says that he is (although he didn't use that exact slur) after Wilson stole third base in the bottom of the 8th with his team cruising 9-4 over the Redbirds. The game had already featured a beanball exchange that got both Nelson Cruz and Clint Hurdle ejected, and, in that light, Wilson's theft seemed like it was intended to show up LaRussa's squad.

Baseball etiquette says you ease up on the gas when the game becomes a foregone conclusion. And indeed, by the time Wilson stole third, the Cardinals had already pulled Edmonds and Pujols in favor of the Cairo end of our roster. So LaRussa seems to have a point when he accuses Wilson of dirty ballplaying.

But I think LaRussa is wrong. Wilson, speaking to the press after the game, defends himself more ably than I could: "We blew a four-run lead last night and we blew a four-run lead in Houston. We had a five-run inning tonight. We both had five-run innings last night. It's not like they didn't play here last night. Five runs isn't that big a lead in this ballpark. I asked them, 'Where were you last night?'... If they didn't think they were in the ballgame, why did they change pitchers and go right-right when I came up? Why are they holding (catcher Bobby) Estalella on first with first and third? Why were they playing the infield in with Jose (Hernandez) up? If they are conceding the game, why are they doing that?... I don't steal bases to steal bases. I don't believe five runs is enough in this ballpark."

Whitey Herzog made the same point many years ago, when Roger Craig's Giants bitched about the Cardinals swiping third during a blowout. Herzog said of Craig, "if he promises to stop scoring runs, I'll promise to stop sending my runners." Herzog could be brash, loud, and frequently obnoxious, but he -- and Preston Wilson, for that matter -- understood something much better than the clubby, old-school LaRussa: Baseball is a game where you try to outscore the other guy. It isn't finishing school.


Wednesday, April 09, 2003


OUCH Not much you can do about tonight's loss but suck it up. Coors Field has always been a minefield for the Redbirds, something to be endured rather than conquered. And tonight we just had to take our lumps, with the hits coming Tommy Gun style -- in the first inning: single, ground out, double, double, homer, single. In the third: single, walk, triple, double, ground out, homer (that's a one-inning team cycle, for those of you scoring at home). Perhaps it was some kind of karmic revenge for last night's gift of a win.

You can't read very much into such losses. Does Tomko's statline (9 earned runs in 6 innings) indicate anything meaningful? Probably not. Trying to size up a pitcher's performance in Coors is kinda like trying to size up your waistline by looking in a funhouse mirror -- everything's out of whack. So let's write this one off and try to come back and win the rubber game tomorrow.


BASEBALL'S COLOR LINES For Cardinal fans like me, who grew up idolizing great African-American ballplayers named Ozzie and Willie and Silent George, it might come as something of a shock to read Rick Hummel's Post-Dispatch article from this morning. He points out that, had we cut Kerry Robinson from the club a couple weeks ago (reportedly he was the last player to make the opening day roster), it would have left the team without an African-American on its roster for the first time since 1953. Moreover, this problem isn't exclusive to the Cardinals. Throughout the major leagues there are proportionally fewer black ballplayers -- and fewer black stars -- than there have been in several decades.

It's a depressing trend, for sure. Consider that, had Bob Gibson been born today, he would very likely choose basketball over baseball as his vocation (as many of you know, Gibby was a professional basketball player before joining the Cards). But before fretting too much, consider these two points:

* Despite the downward trend in % of African-American players, in some ways baseball today reflects America's ethnic makeup more now than ever. Here are the breakdowns for MLB vs. the US as a whole, according to the last census (there's a slight overlap in the US percentages, due to people identifying themselves with multiple ethnicities):

----------------------------------MLB %-----USA%
Caucasians-------------------70.0---------75.1
African-Americans-----------11.1---------12.3
Hispanic or Latino-----------17.2---------12.5
Asian----------------------------1.7-----------3.6

Latino players are slightly over-reprented, but by and large the composite picture of Major League Baseball is, in many ways, a microcosm of America as a whole. Not many industries can claim such balanced representation across the board, which is one of the few things that baseball can justifiably celebrate.

* Secondly, fewer African-Americans may be turning to baseball, but fewer Americans in general are turning to baseball these days. Most of today's Latino and Asian players are imports from Latin American and Japan and Korea. Back in 1947, when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, the four major sports in the U.S. were baseball, boxing, horse racing, and college football. Nowadays it's the NFL, MLB, the NBA, and the NHL. Baseball is no longer our National Pastime; pro football is. And new sports (everything from arena football to women's hoops to X-games) and new forms of entertainment (videogames, cable television, the internet) are cutting into baseball's century-long hegemony. In other words, baseball's African-American problem is also an American problem. More African-Americans will flock to the game, as both participants and fans, if the game is made more palatable to youngsters in general. This is why MLB must put aside it's hyper-nostalgia for the past and do more things to attract the next generation (if I were commisioner, I'd start by instituting sweeping measures that speed up the time of games). Otherwise baseball may seem, in a hundred years or so, as a quaintly irrelevent sport, like horse racing.


