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Thursday, October 28, 2004


POSTSEASON POST-MORTEM Every region of the country seems to have its own insecurity. For example, my friend Caitlin is from Mississippi. She has an extremely sharp mind and an extremely thick Southern accent – but no matter where she travels in this country, she runs into people who assume that the latter negates the possibility of the former. And so this prejudice breeds an insecurity among Southerners that the rest of the world sees them as stupid and uneducated.

I live in Los Angeles, and invariably when I meet people actually born and raised in Southern California (a rarity given all the transplants out here), they quickly apologize for their roots, explaining that they’re not as shallow or air-headed as everyone perceives them.

In the Midwest, the great fear is not that we’re dumb or shallow – it’s that we’re negligible. The forgotten. The flyovers. You often see this stereotype in movies. Whenever a screenwriter wants to give you a quick shorthand for Nowheresville, he’ll usually set things in Missouri, or Kansas, or Nebraska.

This is why, when Something Big comes to town, St. Louisans are acutely sensitive – more so than most cities, I think – to what the rest of the world thinks of us. Will they notice us? Are we measuring up? Are we somebody?

Those were the big questions heading into this World Series. And I don’t just mean that in a regional/cultural sense. The 2004 Cardinals had been fighting an inferiority complex all year, from the Big Media types who’d written off the team in the preseason, to the naysayers who said we had too many holes to maintain our big first-half lead, to the doubters who said we lacked enough frontline pitching to go all the way.

So our beloved team – the one that won 105 games in the hinterlands of the NL Central – would be put to the test on the biggest stage imaginable. After all, this wasn’t some backwater skirmish like the ones we had in the 1980s (where we squared off against the hamlets of Milwaukee, Kansas City, and the Twin Cities) – this was Boston, East Coast megalopolis, educational hub of the country, darling of ESPN, trying to win their first world title in 86 years. This was Big Time.

That was the setting as of Saturday night. Five nights later it was all over, with the Cards seeming less like a powerhouse and more like a footnote, or perhaps the answer to a trivia question. And while Cardinals fans are scratching their heads, wondering how this all happened, some East Coast writers are wondering if the Series even happened at all. On Tuesday, for example, Rob Neyer wrote:

Nothing that happens in the 2004 World Series matters. Really matters, I mean... because what really matters already happened, last week when the Red Sox beat the Yankees.
And then today Boston journalist Dan Shaughnessey offered this opinion on ESPN:

"Let's face it, Red Sox-Yankees was the World Series."
Forget for a moment how much this thinking insults the Cardinals. It unwittingly insults the Red Sox as well, by implying that they didn’t do anything to earn their victory over us – it was, after all, a foregone conclusion one week ago.

To be fair, though, this never seemed like a real World Series, if by World Series you mean a showdown between the best each league has to offer. Instead it seemed like the Red Sox were simply playing themselves, playing against their history, the way you might try to break your high score in a videogame. The end result was just terrible for baseball as a whole (the sound of one hand clapping). Or, as Joe Sheehan put it:

As much credit as you give the Red Sox for their comeback, for their pitching, for their performance, this was a lousy World Series. It was a four-game sweep with no lead changes, with three runs scored by Cardinals over last three games. That's not good. Each of the last three games was the same: the Red Sox took an early lead, the Cardinals alternated quasi-rallies and 1-2-3 innings, had a ton of poor at-bats, and rarely mounted a credible threat... The story of the Red Sox is a powerful one, but when you evaluate this Series on its merits, you have to conclude that it was a clunker.
That’s bad news for Fox, of course, but even worse for the sport of baseball, which relies on so many would-be fans out there – the “undecideds” – to get seduced by the kinds of Fall Classics we saw in 2001, 2002, and 2003.

I can’t say this series hurt more than ’85, when we blew a 3-games-to-1 lead and unraveled in the wake of the worst call in sports history, or even as bad as ’87, when we had to take one of the final two games in the Goofydome to win our second championship of the ‘80s. But in some ways this series hit me on a more primordial level. It plugged into that regional shame I mentioned earlier – I couldn’t escape the sense that we were some inconsequential nuisance, something to be passed over, ditched.

