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Wednesday, June 30, 2004

CARDINAL KILLER Who blew today's game for the Cardinals? Was it Julian Tavarez, who, for the second time this series, gave up a game-losing run in the bottom of the ninth? Was it Reggie Sanders, who made a critical error in the bottom of the 8th that allowed Tony Alvarez to score the go-ahead run? Was it Matt Morris, who, despite not allowing a homer, gave up 5 runs in 8 innings to the Pirates? Was it Tony La Russa, who was so certain Morris would throw a goose egg in the 8th (he didn't) that he threw away the top of the inning by letting Morris make the second out? Was it So Taguchi, who came up with runners on second and third, no one out in the 7th and struck out (and looked laughable doing it)? Was it Edgar Renteria, who came up with the bases juiced in the top of the ninth and doused the inning by grounding into a 6-4-3?

I guess all those guys blew the game to some extent, but if you want the real killer of this game, look no further than the walking cyanide tablet, John Mabry. Mabry had not only his worst game of the year, not only the worst game by a Cardinal this year, I venture to say that he had the single worst game by any position player in baseball this year. Don't believe me? Check out his day:

Top of 1st: Mabry comes to the plate with the bases loaded -- and whiffs on four pitches to end the inning. (That made 8 runners left on base, no runs scored, in the first innings of this three-game series.)

Bottom of 1st: Mabry makes a spectacular sprawling stop of Jason Bay's shot down the line with two outs, his one bright moment of the afternoon. Problem is, he muffs the throw to Pujols, Bay is safe, the inning continues, and Bay ends up scoring the 2nd of 3 runs that inning.

Bottom of 2nd: One out, no one on, pitcher Kip Wells hits a dribble toward Mabry at third. Mabry lets the ball go under his glove for a generous "infield hit." Wells ends up scoring run #4.

Top of 3rd: Runners at first and third, no one out, chance for a big inning. Mabry grounds into a DP. The run scores, but it allows the Pirates to maintain the lead.

Top of 5th: With runners on first and second and one out, Renteria hits a tailor-made double-play ball back to the mound, but Wells' poor throw (and Wilson's poor scoop) loads the bases for -- who else? -- John Mabry. With two gift miscues on the same play from the Pirates, the Cards have a chance to blow the game wide open. First pitch to Mabes: 4-6-3 double play. Inning over.

Top of 7th: Bases loaded yet again, only one out. Game tied, easy runs all over the field. Mabry doesn't even make it to Ball 1, strikes out on 5 pitches. Kills the inning.

Top of the 9th: Game tied, two outs, go-ahead run sitting out on third. At that point I thought there was about an 80/20 chance Mabry would get a hit. He just had to. He'd be like the poor orphan girl in some old melodrama who experiences a life of pain and misery only to be saved in the final reel. Nope. Mabry grounds out instead, the last hitter of the game for the Birds.

If you're scoring at home, Mabry came up with 12 runners on the bases and advanced only one of them, and that was on a double play. He came up 5 times with runners on third and 4 times with runners on second and had no RBI's. He came up three times with the bases loaded and struck out twice and grounded into a double play.

Can we call a "do over"?

THE BEST LAID PLANS I've been spoiled by success. The Cardinals had been playing so well lately that a speed bump in Pittsburgh seemed almost inconceivable Monday morning -- especially when you consider that the Cards have the best road record in the National League, the Bucs have the worst home record, and heading into this series the Cardinals had won 14 of their last 16 in PNC Park (much like the cuckoo bird, who moves into the nest of a rival species, murders all the hatchlings, then mimics the attributes of its host in order to be fed by the unwitting mother).

But those plans have already gone awry. The Cardinals repeated their performance from last night -- each inning you'd half-expect them to bust it open, and each inning they'd go down with barely a whimper -- and they've already dropped their first series in five weeks. What's more, they're in danger of getting swept for the first time since way back on April 14th. A few notes:

• A couple weeks ago after losing to Jung Bong and the Reds, Albert Pujols admitted that the Cards struggle against pitchers they haven't seen before. (That means you might be able to defeat the mighty Redbirds!) Tonight the perpetrator was lefthander Sean Burnett, who pitched well against Roger Clemens last week but took the loss. But before that he'd lost 5 straight starts in AAA and sported an ugly 5.36 minor league ERA. He has no giddyup on his fastball whatsoever, and frankly we have no business losing to a guy like that. Then again, it's his first major league win and I bet he talked to his parents on the phone after the game then went out and had a couple free drinks with his new buddies and I should probably be happy for the guy.

• The Cardinals miss Jim Edmonds. If you believe BP's Marginal Lineup Value ratings, the difference between Edmonds and Taguchi in the lineup is about one run every other game. That's enormous, especially in tight games like last night and tonight.

• On the plus side, it's good to see Edgar Renteria getting his smoove on. With two three-hit games out of his last three, he's raised his average to .287, thirty points higher than it was two and a half weeks ago.

• The Pirates scored their first run of the game on a double-play ball off the bat of Tike Redman that should have ended the inning, except Tony Womack delivered a weak relay throw over to first. Womack's arm is so bad that I got to wondering if it was showing up in the statistics.

So what I did is I determined the number of runners on first for the opposition this year (H + BB + HBP - 2B - 3B - HR - SH - WP - BK - PB), which came to 622 (I don't have data on reached on errors, so those weren't included). Assuming runners on first are distributed fairly evenly regardless of who's playing second, I estimated how many runners were on first for each second baseman. Womack, for example, has played 493.1 (or 72%) of the team's 683.2 innings at second, which means an estimated 449 runners have been on first while Womack is in the field. T-Dub has turned 42 DP's this year, or 9.4% of the time the double play is in order.

How does that compare to other Cardinals second basemen? Just fine, actually. The other 2004 second sackers have turned 17 DPs in 173 chances, or 9.8%, about the same as Womack. Last year the Cardinals second basemen had a DP rate of only 6.8%. And Fernando Vina, one of the best you'll find on the pivot, was at only 8.4%.

Conclusion: if Womack's arm is hurting his ability to turn two, it hasn't shown up in the numbers.

• Last year Jose Mesa got all kinds of grief from Phillies phans for his 6.52 ERA as closer, but he still managed to save 24 of 28 games. This year he's a perfect 18 for 18.

SPORTS ON CELLULOID In honor of their 25-year anniversary, ESPN recently compiled a list of the greatest sports movies of the last quarter century. I'm gonna use that as an excuse to issue my own list of the 10 greatest sports movies of all time. (I know, I know, this is supposed to be strictly a baseball blog, but the fact is there aren't 10 good baseball movies, much less 10 best baseball movies, so I'm including all sports.)

Couple caveats: One, I haven't seen every sports movie ever made (e.g., I've never gotten around to seeing Major League), so I can't claim this list is definitive. Two, this list changes all the time depending on my mood, the day, etc., so I won't fight to the death over it (although I might fight you to a coma).

Oh, and one more caveat: I don’t count poker as a sport, otherwise Robert Altman’s California Split would come in first or second. Onto my picks...

1. Bull Durham (1988): One of the most “American” movies of all time, in that it’s a perfect melting pot of sports, sex, irony, and cockeyed dreamers. I’d put it up there with The Lady Eve, Annie Hall, and Tootsie among the best romantic comedies ever made.

2. The Bad News Bears (1976): Today you’d never get away with some of the stuff they had in this movie (the kids celebrate at the end by chugging beer!), but for all it’s slovenliness it’s oddly moving.

3. Breaking Away (1979): I’ve never been as exultant in a movie theater as I was seeing this one at age 9; it has a simple but flawless script by Steve Tesich, who died much too young.

4. Raging Bull (1980): I think it’s marred a bit by Scorsese’s idealization of a lout, but the best parts are so raw and pulsating that they make up for it. (Although I had to dock it a few points for ushering in the trend where actors mutilate themselves in the name of “acting.”)

5. The Freshman (1925): My favorite silent comedy that doesn’t star Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin, it has a number of classic Harold Lloyd sequences that later became the basis for (I kid you not) The Waterboy.

6. Cobb (1994): Tommy Lee Jones gives one of the most titanic (and forgotten) performances of all time; I would rank it higher were it not for Robert Wuhl hamming it up and getting wiped off the screen at every turn.

7. Jerry Maguire (1996): Forget about “Show me the money,” “You complete me,” and “You had me at hello.” There’s a good, shaggy movie lurking underneath all the hype.

8. Slap Shot (1977): Like Richard Pryor Live in Concert or Rip Torn on Larry Sanders, this film makes profanity seem almost profound.

9. Rocky (1976): I can still remember watching this on video with my uncle as a kid and seeing him, at the end of the movie, leap up off the couch shouting and clapping, “He went 15! That’s all that matters! He went 15!”

10. When We Were Kings (1996): A great subject with a great cast of characters. Are the stars of this movie Ali and Foreman or Norman Mailer and George Plimpton?

Honorable Mentions: Caddyshack (for Ted Knight alone), White Men Can’t Jump (great playground banter), Hoosiers (for Hackman’s performance), Miracle (for Kurt Russell, who actually one-ups Hackman), and Pumping Iron (which could be re-titled The Making of a Governor)

Worst Sports Movies of All Time: Field of Dreams (a New Age group therapy session masquerading as a baseball movie), and Space Jam (quite honestly the worst movie I’ve ever seen in my life)

Let the arguments begin...

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

LEARN SOMETHING NEW EVERY DAY Did you know that St. Louis and Pittsburgh have the oldest rivalry in all of baseball? Jim Baker pointed that out recently, although he added a few qualifications:

[The Cardinals and Pirates are] the oldest, ongoing, direct rivalry in baseball. I define "direct" as one in which both teams are in the same league and the same division.
The rivalry between Steeltown and the Lou began, then, in 1882. But personally I think he fiddles with too many variables to make his case, especially since the Cardinals (although they were actually called the Browns back then) did not join the National League until 1892.