XBH The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Jim Edmonds recent outburst -- 7 extra-base hits in two consecutive games -- tied a franchise record set by Red Schoendienst in 1948. What they did not mention is that Edmonds also tied the major league record for most XBH in two straight. He is the sixth player to accomplish the feat. The others? Ed Delahanty, Earl Sheely, Red Schoendienst, Joe Adcock, and Larry Walker. All pretty damn good players. Sheely is the most forgotten of the bunch, but he had a good eye, some gap power, and a fine glove for the post-Black Sox White Sox.


Tuesday, April 08, 2003


DO THE MATH, BITCH Is Mike Matheny on the verge of a respectable season? Maybe that hogwash about nagging injuries hampering him the last two seasons wasn't so much hogwash. Then again, he had an amazing spring in 2002, as I recall, then skanked it up during the entire regular season, even failing to match Joe Girardi's miserable caught-stealing percentage (both were under 35%, I believe). Since Girardi is now a Birdnal, does that mean that Girardi and Matheny combined will throw out 70% of base-stealers? I am poor at math.


HEROIC CAL Like I posted earlier, Cal Eldred is a keeper. What a gutsy outing. The boys on KMOX were saying that he has changed his approach from that of a starter -- setting up hitters -- to that of a reliever -- going for the quick out. Whatever he did, it vaulted him into the top three pitchers in baseball history: Gibson, Tudor, Eldred.


EMPTY SEATS Tonight's crowd of 21,563 was a record low for a Rockies home game (by a longshot actually). Strange, considering that the Cardinals, in the years B.C. (Before Coors), were the most popular team in Colorado due mostly to the long arm of KMOX. Weather doesn't seem to account for the low turnout -- the night was clear and relatively mild. But by the end of the game there seemed to be more Redbird fans in the seats than Rockie fans. So what gives? Is it the area's sagging economy? Seven years of missing the playoffs? Or has the novelty of the Rockies simply worn off after peaking in the mid-90s? Are the Rockies the new St. Louis Steamers?


15-12!Tommy Lasorda once said that, at the beginning of every season, you know that every team is going to win 54 games and every team is going to lose 54 games. It's how you do in those remaining 54 -- the close ones -- that makes the difference.

This was one of those close ones. At half past midnight, nearly 4 1/2 hours into a war of attrition in Coors Field, the Cards were in danger of dropping their third straight nail-biter. They'd already dodged several bullets -- they needed to score five times in the 7th to work around a disastrous start by Jason Simontacchi (12 base runners in 3 innings) and abysmal relief work from Fassero and Calero; they needed a great throw by Eddie Perez to punch out Jay Payton at home and send the game into extra innings; and they needed a 1-2-3 double play with Larry Walker at the plate, one out, and the bases loaded, to escape the bottom of the 11th.

But somehow we scratched and battled, clung by our fingertips all night, and pulled out a win. There were some usual heroes -- Jim Edmonds, Albert Pujols, and Steve Kline among them -- but sweeter yet were great games by guys we're used to ragging on. Mike Matheny not only delivered the big blow, a three-run jack in the 13th, but he put a great tag on Payton in the ninth. And Cal Eldred, the goat of the day on this very website, pitched a smart, sound game when none of our other pitchers could. Our most satisfying win of the young season.


CHASING HANK John Shiffert is baseball-history hobbyist who writes a weekly e-newsletter called 19 to 21, which compares elements from baseball's past to baseball's present (19th century to the 21st century -- get it?) (btw, if you want to be included on his mailing list, contact him at johnshiffert@mail.clayton.edu). Anyway, today John honors the 29-year anniversary of Hank Aaron passing the Babe as the all-time home run king. He then estimates (using a Bill James metric called The Favorite Toy) what active players have the best chance of breaking Aaron's record. He arrives at the following numbers:

Alex Rodriguez - 36.2% of 756 lifetime homers
Sammy Sosa - 25.9%
Barry Bonds - 8.2%
Ken Griffey, Jr. - no chance

What's interesting to me isn't so much who has the greatest shot of passing Hammerin' Hank, it's whether or not any one of these people will ring the clown bell. If A-Rod has a 36.2% chance of hitting 756 homers, that means he has a 63.8% chance of NOT hitting 756 homers. Sosa has a 74.1% of failing; Barry Bonds, 91.8%. Probability tells us, then, that there's a 43.4% chance that none of these three guys passes Aaron. Or, put another way, there's a 56.6% chance that at least one of these big guys breaks the record.

This is the first era since the age of Mays and Aaron that the all-time home run record seems LIKELY to fall. As much as I admire Hank Aaron, I'd love to see his record topple -- after all, I was only 4 years old when he established the current mark. So come on, Albert Pujols. Tighten your cleats, Mike Matheny. Make it happen.