Even last night at Busch, after the final out of the series (trivia question: is Edgar Renteria the only guy ever to end two World Series?), my brain was telling me that this was History unfolding before my eyes. I was sitting in the first row too – it was all right there – and yet it felt like it could have been taking place underwater or in a dream (or in the Twilight Zone that Flynn’s Mom was talking about). The most surreal moment of all was when I looked out and noticed, in the pile-up on the field, Mr. Jimmy Fallon celebrating with all the Red Sox players. He was hugging people, whooping it up, and then – here’s the kicker – he peeled off with his girlfriend toward second base and starting full-on making out with her as the Sox scrum shimmied nearby.

I have to say, it may have been the most FUBAR sports moment I’ve ever experienced. I flew into St. Louis to see the Cards win their first world championship in 22 years – or, failing that, to at least catch some spine-tingling games, some great duels between the two best baseball teams on planet earth. Instead I was treated to Jimmy Fallon, unfunnyman extraordinaire, with his tongue halfway down his girlfriend’s throat having his “once-in-a-lifetime moment” on our home field. Ugh. We’re gonna need round-the-clock crews of shamans, fumigators, FEMA aid workers, and witch doctors to get Busch ready for Opening Day.
                                    * * * *
Quick: who had highest slugging percentage in this World Series? Would you believe me if I told you Larry Walker? He hit .357/.438/.929 for the four games and was the only guy to go yard more than once. And actually, if you squint your eyes, Renteria had a pretty good series too – hit over .300, reached base over .400, slugged over .500. Even the maligned Albert Pujols went 5-for-15 with a couple extra-base hits. My point is that some of the Cardinals showed up. It’s not like they just disappeared en masse (even though the team hitting line of .190/.261/.302 means they came pretty damn close).

But when the story of this Series is written (that is, when it’s not the story of the Red Sox and Yankees written by buffoons like Dan Shaughnessy), the undisputed goats will be Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds. Edmonds got only one hit all series, a bunt single. Rolen was totally whitewashed.

There’s this cool chart that Baseball Prospectus recently put up called Expected Win Matrix. Basically it shows you how your team’s chance of winning changes from situation to situation. Like if you’re batting with one out and the bases loaded and the game tied in the bottom of the ninth, your team should win 90.5% of the time. Ground into a DP and your chances of winning drop to 52.2%, meaning that double play was worth about .383 wins, on average.

If you take each of Scott Rolen’s at bats for this series, you can see that he only had one at bat out of 17 plate appearances that got us any closer to a win (when he walked with runners on first and second and no out in the bottom of the first on Tuesday). Every other AB was a negative. According to this accounting method, Rolen cost us .499 wins for the sum of his World Series at bats – half a win all by himself in only four games!

About the collapse of Edmonds and Rolen, Sheehan said:

I should have seen this coming. Earlier this month, I picked the Dodgers over Cardinals in the Division Series for just the reason the Redbirds lost to the Red Sox. I knew they could have a bad week at the plate if a couple of guys didn't show up, and that they didn't have the starting pitching to carry them through that kind of stretch... Without a complete, 1-9 lineup like the Red Sox have, the Cardinals would rise or fall on the bats of their lineup core. They fell.
I don’t really buy the “shoulda seen it coming” line. The implication is that the Cards rely so heavily on their four best players that if any one or two of them falls, the whole team falls.

But while that may be an apt description of the 2003 Cardinals, it does not apply to the 2004 Cardinals. Last year’s team had no starting pitching, no bullpen, and no hitting outside of Pujols/Rolen/Renteria/Edmonds (except on days when J.D. Drew was healthy). This year’s team had plenty of movable parts, better starting pitching, an infinitely better bullpen, and quite possibly a better defense. And while the Cardinals had a much shallower talent base than the Sox (the prime reason we lost, in my opinion), that hoary cliché about a team having “plenty of ways to beat you” seemed to apply. The Cards won this year via the slugfest (31-13 in games decided by five or more runs) as well as the pitching duel (they won the most games in baseball when scoring only 1 or 2 runs). They seemed to be able to adjust their team on the fly depending on what was needed.