Real cowhide buffs should consider a rivalry as one that takes place without interruption between two cities in the same league. With those criteria, the oldest rivalry is between the Cubs and Pirates, 118 years.

THE BEASTS FROM THE CENTRAL Tom Tippett illustrates just how dominant the NL Central has been this season -- as a group, they're five games ahead of any other division in baseball. (That includes the vaunted AL East even with the recent surge by the D-Rays.) How good has the former Comedy Central been? Says Tom,

If not for Pittsburgh's 2-10 record in inter-league play, all six teams would be above .500 in extra-division contests. In fact, all six are above .500 in games against other NL teams.
If you're a 'Stros fan, there's good news in all this:

[T]he Astros have played 48 games within their division (25-23) and only 27 against outsiders (14-13). That's the least balanced schedule in the game to this point. Perhaps a steady diet of games against non-divisional foes is just what Houston needs to make a move.
I have a better idea. The Astros should just stop playing genuinely good teams. Against teams with a winning percentage over .550, the Astros are 11-17. And if you lower the bar to .525, they're still only 19-28. Perhaps Rob Neyer wasn't exaggerating when he opined that Carlos Beltran could get traded again this season if the Astros don't start winning.

IN THE BIG INNING Larry Stone has a fun little article in the Seattle Times about "The Book" -- that legendary bible of baseball strategy that includes heaping amounts of supposedly time-tested conventional wisdom. As Stone writes,

You will not find the book (or, more accurately, The Book) on Amazon, no matter how adroitly you manipulate their search engine. Even the most massive Barnes and Noble outlet doesn't stock this tome, revered though it may be. The curators of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown have done their due diligence, and it simply doesn't exist.
Although in actuality it wouldn't be that hard to assemble. In fact, here's a start -- my rough draft for The Book, or the set of knowledge that's more or less taken for granted in coaching and managerial circles these days:

Use a fast singles hitter who gets on base to lead off. Put a good bat handler second. Try to put your hitter with the best batting average in the third spot. Put your biggest home run hitter in the cleanup spot. If in the NL, put your worst-hitting position player in the 8th spot; if in the AL, the 9th spot. If you pitcher has to hit, bat him ninth. Make sure you protect your best hitter by having one of your other best hitters hit behind him in the lineup.

With runners on first or second and less than two outs, always bunt with the pitcher at the plate. Always bunt in the late innings if you're tied or down by a run, less than two outs, runner(s) on first or second. While fielding, never try for the lead runner on a sacrifice attempt unless you’re absolutely certain you can get him out.

Do not attempt a stolen base unless you’re ahead in the count. Conversely, never pitchout with two balls on the hitter. Never get thrown out on the bases with your best hitter at the plate or due up. Never allow the third out to be made at third base. With two outs, err on the side of sending the runner home rather than holding him at third.

Don’t use the hit and run with two outs. Don’t use the hit and run with a strikeout hitter at the plate. Don’t use the hit and run if your best home run hitter is at the plate. Do use the hit and run to avoid the double play. Do use the hit and run with a batter who can hit the ball through the vacated second base side of the diamond.

Issue an intentional walk with first base open, runners on second and/or third, late innings, and a worse hitter on deck than at the plate. In the same situation in the early innings, issue an “intentional unintentional walk,” i.e., nibble at the strike zone, don’t give the hitter anything good to hit.

Bring the infield in with a runner on third, less than two outs, late innings, tight game. Concede the run for the double play if runners are on first and third and you’re ahead by more than one run. Guard the lines – i.e., concede the single to try to avoid the extra-base hit – with the lead late in the game. Outfielders should play deep with the tying or winning run on first late in the game, especially with two outs. Cutoff a throw from the outfield if the outfielder’s arm is weak or if it’s a high-scoring game and you can keep the trail runner from advancing.

Keep your starter in the game through 5 innings, unless he’s really getting rocked. When making a pitching change, try to use a lefty to face a lefty and a righty to face a righty. When using a pinch hitter, try to use a righty to face a lefty and a lefty to face a righty. Bring in a sinkerball pitcher if you want the double play.

Use your ace reliever in the ninth inning with a lead of four or fewer runs; avoid using him to get more than three outs. If the pitcher’s slot is due the next inning, and you want to bring in a new pitcher for longer than the current half inning, make a double switch to move the pitcher’s spot out of the way. Give your starting pitchers four days of rest, except in the playoffs, when three will do.

Pinch hit later rather than earlier. Use a defensive sub for a poor fielder in the late innings of a close game, particularly if your team has the lead. Always leave one sub on the bench if the game may go into extra innings. If a slow runner constitutes the tying or winning run in the late innings, use a speedy pinch runner.

Take a pitch on 3-0. Take a pitch on 2-0 if you need baserunners. Waste a pitch if your pitcher is ahead 0-2. Play for the tie at home and a win on the road.

That's all I have for now. Feel free to add or amend the Book as you see fit.

Monday, June 28, 2004

WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT? Tonight was probably our most ridiculous loss of the year. In fact, I'm having a hard time figuring out the most ridiculous aspect of the game. Here are the candidates:

A. The fact that the Cardinals wasted nearly all of their scoring opportunities -- bases loaded, one out in the first, didn't score; runners stranded on first and second in the second; first and third, one out in the sixth and didn't score -- while the Pirates had only three runners get as far as second base and two of them scored.

B. The fact that Jeff Suppan was seven outs from a no-hitter and ended up losing the game.

C. The fact that the Pirates got their first hit on a double that John Mabry was too slow to catch (Sanders would have had it easily) and then the next batter tied the game on an 0-2 pitch.

D. The fact that the Cardinals managed only 1 run in 8 innings off of Kris Benson, who entered the game with a 5.11 ERA.

E. The fact that Jack Wilson made a horrible baserunning gaffe in the bottom of the ninth and got rewarded for it with some Little League defense by the Cardinals (including a rare throwing error by Pujols, and a rarer mishandle by Scott Rolen, his second muff of the game).

All in all it seemed like a game that neither team wanted to win, but the Cardinals didn't want to win just a little more.

STEVE KLINE PLAYS DR. PHIL Bernie Miklasz has an interesting take on Fingergate, the episode in which Steve Kline flipped an obscene gesture toward La Russa last week -- he thinks it was actually helpful (not to mention healthy) for the Cards. I'll let him explain:

[I]t's better to vent in public than not at all. The worst a team can do is allow problems to fester and metastasize without taking grievances to the manager. In my opinion, that neglect played a role in the demise of the 2003 Cardinals. As the summer went on, unhappy players stewed over La Russa's micromanaging style, and it was one of the reasons the Cardinals gave such a half-hearted effort in a bitter September. By the time Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen and Tino Martinez privately aired their concerns to La Russa in the final days of the season, it was much too late.
What Kline did wasn't pretty, but much like a drunk driver who taps his fender on a tree, it may have been a good, victimless call for help.

THE X CHROMOSOME Part of the reason the Cubs have such a broad fan base is that it's literally composed of a lot of broads. According to a new study, "46 percent of women in Chicago are major-league baseball fans and 44 percent of major-league baseball fans in Chicago are women."

I think a similar phenomenon exists in St. Louis. Last summer when the Cardinals played the Red Sox, the NESN broadcast featured an interview with an author who had published books on both the Cards and the Red Sox. He contended that those two teams have the best, most loyal, most widespread fan base in all of baseball, primarily because, in his opinion, they have more female fans than anyone else. Which reminds me of something my brother the Judge wrote at the time:

Whenever I need an example of how great Cardbird fans are, I'm reminded of the time my dad went to eat lunch and overheard a group of about eight women who worked in his office having an animated discussion. He soon discovered that they were all talking about the previous night's Cardinal game. It was May.
They were probably talking about how well Jim Edmonds fills out a pair of stretchy pants. (Sorry, ladies, that was a lame joke...)

BEST OF THE BEST This is a pretty ridiculous list -- the 10 best sports teams in all creation. But I did take a shine to #10.

TEMP WANTED The Cardinals have plenty of outfielders who can mash righties -- Edmonds, Mabry, Lankford, Sanders, even So Taguchi. But hitting lefties is a different story. Edmonds has been his usual superb self, and Mabry has done well in limited duty, but beyond that? Check out these on-base percentages vs. southpaws from our cast of OFers:

Cedeno, .267
Taguchi, .267
Sanders, .266
Lankford, .259
Luna, .237
Anderson, .211

It's no surprise, then, that the Cardinals are rumored to be searching for a righthanded bat to play outfield and give those guys above a break.

Christian Ruzich believes he's found a good candidate for the job -- Pirates castoff Ruben Mateo. Mateo was recently designated for assignment by the Bucs, and the Cards can have him just by plucking him off the waiver wire (provided no other NL team wants him; they all get a shot at him before the Cardinals).

Mateo might be worth a look. He sports a lifetime .287/.346/.466 line against LHP, and he's hit three homers off lefties this year in only 20 at bats. He's also crushed AAA pitching the last couple years (Louisville in 2003, Nashville in 2004), but no one has ever given him more than 219 plate appearances in the bigs. Granted, whenever someone has given him a shot, he's been too much a free swinger (only 46 walks in 829 PAs), but it's not like our other options in the outfield are teeming with patience (has anyone else noticed Reggie Sanders' ghastly 65/12 K/BB ratio?).

If Mateo doesn't work, you think the Cards could pry Jason Lane away from the Astros? I doubt it -- he'll probably be Houston's starting rightfielder next year, and he plays for a division rival -- but he mutilates lefties and last I heard he was out of job.

DOGS, FRISBEES, AND JIM EDMONDS A new study reveals that dogs catch frisbees by using the same strategy that an outfielder uses to catch fly balls. What does that mean? Well, I'm glad you asked. Here's a description:

Basically, an outfielder selects a running path that allows him or her to keep the image of the moving ball on the same part of the retina. In effect, from the fielder's point of view, the ball appears to move in a straight line and at a constant speed relative to home plate and the background scenery. To get the desired result for a ball hit off to one side, for example, the fielder would run along a curved path to cancel out the curvature of the ball's trajectory.
Got it?