SILENT CAL What to do with Cal Eldred? The guy's numbers in two appearances are hilarious: 135.00 ERA in 1/3 of an inning pitched, .857 BA against, giving up 2 homeruns and throwing a wild pitch for good measure -- against the BREWERS! It was clear that by the Houston series LaRussa was terrified of putting Eldred in a game. In Cal's defense, he hasn't pitched in a regular season game since April of 2001 -- pre-September 11th. So perhaps the anguish we all went through after that horrible day is still affecting his arm.

LaRussa has a history of giving his pitchers a little too long a leash, especially his beloved veterans, but Eldred has been so atrocious that even LaRussa has to think twice about putting him in. My bet is that he'll use Eldred a couple more times and then, if he still has no stuff, send him down.

But it speaks to a deeper problem: who to bring up? With the injury to Izzy and the mysterious decline and fall of Mike Crudale, our bullpen depth is woeful. Jocketty really didn't help the pen in the off-season, letting too many of our stalwarts slip away (Dave Veres, Rick White). So if LaRussa has a little too much faith in Eldred, that's probably the reason.

But it seems to me that if you're going to take a chance on a pitcher who could throw strikes or who could suck, it should be Rick Ankiel.


Monday, April 07, 2003


BLUNDERS Bernie Miklasz got it right when he praised La Russa for yanking Morris on Saturday with a slim 1-0 lead heading into the ninth. Morris was already up to 105 pitches and it's early April -- you don't tear up your ace pitcher's arm just to give yourself a better shot at a 4-1 record. But Miklasz let La Russa off the hook when it comes to other matters this past weekend. "La Russa is having a rough series," he wrote. "He had sound reasons for most of his calls in the first two games, but many of the decisions went against the Cardinals, and so did the results." But what were the sound reasons for having Vina try to steal third with one out in the 12th inning on Friday? Vina was gunned down on a strike-em-out-throw-em-out double play with Al Pujols at the plate and, poof, the game was over. What was the logic? With Vina running in that situation you get:

1. A better chance for him to score on a bloop hit or an infield hit
2. A better chance for Palmeiro, the trail runner, to score on an XBH
3. A better chance to avoid the double play
4. A much greater chance that Pujols, trying to keep the hit and run alive, swings and misses at a bad pitch and strikes out
5. And, if 4, then a much greater chance that Vina gets thrown out and ends the game

Now consider that the pitcher, Brad Lidge, was shaky already (up to that point he had thrown 6 strikes, 10 balls, thus increasing the chance that Pujols chases a bad pitch), that a single likely would have scored Vina anyway, that a double likely would have scored Palmeiro anyway, that, in any event, we needed to tie before we could score the go-ahead run, that Pujolsis a great hitter who could have moved the runners up with a hit or a walk just fine w/o forcing the issue by sending the runners (a lead runner, mind you, in Pujols' peripheral vision), that we had the powerful Scott Rolen on deck of Pujols failed to deliver, and that Ausmus had already thrown out not one but TWO runners the inning before, and all I can say is that either (a) Vina went on his own and he's a complete moron (either b/c he thought it was a wise move or b/c he forgot how many outs there were) or (b) La Russa himself made the call and, as a guy who's supposed to be able to figure out the above logic even better than his players, that he is, in fact, a bigger complete moron. I'm surprised the Post didn't call him on it.


THANK YOU, BABY JESUS Yesterday's rainout couldn't come at a better time for the Birds, for several reasons: (a) We dodged a face-off with Roy Oswalt, in my opinion one of the 3 or 4 scariest moundsmen in the NL. (b) We're heading off for a nine-day road trip, starting with three games in the unfriendly confines of Coors Field. We'll need as many fresh arms as possible to handle the offensive blitz, particularly given our shaky bullpen (that means you, EldredHermansonFassero). (c) Both our losses on Friday and Saturday were heartbreakers -- the rainout was a nice chance to mend our minds. And (d), best of all, it was even a better chance to mend our weary bodies. Pujols is banged up with a mild hammy pull; Marrero has a deep bone bruise; Edmonds is limping with a calf strain; Izzy suffers from a frayed labrum; and Drew is, of course, still recovering from patellar tendon surgery.


PAIN IN THE NECK Woody Williams is temporarily sidelined with yet another ache, this time a "crick in his neck" (forgive the medical mumbo-jumbo). This is no big deal -- Woody will miss only one start, in Coors Field, which has been hostile to him in the past (a 12.81 lifetime ERA). But the fear in Redbird Nation is that this no-big-deal will turn into a very big deal. Dizzy Dean once fractured his left little toe, which led to an alteration in his pitching motion, which led to shoulder and arm problems, which led to the end of his career. Is it paranoid to think that the crick in Woody's neck will finish him in the same way? Yes. But Woody has been bothered by enough aches and pains over the years, including long stints on the DL in both seasons with the Cards, that no one could blame you for feeling a little paranoid right now.


Sunday, April 06, 2003


Welcome to Redbird Nation. We are a group of Cardinals fans who have decided to make our obsession public. Our goal is simple: to write and think and talk enough about the Cardinals that we help bring a World Championship to St. Louis, where it goddamn belongs.


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