This series was the exact opposite. When our table-setters and our 7-8-9 hitters hit, the heart of our order did not. When Pujols did well, Walker did not. When Walker did well, Pujols did not. When we scored 9 runs in Fenway, we gave up 11. When we held the Sox to seven runs over two games at Busch, we were virtually shut out. It was maddening. Now, I don’t want to give the impression that we lost a bunch of close games that could have gone either way. But I do think it’s striking how the team that had “plenty of ways to beat you” in the regular season found “plenty of ways to lose” in the last week of October.
                                    * * * *
I don’t know a single person who ever believed in the Curse of the Bambino. In fact, my friends in New England were as sick of the “curse” talk as anyone (in some ways that’s been their regional insecurity, since the days of Johnathan Edwards and the Salem witch trials: that they’re hexed by dark forces). And yet...

Sox fans may not have believed in the Curse, but they probably felt it all the same. As my pal Brian Cook put it to me in an email this morning:

Even though I didn't buy into the Curse, it was hard not to feel the other shoe waiting to drop... The summer romance with the Sox each year was like dating a great girl who you knew was going to move, break up with you, go to college at the end of the summer, whatever - you always had that nagging thing in the back of your head knowing that it wouldn't last.
The common take on this series is that the BoSox “reversed the curse,” and were the beneficiaries of all the freaky-spooky things that used to afflict them in the past. In the ALCS the A-Rod karate chop went their way; the broken-bat dunker by Ortiz just happened to fall in and end Game 5; and Bellhorn’s ground-rule double was rightly converted to a homer. In the World Series the Sox benefited from the lousy call on Jim Edmonds for the called third strike in Game 1, and the moment in Game 3 when Jeff Suppan started doing elliptical-training exercises rather than going home with the tying run. The idea is that in the past the Sox would have been on the bad end of these mishaps, and the domino effect would have resulted in yet another World Series defeat.

Yet that’s not at all what happened in this series. If anything, the Sox were on the bad end of a lotta weird shit. Who can forget Manny Ramirez dropping an easy fly ball to tie the score 9-9 in Game 1? Or eight errors in the first two games (some on account of freaky-sloppy weather)? If the Sox lost Game 4, how many people would be talking about Trot Nixon’s phantom grand slam, the one that missed by about a foot? Or about the 8th inning, when the team had bases juiced no one out and didn’t score?

The fact is that the Sox were good enough in all the most important areas that these oddities didn't matter. That’s the key difference between Boston’s win in 2004 and their defeats in 1986 and 1975. In those years the Sox were, quite frankly, not nearly as good as the teams they were playing (the ’86 Mets and ’75 Reds may be the two greatest NL teams of my lifetime). It took everything in Boston’s power just to hang with those teams, so obviously when some weird play came about the Red Sox didn’t have the sturdiness to weather the storm. You think that it wasn’t freaky that the home run by Fisk hit the damn foul pole against the Reds? But the Reds were the better team overall; they could withstand stuff like that, and they closed the series the next night. Same with this ’04 Sox team. All kinds of goofy stuff happened to them this past week -- just as it happens to all teams -- but the ballclub was good enough to transcend them. This is why Manny Ramirez's gaffes in rightfield make him different than, say, Bill Buckner (or, let's admit it, Don Denkinger).

We’re narrative creatures, and as a species we tend to look for turning points, plot twists, smoking guns – even, sometimes, when they’re not really there. Cardinal fans will no doubt look back on the Suppan Surprise or the called strike on Edmonds and say that was the difference-maker. That's why we lost! John Kruk went so far as to say the whole series turned in the third inning of Game 1, when Orlando Cabrera threw that high elbow at Tony Womack. Never mind that the Cardinals outscored the Sox for the rest of the game, in Kruk’s mind that one action had the Cards so scared that they went down like lambs in four straight. But this kindergarten fable ignores all the big “macro” ways in which the Red Sox won.