Sunday, June 27, 2004

THE GERALD FORDS OF BASEBALL What was the worst thing about the Cardinals' weekend in Kansas City? Well, let's see... The team left 12 runners on base in Saturday night's game. That's not good. Oh, and in that same game Rolen walked with runners on first and second, ruining another chance to pad his RBI total. Immensely frustrating. And how about Jason Marquis' pitch count in today's game? 111 in five innings? Just miserable.

The fact is, only the most doomsdayish would find much wrong with the Cardinals these days. They've been winning big, they've been winning small. They've won with good pitching and bad. They've relied on timely hitting (as on Friday), crafty pitching and penwork (as on Saturday), and a barrage of singles (as on Sunday). They've now won or tied 10 straight series, running their record to 46-29. That equals the best mark through 75 games of any Cardinals team in my lifetime. In fact, it's our best win total at this point in the season since 1944, when the Redbirds started 53-22. (The '67, '68, and '87 teams also started 46-29, and each team made the World Series.)

As Dan over at Get Up, Baby! pointed out recently, winning is often less interesting than losing, particularly for a baseblogger. How much more fun it is to pick over the latest faux pas, the downward trends, and the all-too-human failings of our favorite teams. Dysfunction sells, and if you don't believe me, ask yourself whether you'd rather read the autobiography of Bill Clinton or the autobiography of, say, Gerald Ford.

I wouldn't go so far as to call the Cardinals the Gerald Fords of baseball (I mean, Ford couldn't even beat Carter in the postseason), but they're good sturdy dependable people nonetheless. I certainly can't complain.

THE PASSION OF DON DENKINGER I'm not one of those people who claims that Don Denkinger is the reason we lost the 1985 World Series. But he was certainly one of the reasons, and there's no doubt that his gaffe in Game 6, when he called Jorge Orta safe leading off the bottom of the ninth, was among the worst calls in sports history.

Denkinger rarely talks about his blunder (understandably), so when he sat down with ESPNews's Michael Kim to discuss the matter before this weekend's Cards-Royals matchup, I took notes. Here's what I learned:

1. Denkinger's name is pronounced with a hard G at the end, like the G in "good times" rather than, say, "gypped." (Ironically enough.)

2. Asked if he was amazed that people are still talking about his call 19 years after the fact, Denkinger replied, "I'm totally amazed. I can't believe people are still bringing it up."

I find that hard to swallow. Back in '85 Denkinger received death threats, hundreds of pieces of hate mail, and required round-the-clock police and FBI protection; surely he's not surprised that people are merely talking about it these days.

3. But here's that does amaze me: just how bad Denkinger got the play wrong. ESPNews showed two replays of the blown call, and Orta is a good two feet away from the bag when the ball lands in Worrell's glove. Nowadays you never see umps goof things up that badly.

4. So how did it happen? Denkinger offered an explanation. It seems that he was expecting Cards' 1B Jack Clark to flip the ball to Worrell, who would then catch the ball and race Orta to the bag. In such cases the ump need only look at the base and see whose foot lands first. But in this case Clark had trouble getting the ball out of his glove and tossed the ball to first after Worrell was at the bag.

By that time Denkinger was already out of position -- he was too close to the developing play, zeroed in on first base, expecting a footrace. If he was back further, he could have seen both the ball go into Worrell's glove and Orta's foot hit the bag; but he was so close that he couldn't judge it on looks alone without swiveling his head.

Plan B, in such cases, is to listen and hear what lands first: the foot or the ball. But the crowd was so loud (the Royals' playoff hopes were on the line, for God's sake) that Denkinger couldn't hear a thing. He ended up having to look at the ball hit Worrell's glove, then the position of Orta's foot (sequentially rather than simultaneously), which is basically the same as guessing. And Denkinger guessed wrong.

By the way, I would guess that you don't see such blunders at first nowadays in part because of this call. Umps must be taught nowadays to stay back further to avoid the type of mistake the Denkinger made, which, in retrospect, was more an error in positioning than an error in judgment.

5. Jack Clark certainly wasn't responsible for Denkinger's bad call, but by failing to release the ball quickly he made the play much closer than it should have been. When you combine that with Clark's mistake on the batter after Orta (he and Darryl Porter let Steve Balboni's foul popup fall between them), it's a wonder Clark is not considered a bigger World Series goat. Baseball had to wait a year before the goat horns were fitted for another first baseman who made a fielding blunder in Game 6 of the Series.

6. When did Denkinger first find out he blew the call? "I didn't know it," he says, "until I walked into the dressing room after the game was over and Peter Uebberoth, the commissioner, was standing there and I asked him, 'did I get the play right?' and he said no."

You'd have to be some kind of monster not to empathize with the sick stomach-knot that Denkinger must have felt at that moment. I mean, it's not like he was trying to screw up the play. Denkinger was a major-league ump for 30 years, officiating both the Bucky Dent Game and the Jack Morris Game. But in that one instant in Kansas City, his legacy was basically ruined forever.

7. But I lost some of my newfound empathy for Denkinger when he described his altercation with Whitey Herzog in Game 7. (He stopped short of saying he rang up Herzog for calling him a cocksucker, although that's what he told Maxim magazine a few years ago.) As he explained to ESPNews:

"Herzog said, 'you know, if you'da gotten the play right last night, we wouldn't have had to be here.' We don't talk about those things, you know, this is a different day, so of course, I had a comment, I said, 'if you were hitting at all you wouldn't have had to be here either.'"
A moment earlier Denkinger was boasting about how he's above the game, how he doesn't even notice the scoreboard or who's winning and losing:

"I couldn't even tell you the score when Tudor left the game [in Game 7], because we don't keep track of those things... I couldn't even tell you what the score was when I had the blowup with Joaquin Andujar."
But somehow, this above-reproach umpire, who never pays attention to the scoreboard, who claims that "we don't talk about" what happened yesterday, knows all about the Cardinals' hitting troubles leading up to Game 7? And then uses them to goad Herzog? And then brags about it 19 years later on TV? What a cocksucker.

A MISTAKE ABOUT THE MISTAKE HITTER There are a lot of folks out there who think that sabermetrics is sucking the lifeblood out of baseball. I for one happen to think that statistical analysis enhances the game's appeal, but you'd be hard pressed to claim that the old fogeys don't have a point now and again.

Consider how many colorful characters have been slain by statheads. Clutch hitters: gone. (Clutch hits exist, of course, but no study I've seen shows that players consistently perform better or worse with the game on the line.) What about the Quadruple-A hitter, that peculiar species that rips up the minors but mysteriously tanks in the bigs? Statisticians will tell you that there's no such creature, and they have the data to back it up. I mean, sure, there are some guys who go south after solid minor league careers, but they're no more common than guys who go south after solid major league careers. And how about the hitter who elevates his game because he's got such great protection in the lineup? Again, that old shibboleth is largely a myth.

Now there's a new character who we may have to retire: the notorious "Mistake Hitter." If you define a mistake hitter as someone who feasts on bad pitching -- and I've always thought of Reggie Sanders as the best modern-day exemplar -- then you'll have a hard time locating evidence for him via statistics. Cliff Rostow's sensibile, wide-ranging study, published recently over at Baseball Prospectus, concludes:

We weren't able to find even a little bit of evidence that supports the idea of mistake hitting. Like clutch hitting, mistake hitting in professional baseball appears to be a myth. A good hitter is a good hitter no matter who his competition is.
And with that we must come up with other, more plausible explanations for the successful career of Suitcase Sanders.

Friday, June 25, 2004

FIVE REASONS WHY THE BELTRAN DEAL IS GOOD FOR HOUSTON The official trade is this: the Astros get Carlos Beltran; the A's get Octavio Dotel; and the Royals get prospects Mark Teahen and Mike Wood from the A's and John Buck from the Astros. Here's why it helps the 'Stros:

1. Beltran helps the Astros score runs. Beltran is putting up a .278/.367/.534 line, which pretty much matches his established level, so you can more or less expect him to do that the rest of the year. The guy he replaces, Jason Lane, is hitting only .238/.319/.417, which is worse than you'd expect given his minor league numbers, but given the hernia he suffered at the end of last year they don't seem too deflated.

Baseball Prospectus has a stat called MLVr, which is the Marginal Lineup Value Rate -- it's the number or runs per game a player adds compared to an average guy. Beltran's MLVr this year is .148, meaning he adds 13.32 runs over the course of 90 games, or the # the Astros have remaining. Lane, with a MLVr of .007, adds only 0.6. That's 12.7 additional runs for the rest of the season with Beltran, or about one extra win. (I'd have thought CB would add more than that; maybe his bat isn't as big as I thought. The Astros' lineup certainly seems scarier with him, I know that.)

2. Beltran helps the Astros take away runs. Beltran is a superb center fielder, and a definite upgrade over Biggio in center. I don't know how to quantify it, but he should help things in the triples haven of Minute Maid (esp. with flyball specialist Wade Miller on the mound). I guess Beege moves to right -- haven't really seen his arm much, but as I recall it's a bit weak. Still, it seems like an overall upgrade.

3. The Astros can afford to lose Dotel. On tonight's broadcast Hrabosky pooh-poohed the deal, claiming that "the bullpen is already the Astros' Achilles heel" and that losing Dotel would be a fatal blow. Huh? Who has a better bullpen in the NL than Houston this year? Los Angeles, sure; probably San Diego; but that's it. Brad Lidge (13.9 K/9 IN, 2.61 ERA) is a fully capable closer, and the Astros still have decent arms in Bullinger, Gallo, and Miceli. Losing Dotel is a blow, but not an insurmountable one.

4. The Astros can afford Beltran. Carlos Beltran is owed $9 million this year, or about $5.1 million pro-rated over the remainder of the season. The Astros just unloaded Richard Hidalgo, which allegedly saves them about $3 million. The loss of Dotel also takes about $1.55 million off the books. Add it all up and Beltran should cost the Astros about $550,000 this year. Very affordable.

5. The timing is right. The Astros are an old team. Bagwell, Kent, Biggio, Vizcaino, Ausmus, and Clemens are all on the wrong side of 35. If they're going to do anything at all, they'd better do it quick. The Clemens signing -- a historic, one-shot deal at a reduced rate -- was a nice shot of adrenaline, but the effects wear off quickly, and GM Gerry Hunsicker was right to pounce on Beltran. The Astros still have a legit shot this year -- they're only 2 games out of the wild card slot, and they've got a very healthy RS/RA total. I expect Beltran to be worth an extra win or two this year, which doesn't sound like much, but it may be enough to get the 'Stros into the playoffs, where anything can happen.

And the NL Central, already baseball's toughest division, just got tougher...

Thursday, June 24, 2004


• Chip Caray makes us glad the Cubs passed on Joe Buck and chose him once again:

#1 – “The Cardinals have scored first in the previous two games. It would be nice for the Cubs to get a nice big bulge early in this game.”
#2 – “The Cubs have the best defense in the league. They’ve made the fewest errors” – one second later a ball gets by Ramirez to his left that Rolen gets to easily. See, though, no error!
• Which free agent Matt do you want the Cardinals to go after in the off season – Morris or Clement? Hmmmmm...

• Apparently Roger Cedeno has time traveled back to his useless April self. On the good side, maybe he can bring Lankford with him…

• Can any of our astute readers come up with a better Rule 5 player for the Birds than Hector Luna?

• No Room Service: The Cardinals are in their most “comfortable” stretch of the season. To wit: They ended a series in Arlington on June 13. They came home that night and will probably not fly to KC until tomorrow morning. That’s 12 nights in their own beds. Then, after the Pittsburgh series, they will be back in their own sacks the night of June 30 and won’t have to spend another night in a hotel until July 14th or 15th, depending on their travel plans. (Our All Stars of course get a couple of nights in Houston to perhaps defraud a corporation or two...) That’s 26 or 27 out of a possible 32 nights that they can wear their favorite jammies and not worry about Kliner coming in to steamroller them.

• Thanks to my cousin Mike Reilly for throwing this one out there: The Cardinals currently have the league RBI leader and a guy challenging for the Home Run lead – and they are not the same guy. Has a season ever ended with one team having the leaders in each category, but they are not the same guy? Well, going back to 1917, it’s happened five times:

Year HR Champ, RBI Champ, Team
1917 Dave Robertson, Heine Zimmerman, Giants
1932 Chuck Klein, Don Hurst, Phillies
1942 Mel Ott, Johnny Mize, Giants
1975 Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski, Phillies
1997 Larry Walker, Andres Galarraga, Rockies

A Drama in 60 Seconds

The Scene: My living room.

The Cast:
Flynn – Cardinal nutjob living in Chicago
Melissa – Flynn’s Chicago-born and bred wife (Cubs fan)

Time: Top of the 2nd, tonight’s game, a deep fly ball is flying over Jim Edmonds’ head…

Flynn: Whoa! Edmonds is trying to fake out the runner!

Melissa: What?

Flynn: Look! Sosa’s totally fooled!

Edmonds fields the carom, guns it in to Luna, who smartly takes the relay instead of noodle-arm Womack.

Melissa: Why are they running on Edmonds! He always throws Cubs out! What are they doing??????

Luna guns down the caveman at the plate, order is restored.

Melissa: Why is Wendell Kim so dumb? Does he still think that’s Lankford out in center? Man, I could coach third better than him.

Flynn (grabbing a phone and sarcastically speaking into it): Hello, Dusty? You need to get Melissa out there right now.

Melissa: Ha Ha. Seriously, what’s wrong with Kim?

Flynn (expecting to hear his lovely wife utter her endearing nickname and imagining how cute it would be to have it on the back of a jersey): So, if you were the coach, what would it say on the back of your uniform?

Melissa: Smarter Than Wendell Kim.

(That is not my lovely wife’s endearing nickname.)

BARN BURNER The Tampa Bay Devil Rays just beat the Toronto Blue Jays 19-13. To the best of my knowledge, it's the first game in modern baseball history with that exact final score. There have been four 19-12 games (the most recent in 1999) and one 19-14 game (in 1930), but no 19-13 games until today. More importantly, the D-Rays are finally, for the first time in franchise history, interesting.

POSTSCRIPT: If you discount games in which teams score 20 or more runs, there is now only one final score that has never been achieved in any game: 19-18. Every other score is covered.

BELTRAN GETS FITTED FOR AN ASTRONAUT SUIT From this morning's Houston Chronicle:

The Astros were within an eyelash of... a three-team trade that would have sent closer Octavio Dotel and minor-league catcher John Buck to the Kansas City Royals for Carlos Beltran. The Royals then would have sent Dotel to the Oakland A's for prospects. Before the Astros could even celebrate, before they could even begin to assess Beltran's impact on their team, they learned the A's had backed out.
But I suspect we haven't heard the last of this. Continues the Chronicle:

Astros owner Drayton McLane urged his people to go back to the Royals and see if the deal could be salvaged... General manager Gerry Hunsicker essentially told the Royals to name their price. Had the Royals asked for top prospects Chris Burke and Buck, they probably could have gotten them. That's how convinced the Astros are that Beltran would be a perfect fit. They envision a lineup that has, say, Craig Biggio and Lance Berkman in front of Beltran and Jeff Kent and Jeff Bagwell behind him.
According to the article, Hunsicker, who has seen the benefits of landing a big-name fish in Roger Clemens, are ready to pull the trigger on Beltran even if they have little to no chance or re-signing him for next year.

GALLING GLOVEWORK John Gall had better be up early this morning shagging flyballs. Gall, who hit a pair of homers in Monday's game in Memphis, now has 19 jacks on the year. He's also hitting .326. A perfect fit for our bench, which suffers from a lack of righty power, right?

Not really. According to the Post, Gall is regarded by the team as a defensive liability. And I suppose with guys like Luna (ouch) and Anderson (egads) patrolling left, we don't need another iron glove out there.

But I'd still take Gall's stick. Baseball Prospectus has him with a terrific .272 major league EqA, which is surely enough to make up for any Kleskoian follies in left.

THE WALKING MAN Last night Barry Bonds drew his 100th walk of the season. To put that in perspective, here are the seasonal career highs in walks for each of the Cardinals starters:

Matheny, 44
Pujols, 79
Womack, 52
Rolen, 93
Renteria, 65
Lankford, 95
Edmonds, 103
Sanders, 69

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

WINNING FUGLY A friend of mine has a theory that women are better looking when they have some physical flaw, some small imperfection that makes them more relatable and human. When he first told me this he rhapsodized about Rosanna Arquette's overbite (that should tell you how long this theory has been in play), claiming that, without it, she'd be just some prefab Barbie doll, nothing to grasp onto at all.

Tonight's game was full of pock marks, crooked noses, and missing teeth -- including 11 runs by both bullpens combined, a ball that went through Rolen's legs, another ball dropped by Moises Alou, a temper tantrum from Steve Kline, a silly strike zone from home plate ump Sam Holbrook, both teams blowing leads of 3 or more runs, a critical two-out bobble by Ramon Martinez, a horrendous misplay by Hector Luna in left, two ejections, 6 walks from Cardinals pitchers, multiple guys thrown out on the basepaths, cockeyed numbers all over the scoreboard, and a passed ball that allowed the winning run to score. And yet the end result was beautiful.

In the 6th inning -- or, right around the time Steve Kline was making some sort of obscene gesture to his own manager -- I was blowing a gasket of my own. I was as mad as I've been over a ballgame since... well, since last September, when the Cards dropped four of five in Wrigley. I picked a fight with my sofa, and there's a good chance the sofa would have had me on a TKO if Tavarez didn't get Todd Walker to stop the bleeding. A moment earlier, as the Cubs were trotting around the bases (reminiscent of that killer merry-go-round against Haren a couple weeks ago), Al Hrabosky chimed in with this gem:

"I worried last night, when the set-up men were not used in the 8th inning, after they had pitched so brilliantly [over the last few weeks]. I worried about a letdown from those guys [as if they were] saying [to La Russa], 'how could you not trust us the way we pitched?' If that's the case, then they've had to overcome that mentally, because Tony brought in his closer [last night] thinking that was the best way to win the game."
It takes a special kind of moron to use tonight's game as evidence that our set-up men, namely Calero and Taverez, should have been used in last night's game. If they pitched so disastrously tonight, with a two-run lead in the 6th, why should they be any better in the 8th with a one-run lead?

So that's where I found myself in the 6th inning, yelling at the screen, yelling at Hrabosky, yelling at the sofa... when the Cards started to mount a little rally. A walk here, a double there, a couple singles over there. Suddenly it was 9-8 heading into the late innings. And just as importantly, Cal Eldred was doing what Calero and Tavarez could not -- he was keeping the Cubs' bats in check. (Cal-El has given up only 2 runs in 11.2 innings in June; not bad.) By that point you got the sense that anything was possible.

And sure enough, just like the Sandberg Game 20 years ago, the team that made the last mistake lost. This time it was Paul Bako (in for Michael Barrett, who chose a terrible time to get himself booted from the game), who let a Kyle Farnsworth pitch sail to the backstop, and, after a surprisingly calm and dignified ninth from Kline, that was all she wrote.

Needless to say, this was a terribly important game, with a share of first place at stake and Matt Clement waiting in the wings tomorrow night. But more than that, it was a clear sign that the Cardinals -- who blew the game last night and seemed to be coming apart at the seams in the 6th -- are not hexed by the Cubs this year. We're still a good-looking outfit, ugly wins and all.