I guess what I’m trying to say, then, is that the Sox weren’t cursed these past 86 years so much as they didn’t deserve to win. There were really only three years in that stretch – 1946, 1978, and 2003 – where I think you could make a plausible case that the Red Sox were the best team in baseball, and even in those years I think the better team won (not much better, but better all the same). But this year the Sox were the best team in baseball. They earned their win. They weren’t the beneficiary of some lifted curse.
                                    * * * *
So yes, the Sox were better than the Cards – but how much better? This might just be useless hair-splitting, a dumb argument for the Hot Stove League. But I think it’s important to point out that while Boston’s run was historic, their dominance doesn’t represent the “true value” of these teams.

One of the bedrocks of sabermetrics is that players have a true level of ability, and just because a players succeeds over 5, 10, or 20 trials doesn’t mean he's apt to do so in the future. You measure a guy not by how he did in his last at bat, but by what he’s likely to do in his next at bat, or in his next thousand at bats.

Teams work the same way, of course. And while it’s important to know the true value of a team if you’re, say, a GM deciding whether to go all-in or wait ‘til next year, for any given season the schedule can be a ruthless arbiter. Is it any consolation to the 2004 Cubs that they were better than their record indicates? For next year, yes; for this year, it’s just more salt in their wounds. Same thing with the Cardinals. Does it help us to know that we can compete, and should have competed, with the Red Sox, or is that just more salt in the wounds?

Well, the best measure of a team’s true value is the third-order standings on Baseball Prospectus’ stat page. It adjusts team wins and losses according to constituent run elements, strength of schedule, quality of opponents pitching and hitting, etc. By that measure the Sox had 102.8 regular season wins; the Cardinals 98.2. (How you account for the difference with their actual records says a lot about how much you believe in intangibles, chemistry, things like that.)

So if we can concede that the Sox were fundamentally a .634 team, and the Cardinals were fundamentally a .606 team, you would expect the Sox to win any given matchup between these two clubs 53% of the time. That also means that a four-game series sweep was about 8% likely. (That seems high, but keep in mind that the Cards were 5% likely to sweep the Sox.)

Of course, no one but a few stat geeks measure teams by what should have happened. We measure teams by what did happen. My point, however, is that what did happen is an anomaly, and anyone who claims that this series proves the indomitable, everlasting superiority of the Boston Red Sox over the St. Louis Cardinals is an innumerate who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

(Oh, and one argument that’s come into vogue lately is that the American League is the superior league, which is why the Sox won. In fact, I’ve heard at least two people claim that the sweep settles the idea that the AL is superior to the NL. Nonsense. If this were so, then the NL was the superior league last year. The year before it was the AL; the year before that the NL, etc. It’s a silly argument.)

So if the Cards were likely to keep up with the Sox, what caused their downfall at this particular point in time? I think it had to do with terrible matchup problems for the Cardinals. They're a team that thrives on nibbling at the corners; the Sox kill such teams. They have an all-righty starting staff; and of course, the Sox go crazy on righties. The Cards generate a lot of offense via the longball; the Sox kept the ball in the park all year long. Just a lot of headaches for our team.

Notice what I did not say: I do not think the Cards won because they didn't want it badly enough. I might buy the idea the team choked -- that they were too tense or panicky to play well. But if anything I think that's because they were pressing too hard. I'll never forget Albert Pujols at the end of the series, in the final inning.
He singled leading off, then Rolen flew to right. After Kapler caught the ball, Pujols started to tear down the line, like he was might tag up. He was conceding nothing.

And then as the last out was made, Pujols was charging into third, ready to score if the throw got away from Mientkiewicz. As the Sox players poured onto the field two seconds later, Pujols made a wide left turn and walked very slowly through the celebration. I swear he was either (a) burning the scene in his memory, building motivation for those grueling off-season workouts; or (b) hoping, daring some Red Sox player to touch him so he could start the first post-Series brawl in history. When he came into the dugout, not more than fifteen feet from me, he took off his batting helmet and threw it as hard as he could against the wall. That guy wanted this Series. As bad as anybody. And the fact that he didn't says nothing about his character.
                                    * * * *
Another debate raging among St. Louisans today: would you rather the Cardinals didn’t go to the World Series at all, or are you happy they went, even if it meant getting swept? This is sort of a masochistic pastime - like wondering whether you’d rather die by fire or drowning – but I think it’s a no-brainer. Of course it’s cool that we went. I don’t care how bad it went down.