#%$*!@ RHYNO! Kurt over at Cub Nation points out that today is the 20-year anniversary of the infamous "Sandberg Game." If you're over 10 years of age and you follow Cardinals baseball at all, you know exactly what happened back then, but Kurt does a nice job of filling us in anyway. What's great about that game is that it stung so badly at the time, but over the years it's become truly legendary, regardless of the outcome. Will people be calling tonight's Cards-Cubs contest the "Womack Game" twenty years from now? I'd say the chances are pretty good.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY I had a dinner to attend to tonight, and when I left the Cards were winning 3-2 in the 6th. I got home, checked the box score, and it was like going to bed, waking up the next morning, and finding out your house had been robbed. Very disappointing. It was the first game in a month blown by our bullpen, with the same 5-4 losing score as that heartbreaker up at Shea.

I was able to go back and see the replay of Ramirez's tie-breaking double, and three things had to happen for it to pan out the way it did:

1. Ray Lankford, who has played only 6 innings in center the last two years, had to field Ramirez's double in the outfield. Ray got a late jump and a bad read on the ball, then stumbled on his way to pick it up. If Edmonds is in center, or if Lankford fields the ball cleanly, Sosa has to hold at third.

2. Tony Womack had to handle the relay throw. T-Dub, bless his heart, was in good position and his throw was on line, but he's still suffering from that elbow injury and he's got no hose to speak of. If he could throw at all he gets Sosa, or, again, Sosa holds at third.

3. Mike Matheny had to misplay the ball at home, sweeping his glove to get Sosa before he had the ball. Matheny dropping the tag is like a Bigfoot sighting -- awfully rare. A decent tag would have kept the score 4-4 going into the bottom of the 8th.

But alas, it didn't work out that way, the Cubs snuck one from us, and our lead in the Central has been whittled down to 1. Feels about as good as a punch in the stomach.

MATTY MO'S WOES From medhead Will Caroll:

I finally got a good look at Matt Morris in his last couple starts. While isn't the biggest picture, it doesn't look like Morris' mechanics are off, but there's clearly something wrong there. There's rampant speculation that he has a shoulder injury. The loss of velocity -- he's establishing his fastball in the high 80s -- sure supports this. The smooth mechanics and normal arm slot make me think it's a rotator cuff rather than labrum. Keep an eye on this.

BREAKABLE PARTS Here's an interesting article in Slate about the sinister labels we apply to fragile, injury-prone athletes. As a thought experiment, consider the associations you make between the following two lists of people:


C Sandy Alomar Jr.
1B David Segui
2B Wilton Guerrero
3B Fernando Tatis
SS Barry Larkin
LF Jeffrey Hammonds
CF Ken Griffey Jr.
RF J.D. Drew
SP Darren Dreifort, Kevin Brown, Kris Benson, Garrett Stephenson, Chan Ho Park
RP Matt Mantei


C Jorge Posada
1B Jeff Bagwell
2B Alfonso Soriano
3B Scott Rolen
SS Miguel Tejada
LF Bobby Abreu
CF Juan Pierre
RF Shawn Green
SP Livan Hernandez, Bartolo Colon, Mike Mussina, Tim Hudson, Roy Halladay
RP Octavio Dotel

DK57 In some ways it seems more recent than two years ago; in other ways more distant. Only eight Cardinals remain from the roster the day he passed away. Best wishes to them, but more importantly to Darryl's wife Flynn and his kids Sierra, Kannon, and Ryker.

Monday, June 21, 2004

BENCH MARKS Last week Bernie Miklasz ran an interesting article about the Cardinals bench, claiming that our reserves “may be stronger than last year’s” and that “the contributions from new backups are a primary reason for the Cardinals' 38-27 record and emergence as the leader in the NL Central.”

If you wanted to, you could verify Miklasz’s claim simply by looking at lump pinch-hitting stats (Cards pinch hitters currently rank 6th in the NL in OPS). But I’m more interested in a wider definition of bench strength – how our reserves do filling in for our starters, how they perform on the basepaths, how they do with the glove, and so on. And for that I needed more wide-ranging data.

So I went to the fine stats page over at the The Hardball Times, looked up some of their Win Shares totals, and designed a little study to test Miklasz’s claim that the Cardinals have a solid bench. What I did is I took ever hitter in the National League, but I threw out anyone from consideration who was among his team’s top 8 position players. (Generally these are guys with the most playing time, but I had to make judgment calls here and there – like I considered Nick Johnson the starting 1B for the Expos, despite his limited playing time). Then I took the 5 guys on the team who had the next most playing time, and I considered this fivesome each team’s bench.

For each group of five I took their Win Shares Percentage (which is simply Win Shares expressed as a rate stat – that way I could better judge a team’s depth for any given situation rather than adopt a counting stat that’s more a function of playing time or managerial usage). I added these WSPs together for each player on each team and got a total that approximates how well each bench is doing this year. The results, in order:


1. Philadelphia, 3.17
2. New York, 2.43
3. Atlanta, 2.41
4. Cincinnati, 2.24
5. Houston, 1.97
6. San Francisco, 1.95
7. Chicago, 1.89
8. St. Louis, 1.79
9. Milwaukee, 1.70
10. Los Angeles, 1.57
11. Arizona, 1.30
12. Colorado, 1.07
13. Pittsburgh, 1.06
14. Florida, 0.934
15. Montreal, 0.932
16. San Diego, 0.32

So that’s where the Cardinals enter things right now: at #8. Not too good, not too bad. Simply average.

But when looking at these numbers, there’s something you should keep in mind: most benches suck. They just do. I mean, you hear a lot of talk lately about how fungible talent is, how you shouldn’t cling to this or that player too tightly because most of the time you can find another guy lying around who’s just as good and twice as cheap. But you look at some of the benches in baseball today and you start to wonder where these lava flows of talent reside.

Take the Philadelphia Phillies. Ricky Ledee has been, so far anyway, the best role player in baseball, with 6 home runs in only 72 ABs and a nifty .402 on-base percentage. But the rest of their bench is nothing special – Tomas Perez is a very good defensive infielder, but he also has a .289 OBP; Chase Utley has a bit of pop but he struggles mightily to reach base; Todd Pratt is a fairly effective backup backstop, but again, nothing fantastic; and Doug Glanville is a black hole. And yet, despite the presence of a couple real clunkers, this quintet makes up, pretty handily (at least by this measurement), the best bench in the National League.

Or how ‘bout the Cubs’ reserves? Talk about a bunch of stiffs: Jose Macias, Tom Goodwin, Paul Bako, Rey Ordonez… just one lousy bat after another. And yet, they have Todd Hollandsworth, whose numbers in part-time play – .314/.394/.547 – elevate the bench unit to the top half of the NL. As bad as they are, they’re infinitely less scary than the guys you see warming the pines in, say, Montreal, Florida, or San Diego (hurt by carrying the worst player in the major leagues).

So that’s important to keep in mind: most benches suck. Given that standard, here’s how our current corps of stand-ins stack up:

Marlon Anderson: still scattershot at the plate and in the field, but he’s turning a few of the doubles he hit last year into homers

John Mabry: the leading contender for the 2004 Thrill Clark Memorial Award

Roger Cedeno: a player who seems to thrive on comfort, he seems to have found a groove (hitting .412 after an 0-for-12 start)

Hector Luna: does few things very well, but also few things very poorly

So Taguchi (now in Memphis): better than I thought while up here (which, admittedly isn’t saying much) and he does have nice leather

Cody McKay: okay, he’s no good, but surprisingly not much worse than last year’s Widger/Girardi combo or 2002’s Mike Difelice Experience

Yadier Molina: I don’t think he’s ready to face major league pitching, unless he’s wearing a glove, in which case he’s pretty sharp.

There’s one big thing we’re missing from these people, and that’s a heavy righthanded bat off the bench. Doesn’t need to be a great player, just someone who can go yard now and again, the way Eduardo Perez did the last couple years. The obvious candidate for this role is John Gall, who’s ripping it the Pacific Coast League. He’s hitting .314 and already has 17 homers among his 30 extra-base hits. In fact, if I had my druthers I’d send down Yady yesterday and call up Gall today.

On the bright side, we may have found a replacement for Orlando Palmeiro – i.e., the guy who can work the count and draw a walk to get things started. John Mabry, of all people (career high in walks: 39), has a .397 on-base percentage this year and seems more patient at the plate than in years past. And as long as he’s hanging around, Yadier Molina has walked in 18% of his plate appearances. That figure is bound to drop, but it’s still nice to see.

At the end of last season, Walt Jocketty had a pretty tall order. Almost his entire bench entered free agency at once, and there were precious few replacements within the organization (that part was Jocketty’s own making, but that doesn’t diminish his task). Rather than overpay for guys like Perez, Palmeiro, and Miguel Cairo (who’s currently doing well for the Yanks, but for $900,000 a year), Jocketty let them walk and cobbled together a bench out of spare parts. The results haven’t been exactly stellar, but as I’ve said, few benches are capable of stellar work all around, and an average bench is more than I could have expected going into the season. So give Walt Jocketty credit for giving us some passable depth.

BEDEVILING The Devil Rays have been one of the strangest teams I’ve ever seen. They began the morning of April 18th at .500, with a 5-5 record. Then they hit the skids, going 5-23 over their next 28 games. But in their next 28 games, they’ve gone 22-6. Now they’re almost back to .500. Wild.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

ID VS. SUPEREGO One of the most difficult things about writing this blog is that I'm torn by two impulses. On one hand, I'm a Cardinals fan: lifelong, irrational, zealous, in my hearts and hearts a true believer that This is the Year, regardless of what my head tells me. To that end, I try to write material that reflects some of this passion, that caters to the lizard-brain and its need to yelp with joy when we win and howl with pain when we lose.

On the other hand, I try to be objective, proportionate, fair to other teams, aware of our limitations, sabermetrically correct. I know that the law of averages has a way of evening out, that you have to look at things telescopically, as it were, and that what feels good in the moment isn't always what wins out in the end. As a baseball fan, then, you can end up somewhat schizophrenic, constantly quarreling with yourself, like some bad Andy Capp comic strip going on in your head.

I was reminded of this recently while reading an article by the fine Jim Baker. Baker points out that baseball's most exciting plays -- the bunt base hit, the hit and run, the collision at home plate -- are rarely its most sound, strategically speaking. What Baker doesn't say, although surely it's just as true, is that some of baseball's most prudent offensive strategies (taking pitches, drawing walks, playing station-to-station) are about as interesting as getting drained by leeches.

There's a similar principle at work with players. Alex Sanchez, for example, has bunted for dozens of hits this year, and he takes off for second every time he lands on first. My kneejerk reaction: sounds like fun! A more seasoned POV: sounds annoying as hell, probably worth more losses than wins. I feel the same about the Royals' Mike MacDougal. Guy throws serious heat, can get the speedometer up to 100, and throws one of the knee-bucklingest changeups I've ever seen. It's always fun when he enters the game... unless, that is, you're a Royals fan and you like wins and stuff.

Tony Womack can prompt the same kinds of feelings. The other night I was watching the game with my dad, and he asked me what I thought of Womack. I grumbled something about him being useful if he hits .300 (and fortunately, as of this writing, he's hitting .300 on the nose). But the truth is there're few things I enjoy more than a drag bunt by T-Dub, and I can't at all blame my dad for falling in love with the guy, especially when I put aside my objectivity hat and put on the stained red Cardinals hat I've had for years. Just because you're aware that Womack has never hit this well over a full season, and just because you know he might slip as he nears age 35 in September, doesn't mean you're not allowed to root like hell for him here and now.

Anyway, this is a very longwinded way of trying to describe what it's like being a Cardinals fan right now. That lifelong, unconditional Cards rooter in me couldn't be more thrilled with the State of the Cardinals Union. (Notwithstanding today's gopherballs from Matt Morris and the best game ever -- by far -- from young Jung Bong.) In fact, I confess that sometimes, before I go to bed or when I get up in the morning, I stroll over to the standings page over at just to soak up the Euclidian rightness of it all: 41-29 record, -- GB, 8-2 over our L10. Gives off a nice fragrance.

On the other hand, I find myself playing games with those numbers, second-guessing our success. This is not to say that the Cards are flukes. We're leading the league in runs scored (great, but not shocking), our pitching staff is keeping runs off the board (unexpected, but I knew we'd improve in that area from last year), and our Pythagorean record (which is exactly the same as our actual record) indicates that we aren't winning more than our share of lucky games. In other words, this team seems to be legit.

The Cardinals won't keep up the .750 winning percentage they've maintained over the past three weeks, and we won't pull rabbits out of top hats forever. (I guess today's game tells you as much.) But with the Cubs rolling into town on Tuesday, I suspect we're about to find out very soon how long the good times will last. The optimist and the pessimist in me will be laying down some serious bets on either side.

HAWKSWORTH AND WAINWRIGHT, LTD. You may have heard already, but two of the Cardinals top three pitching prospects -- Adam Wainwright and Blake Hawksworth -- will likely miss the rest of the season to injury. At one point this year Wainwright looked like he might be able to help the Cards this season, and Hawksworth was part of an exciting set of up-and-coming arms in the organization, so obviously this news is very unfortunate.

THE ALL-HOMEGROWN TEAM Matthew Namee of The Hardball Times has a fun article in which he takes every player in baseball and puts them back with the organization they originally signed with. It's sorta what today's teams would look like if they operated under rules from 1930 (although that's not a great analogy, as there was more trading and a lot more selling of players back then than most old fogeys care to admit).

Anyway, Matt's article has a lot of great tidbits -- like the Astros boasting an outfield of Lance Berkman, Bobby Abreu, and Luis Gonzalez, and the Dodgers' rotation anchored by none other than Pedro Martinez. But he doesn't include the Cardinals' homegrown team, presumably because they're so bland.

So here's what the Cardinals would look like if they were composed strictly of players they had actually drafted:

C Eli Marrero
1B Albert Pujols
2B Adam Kennedy
3B Placido Polanco
SS Jack Wilson
LF Dmitri Young
CF Coco Crisp
RF J.D. Drew
SP Matt Morris, Jeff Fassero?, ???
RP Braden Looper, Jay Witasick, Rheal Cormier
Bench: Todd Zeile, Ray Lankford, John Mabry

As should be obvious, this alternate Cardinals team is a testament to Walt Jocketty's shrewd moves over the years. I mean, it's not the worst team in the world -- it'd be nice, for example, to have Jack Wilson and Dmitri Young hanging around -- but I doubt it would crack 70 wins.

THE JUNE STRETCH DRIVE From a recent article in Baseball Prospectus:

Old-school baseball folks will tell you that pennants are won in September, not in May and June. But this year, the Cardinals and Cubs don't play after July 20, and St. Louis and Houston will only play six times after the All-Star Break. If the Cards are playing in October, they'll look back on this past month as the key to their season.
Indeed, what the Cardinals are doing right now -- an 18-6 record since May 26th -- isn't that uncommon, historically speaking. In fact, the Cardinals went 19-5 or better over a 24-game stretch in each of their division-winning seasons of 2000, 2001, and 2002. What's unusual about this Cardinals outfit is that they're taking care of business early, whereas each of those previous hot streaks occured in September.

Friday, June 18, 2004

ONE CATCHER, TWO CATCHER, THREE CATCHER, FOUR Can you make heads or tails of La Russa's plan for Yadier Molina? Matheny came off the DL today, which means that someone had to go. The options:

A) Yady Molina. I assumed he'd be the guy to go. He's been very impressive behind the plate, but he's still pretty rough with a bat in his hands. Although his plate disciplate has really surprised me (his OBP, .349, is higher than the .322 league average for a catcher), he's a slap hitter with a real inability to drive the ball. He needs more time to grow, and the best way to do that is by taking his licks down in AAA.

B) Cody McKay. As we noted yesterday, McKay has been hitting well lately, but he still has no upside as a hitter (he has neither plate discipline -- only 2 walks in 63 plate appearances -- nor power, with one measly double his only extra-base hit). If you send down McKay, you could justifiably keep Molina, who's a better fielder than McKay, especially if you let Molina start frequently in place of Matheny (who performs much better when rested anyway).

C) Jason Simontacchi. Simo is our last option out of the pen, and despite his good showing last night, his numbers are flat, both in Memphis and in the Show. Plus our other relievers are doing well enough that there's not much use for him.

La Russa, as you know, chose option (C). There's actually a defensible case to be made for sending down Simontacchi, but I'm not sure TLR has made it. Earlier this week he said if Molina played two games a week it would not retard his growth. I'm not at all convinced that 8-10 at bats a week in the majors is as effective for a young hitter's growth as 25-35 ABs a week in Memphis, but even if we concede that point, La Russa's comments today seem to belie that:

"Our No. 1 priority is what's best for our club. Molina is an important player, but I'm not going to make out a lineup to get him two games if that isn't the best for us."
In other words, the Cards main priority is winning now, and as a result Molina may well rot on the bench. I'm not sure how that helps Molina or the Cardinals.

THE 500 CLUB Do you remember who gave up Rafael Palmeiro's 500th home run? Or where Sammy Sosa was when he hit #500? Do you even remember McGwire's 500th?

(In case you're interested, Raffy went yard off of the Indians' David Elder; Sosa hit #500 off Scott Sullivan at Great American Ballpark; and Big Mac hit his off of Andy Ashby at Busch in '99.)

The point is, the specifics of such milestones are usually lost to history (if not instantly forgotten by history), so it should concern us little if Ken Griffey Jr. gets his 500th at Busch this weekend. Nonetheless, if you had to put down money at Vegas, you'd peg Griffey to go deep on Saturday. He has no homers in 14 ABs off of tonight's opponent, Chris Carpenter, but 5 in 27 ABs vs. Saturday's starter, Woody Williams. Overall Junior has 3 career home runs in 46 at bats at Busch.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

CELEBRATE GOOD TIMES, C'MON! I’ve been hit with a triple whammy lately – deadlines at work, parents in town, plus an annoying viral infection – so my postings have been light lately. But tonight’s game was too good to pass up, so a few quick hits:

• I confess: somewhere around the 5th inning I had this game written off as a loss. We’d already won the first two games of the series, we were facing Tim Hudson, and as the game went on you got the distinct impression that our best chances had been either booted or thrown away (usu. by Marlon Anderson or Edgar Renteria), especially going into the bottom of the ninth down by two and Renteria (fine), McKay (ugh), and Lankford (uninspiring) due up. But sometimes strange things happen...

• This was the only game all year which I watched with my girlfriend Miranda – she checked out the 8th and 9th innings with me. Now, Miranda was thrilled the Cards won, but it dawned on me that games like tonight are more fun when you’ve sat through countless ones that go the other way – when you trail 4-2 heading into the ninth and go out with nary a whimper. By the way, Miranda only watched one game with me last season, and it was at Dodger Stadium, and there were 9 home runs hit in the game (the Cards won that one too). As far as I know, Miranda thinks that 9-HR games and 3-run rallies in the bottom of the ninth are routine.

• Unsung heroes of the game: Cal Eldred and Jason Simontacchi. 3.2 innings, 1 hit. Generally when those guys enter a game it’s with a mop and some Pine-Sol. Not tonight.

• Not quite sure why Ken Macha didn’t keep Bradford in to pitch the 9th. He pitched to one batter in the game, Hector Luna in the bottom of the 8th, and made him look ridiculous with his crazy-wing delivery. Now, I know Bradford took the loss the other night, but I still think our hitters have trouble picking up his release. Moreover, once Bradford was gone Macha was stuck with Mecir (and his 5+ ERA) come hell or high water – Rincon had been used already, Arthur Rhodes is on leave of absence, Chris Hammond is out with a bum shoulder, Duchscherer got bombed the other night, and the only other guy in the pen was Justin Lehr, who’s never thrown a pitch in the big leagues. Given those options, don’t you stick with Bradford?

• Tonight Marlon Anderson at second base reminded me of Marlon Anderson in the outfield. (And I can say with absolutely 0% hyperbole that he’s the worst outfielder I’ve seen since Bull Luzinski.)

• How do the A’s score any runs? I know that sounds disrespectful, and I suppose it is, but there’s really no one in their lineup that scares me with a bat in their hands. I mean, sure, Hatteberg is having a fine year, but he won’t wreck you. And the A’s usually have both Chavez (who’s injured) and Durazo (who has nowhere to play in NL parks) around. The Athletics scored 10 runs in this series and quite honestly I feel they were lucky to break double digits.

• Is Cody McKay actually morphing into a passable major league hitter? Probably not, but his average is up to .230 after getting off to a godawful 3-for-39 start. I think something (say, the heart of a tiger, or the bloodthirstiness of the Orca whale) awakened in him after going 4-for-5 down in Houston on May 29th. Since that game (that is, not including those 4 hits) he’s hit .388.

• Joe Buck flat-out accused Eric Byrnes of hot-dogging it when he dove for Lankford’s line drive in the 7th and dropped it for a leadoff double. Could be. But I think it’s more likely that Byrnes is just a goofball to his core. I noticed he did a somersault trying to catch Lankford’s liner, scrambled after the ball, then did another somersault throwing the ball into second. Whatever Barry Zito is selling him he's got to start cutting it with oregano.

• The Cardinals now lead the major leagues in runs scored. Well, actually we’re tied for the lead with (I’ll give you 10 guesses...) Cleveland.

• Can’t the Astros help a brother out now and again? Swept at home? With Oswalt going against Rusch tonight? Yeesh. But at least we maintain our two-game lead.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

PICKIN' MACHINES After the other teams in our division fell 18 straight times to the mighty A's, the Cardinals finally stood up, took matters into their own hands, and put the kibosh on that silly winning streak. The rest of the NL Central ought to thank us for sparing the division any further shame, although somehow I suspect their congratulations won't be forthcoming.

It was only a matter of time in this game. The Cardinals had runners on base all night -- 21, to be exact -- and they never let Barry Zito get in a groove. In fact, for most of the game it was unclear who the Moneyball team was and who wasn't. The Cards forced the A's hurlers to throw 182 pitches in 8 innings, and they made them look as ragged as Woody Williams after six days in Colonel Saito's sweat box.

Of course in retrospect it all seems preordained that the Birds would finish on top, but it was pretty touch 'n go for awhile there. Matt Morris spotted his pitches, had good control, and pitched pretty well, except (and stop me if you've heard this one before) he fell victim to those damn long balls. The ones tonight especially hurt, seeing as the perpetrators were Damian Miller (1 HR every 38 ABs entering tonight's game) and Mark Kotsay (1 HR every 103 ABs). Not exactly heavyweights.

Which raises the question: How likely is Matt Morris to break the single-season record for home runs allowed? He's on pace for 54 and the record is 50, set by Bert Blyleven in 1986. Now, I know these "on paces for"s can get out of hand (Ken Harvey is not going to end the season hitting .361, and I doubt Melvin Mora will finish with 157 runs), but Morris has a really shot at breaking the record.

Matty Mo is actually pretty similar to Blyleven. Blyleven had a decent fastball when he first came up, but by his mid-30's (when he gave up all those gopherballs) his heater was fooling no one and he had to rely more and more on his bread and butter pitch, a big overhand curve. And when those curveballs hang up, so does the old HR rate. Same deal with Morris: he still has enough placement to keep runners off base and maintain a semi-respectable ERA (4.14, about the same as Blyleven's in '86), but he's going to hang a few Charlies every game. Just the way it is.

As aggravating as Morris can be, he wasn't half as annoying tonight as Reggie Sanders. Despite his UNICEF-worthy charitable work, and his all-around good-guy aura, he hasn't been so generous at the plate this year. In fact, he's been almost completely absent from the Cardinals' team resurgence -- he's hitting only .204/.246/.333 since April. And his K/BB ratio is third worst in the league (ahead of only Alex Gonzalez and Pedro Feliz).

After his first three at bats tonight, Reggie was being fitted for goat horns (most likely by assistant equipment manager Buddy Bates). Here's how his night was going:

1st inning, runners on first and third, one out: K swinging
3rd inning, runner on first, no one out: K swinging
4th inning, runners on first and second, two out: K swinging

Not too good, huh? So he came up in the 7th inning, runner on first, one out, and he fell behind 1-2 to a pitcher he faced only twice before (and struck out once). He promptly singled into left center, and it was like a dam breaking for the Cardinals offense. The team strung together five more baserunners in a row, and that was all she wrote.

The A's pitchers were in such a fix that it reminded me of something Mike Shannon said earlier in the game, when Barry Zito was getting deluged by the Cardinals ding-dang-dunk attack: "Zito must be thinking to himself rightabout now, 'How'd I get myself into this caterpillar?'... And not the kind that crawl. The kind they have down in Fenton that roll over you."

THAT CHAMPIONSHIP FORM I know, this is a baseball blog, but I couldn't resist...

Three minutes left in the Pistons blowout of the Lakers, ABC prepares to go to commercial and Al Michaels says "They're counting down to a party in Motown" over the outro music. That music? None other than Disco Inferno ("Burn, baby, burn!").

Oh, Detroit. Will you ever get any love?

R-E-L-I-E-F I was struck by this item in yesterday's Post-Dispatch:

Manager Tony La Russa was asked recently if he thought this year's Cardinals bullpen would have made a difference last season between a third-place finish and a division championship. He hardly hesitated. "The way the season played out, I don't think there's any doubt," La Russa said.
Is that true? Would the 2003 Cardinals have won the Central with this year's bullpen?

Most likely, yes. Last year the Cards allowed 55.3 more runs than an average bullpen (given the circumstances in which they entered games), which was good enough (or lousy enough) for the second lowest mark in baseball. This year Cards relievers have allowed 6.9 runs fewer than an average team.

That's not exceptional -- in fact, it's barely above average -- but all last year I said what the Cardinals really missed were not great arms out of the pen, but decent arms, even mediocre arms, ones that could "get you by." This year we've got guys like Kiko Calero and Julian Tavarez who aren't setting the world afire, but they're a massive upgrade over deflated balloons like Esteban Yan and Jeff Fassero. And no one (outside of Cal Eldred, I suppose) is really hurting the team out of the pen. Everyone is pretty much doing what's asked of them, some guys (notably Kline and King) more so.

Add it all up, project it out over a full season, and the Cards should finish with something like 73 fewer runs between last year's bullpen and this year's version. That's about 7 wins over a full season, and the difference between an 85-win also-ran and a 92-win division champ.

How does this improvement stack up against other teams in baseball? Pretty well. Here are the top five teams in terms of improved Adjusted Runs Prevented from last season to this:

San Diego, +94.7
St. Louis, +62.2
Boston, +41.1
Kansas City, +40.9
Pittsburgh, +26.2

The Padres' bullpen is really one of the great unheralded stories of the year. Last year they finished dead last in the majors in terms of ARP, with some truly miserable arms (Jaret Wright, Jesse Orosco, Joe Roa). This year they brought in guys like Akinori Otsuka, got Trevor Hoffman healthy, and their relievers currently rank 2nd in baseball. (For the same story in reverse, see the debacle that is the Indians bullpen.)

But the Cardinals are experiencing a fine turnaround of their own. But you really don't need any numbers to tell you that. Just imagine yourself watching a 4-2 lead in the 7th inning a year ago, then compare it to how you'd feel in the same circumstance today. If nothing else, we oughtta thank Walt Jocketty for lowering the collective blood pressure of Redbird Nation.

WHO'S TONY LA RUSSA'S FAVORITE TEAM? Hint: it's not the Cardinals. It's actually tonight's opponent, the Swingin' A's:

"I started my career by getting drafted by the Kansas City A's, and I came up with the Oakland A's in 1968," says La Russa. "I was with the A's for 10 years. Then to come back as a manager and walk into as ideal a situation as any manager could have... it's not even a close call. As a baseball fan, the A's are still my team."
And what of the Cardinals?

"The best way to describe it is that professionally it's been terrific, because I really enjoy the National League style of play," he says. "And the St. Louis Cardinals, with their history and support, this is a lot of fun. But personally, [wife] Elaine and the girls are in California, so it's not even close to a good trade. It's what you do for a living."
I personally have no problem with this. In fact, I would guess that very few players and coaches play for the team they grew up rooting for. (Although I do know that Jason Isringhausen and Scott Rolen were big Redbird fans as kids.)

BELTRAN IN TRANSIT The big behind-the-scenes question this summer is the fate of toolsy Kansas City CF Carlos Beltran. Sports Illustrated proffered Sean Burroughs and Xavier Nady for Beltran and Joe Randa (a solid deal for the Royals, in my opinion), Will Carroll mentioned Corey Patterson plus a few prospects for Beltran (until someone pointed out that KC wants a 3B and a C), and Pete Gammons chimed in with a host of permutations, including the Cards landing Beltran in exchange for Yady Molina and some character named Brad Hanson. I'm assuming Gammons is referring to Donut King Brad Thompson, and I'm also assuming this deal won't happen, at least not in this dimension.

Speaking of Thompson, he did pretty well in his AAA debut last night -- 5.1 innings, 6 hits, 4 K's, one walk, one run. It'll be awfully interesting to see how well Thompson does against better competition. He's not supposed to have great stuff, just great control, which makes his task that much tougher the higher he goes.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

SO FAR SO GOOD If you're a fan of the Dead Ball Era, and you pine for such concoctions as the the shine ball, the mudball, the spitter, the emery ball, or the tobacco/black licorice/shoeshine ball, then this past week of Cardinals baseball must have been miserable for you. But if you like runs, blowouts, jumbotron fireworks, and conga lines of players crossing home plate, then you're in luck.

The Birdnals haven't played a tight game in a week, and at least one team has scored a dozen or more runs in four of their last five. Fortunately the Cardinals -- even with Pujols hobbled, and even with the team trading wins and losses over its last nine contests -- have been, more often than not, on the good side of those lopsided scores.

The Cardinals are now 1.5 games out in front of the NL Central, and in some ways the roughest part of their schedule is behind them. They just concluded a stretch where they played 20 of 25 games on the road, including half those games head-to-head against rivals Chicago and Houston. And they passed the test with gold stars all around, picking up ground on every division opponent (including 5 games on both HOU and CHI).

The Cards have been incredibly fortunate with their schedule so far. Consider:

• We have the most attractive interleague schedule of any team in the Central, and with Texas out of the way it only gets easier. Here are the weighted winning percentages of the remaining interleague opponents for each team in our division:

Chicago, .573
Houston, .569
Cincy, .525
Milwaukee, .500
Pittsburgh, .488
St. Louis, .461

What accounts for this discrepancy? Regional rivalries. While the Cards get to play bottom-dwellers Kansas City and Seattle, the Cubs and Astros must play strong White Sox and Rangers teams.

• We didn't have to face the Reds at all when they were scorching hot. Now that they're pitching woes have caught up to them and they've dropped six straight games (almost all due to their lousy staff), the Cardinals will play them 13 times over the next six weeks.

• The Cardinals were able to dodge the Cubs at full strength. They played 7 recent matchups without Sosa or Wood, and 7 earlier games without Mark Prior. They've also played 12 games against the Astros without having to face Andy Pettitte once.

• Lastly, the Cardinals have been able to get a lot of their road games out of the way early. We play 53 of our remaining 99 games at home, the most of any team in the Central. (Although with the way we rip it up in our gray unis -- best road record in the majors by a mile -- that might not be such a great thing.)

This isn't to say the Cards are out of the woods -- not by a longshot. Four teams are within 3.5 games of the Redbirds, and the Cubs are getting healthier and stronger. And despite our recent run of good pitching, we're still 11th in the league in runs allowed.

So there are still a lot of question marks ahead, but so far the Cards have passed all their tests heading into midterms.

BASEBALL CRANK has published the established Win Shares totals for each team in our division (essentially it's a way of measuring how good each team is "on paper"). The Cubs came into the season with the best overall team, whereas the Cards can boast one of the best infields in recent memory.

FUN FACT #1 The Cardinals have now played every team in baseball, either in the regular or postseason, except the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

FUN FACT #2 Scott Rolen is currently on pace for 175 RBI's. It's doubtful he'll get there (the last guy to reach that total was Jimmie Foxx in 1938), but he's got a shot at breaking the all-time record for most ribs by a third baseman. The current record-holder is Al Rosen, who knocked in 145 in 1953.

FUN FACT #3 The Oakland A's, who visit Busch on Tuesday, have never lost to a team in the NL Central. They are an astounding 18-0 all-time against Cincinnati, Houston, Milwaukee (after their move to the NL), and Pittsburgh.

EJECTA EJECTION I know Roger Cedeno is a handful, and I know he acted like a fool up in Chicago, but how is his crime against umpire Rick Reed worth a four-game suspension? First of all, Cedeno didn't touch the guy (as opposed to Steve Reed, who bumped an ump, then threw a glove in his direction, and received only a three-game timeout from MLB). Secondly, although Cedeno did spit on Reed, it was clearly incidental to his yelling (totally different from Robbie Alomar willfully hocking one into the face of John Hirshbeck, which earned him a five-game suspension). Cedeno should be suspended two games, tops. Might not sound like a big deal, but Cedeno has been stroking the ball nicely, and with Lankford cooling off (only 5 XBH's in May and June combined), we could use the depth.

REDBIRD NATION has made it to the wild-card round of the World Series of Blogs. Vote for us here, if you so choose, and see if you can get us into the NLCS. (If the AL teams come up on the poll, just hit refresh until you get to the NL.)

Thursday, June 10, 2004

TURNABOUT Well, first place was nice. The game just ended up in Wrigley Field (unofficially, of course -- the scoreboard says 11-0 in the bottom of the 4th), as Danny Haren suffers perhaps the worst outing of his pro career.

Haren has been a curious case in AAA. His numbers in Memphis are okay (7-2 record, 3.58 ERA), but every once in awhile he'd slip on a banana peel, give up a couple homers, and many more walks. Today's game was his biggest pratfall yet, an ugly affair in which he looked simply overmatched, falling behind every hitter and fooling no one. Part of me wants to apologize for his performance -- after all, he was thrust into the spotlight at a moment's notice, he was going up against one of the premier pitchers in the NL, and the infield behind him was shaky at best (especially Renteria and Mabry). But at the end of the day you can't disguise 10 earned runs.

So this series becomes a carbon copy of the four-game set in St. Louis -- Cards open with a close win, get spanked by Matt Clement, win a dramatic third game, and then lose to a superior pitcher in the finale. At the time I said the split favored the Cubs, as the games were at Busch and the Cardinals were behind in the standings. You could say this series goes to the Cards for the same reasons -- now the Cubs are looking up at us in the NL Central, so a split in Wrigley isn't good news for them (they'll be only 5-5 on their longest home stand of the year).

But it's hard to keep all that in proportion after the scoreboard reads -- well, now it's 11-2. Wait. Make it 12-2. Walker just went yard. Sigh...

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

BEAR HUNTING Here are the notes I kept during today's 12-4 Cardinals win:

• Prior's first start vs. Cards since his word war with them last September. He might be throwing butcher knives toward home today.

• Prior might not have it today. T-Dub and Renteria ground out but hit the ball hard, getting all the way around on his fastball. Anderson also pulls the ball, cranks it into right center. (TLR's decision to bat him 3rd pays off.)

• Reliable Rolen. Does something good every game. 1-zip Cards.

• 3rd inning, first and second for the Birds. Why is Molina bunting? (a) Morris is on deck -- does La Russa want second and third with one out for Mo Mo? (b) Prior is practically helping us win (just threw 6 straight balls out of strike zone to Gootch and Yady -- he should carve those guys up). Don't give him any outs.

• Luckily Molina walks. Prior is not Mark Prior today. Now he walks Womack (last time ever Taguchi, Womack, and Molina walk in the same inning). 5 BB's, only 1 strikeout, and that was when he K'd Morris. Steve Stone likens this to spring training for Prior. Agree.

• Renteria: GRAND SLAM! (Flashback to hitting a grand slam on Mattel baseball -- red lights, fireworks all over the place.) With one swing, E-Rent has more ribs than he has in all the games since ??? [I checked - 5/27]

• Morris coughs up homer to Patterson. Now on pace for 53 HR allowed. MLB record: Blyleven, 50, '86.

• 4th IN: Barrett (thorn in our side) drives in Martinez. Lead shaved to 5-3. Shades of J.D. Drew grand slam/loss last year.

• 5th IN: Leicester (pronounced like city) strikes out Rolen in first ML appearance. Now he knocks down Edmonds. (Something I noticed last year: Cubs fans instinctively cheer pitches thrown at the other team's heads. Gotta cheer something, I guess.) Edmonds hits a BOMB into right center. Wow. No doubter.

• Morris gets away with hanging curve to Hollandsworth. How many hanging breaking pitches has MM thrown today? 5? 6?

• Morris retaliates by knocking down Lee. Stupid. I don't think Leicester was throwing at Edmonds. (And I know it was intentional from Morris. Can read his lips, very distinctively, shouting at Cubs: "Get the fucking ball down!") Must be carryover from headhunting in Pirates series. But no need to instigate the Cubs.

• Tavarez was the first guy on the field for the Cardinals. Dog bites man.

• Ump, Rapuano, has got to have the least predictable strike zone I've ever seen. It's messing with both team's pitchers -- they can't tell what's a strike and what's not. Neither can I.

• Ramon Martinez doubles to left, Cubbies down by two. Marlon Anderson is among the least polished OFers ever. He goes after flyballs like he's navigating invisible buoys.

• Tying run at the plate -- Baker bats GLENDON RUSH??? Alternatives on the bench: Bako, Macias, DuBois, and Ordonez. Dusty bats the pitcher so he can save his real hitters for some hypothetical situation down the line??? [As it turns out, three of those guys never do come to the plate. Poor tactics.]

• The difference between this year's game and the game with the J.D. Drew slam: middle relief. Last year had to rely on Fassero and Springer. Now: Calero, King, Tavarez. Much better for the old ticker.

• Taguchi's single becomes a triple b/c of a divot in right center. Second time in two days we've seen e.g. of poor Wrigely turf. Did ZZ Top play here last night?

• I'm convinced Mabry will never hit a hard slider (Clement last night, Remlinger today).

• Womack is quietly earning his keep (3 hits, 2 doubles, walk, stolen base today). [His batting line is now .293/.340/.414, about same as Todd Walker's.]

• Edmonds second homer. Cards really pouring it on. Turning into one of those wet, farcical Wrigley games c. 1979. [Cubs end up issuing NINE base on balls.]

• 12 Runs. Is that the most ever scored by opponent in game started by Mark Prior? [Yes.] Is this his worst start ever? [No -- this game vs. Astros was worse. Astros always seem to hit Prior hard. He's now 2-3 lifetime against both 'Stros and Cardinals.]

Great win.