Until this year, the Tony La Russa Era was marked by many fine regular-season teams, but tons of frustration in the postseason. Three losses in the NLCS made us the bridesmaid to the bridesmaids, which was no fun at all. But this year we got over a hump that had vexed us for 17 years. And even though we lost more games than we won this postseason (damn, that’s a depressing thought), we were still very successful in October. We won the first two rounds, had a great, balls-out series with Houston, and came out on top. I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

But of course, the bad taste still lingers. Consider this: more major-league cities than not have won a world title since we last won ours in 1982. Here’s the winners circle since then: Anaheim, Phoenix, Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Detroit, Miami, Kansas City, L.A., Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York, Oakland, and Toronto. I don’t want to compare angst here and say that St. Louis is “due” (after all, Chicago and Cleveland are far more ripe than we are), but that doesn’t mean I’m not itching to climb the mountaintop.

A. Bartlett Giamatti once said, famously, that baseball “is designed to break your heart”:

The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.
It’s the death of summer – the subject of some of the greatest pop music, from the Beach Boys’ “All Summer Long” to Jonathan Richman’s “That Summer Feeling” – that’s supposed to make today, the day after the World Series, the chilliest, most hopeless day of the entire year. But I didn't feel as bad today as I'd have thought. The sun was shining, and the nightmare that ended in Busch was growing just a bit foggier. And I swear there was a brief moment, when I walked outside to get my mail this afternoon, when springtime seemed, improbably, just around the corner...


National Respect

Check out the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated. Page 53 - The Redbird Nation blog gets some love.

I'm sure Brian will have an excellent take on the game but the word from my parents was that the atmosphere at Busch last night was "Twilight Zone."

Hey, at least we got a quality start out of our staff....

Just remember, 28 teams would gladly trade places with the Cardinals today. Here's to a tremendous 2004.


POD PEOPLE It's the middle of the night and I just got home. I'm getting on a plane first thing tomorrow morning, so I won't be able to post for awhile. In the meantime let's all commiserate over that re-enactment of Invasion of the Body Snatchers in Game 4. My brother-in-law Alec said it was like the Cards were throwing the World Series, but they were really bad actors and forgot to make it look like they were trying. Sigh...

Congrats to the Red Sox, and thank you to the 2004 Cardinals for one hell of a lot of good memories.


Tuesday, October 26, 2004


BEDRAGGLED I've had a long day. Got up at 4:20 a.m., took a flight out of L.A. to San Fran, sat in the airport during a layover, flew all the way to St. Louis, got caught in a furious rainstorm on the way to my parents' house, changed my clothes, got caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the way to Busch, finally made it to my wet seats, and settled in for a few hours of World Series baseball...

And thought, I came all the way for that?

I mean, what was that? It was less a game than an intricate torture device designed solely to drive us out of our minds. The highlight of the evening was -- well, there were no highlights this evening. I guess Renteria's double off the wall gave me a momentary shiver of pleasure. And Larry Walker's home run would have been glorious and grand, in a different context.

Right now I feel down, depressed, sad, beat, disilllusioned, carried along the four stages of baseball grief -- from "let's win it all" to "let's make it a good series" to "let's not get swept" to "let's at least lose with dignity." I'm not quite at Stage 4 yet. I'm still hoping for a win tomorrow night, one last glimpse of the fine baseball team I followed for the first 173 games of the season. But I've already tightened my stomach and prepared for the worst.

I said before this series began that no matter what happens, we'll never forget this week as long as we live. And sure enough, I'll remember tonight's baserunning snafu by Jeff Suppan 'til the day I die. It's the touchstone for the entire series -- equal parts fluky and inept.

You all know what happened: Suppan was on third with no outs, and Larry Walker hit a slow roller to the right side with Boston playing back and conceding the run. And for whatever reason Suppan simply didn't go home, instead dancing like a yo-yo down the third-base line, seized by a moment of temporary insanity. First baseman David Ortiz made the easy toss over to Mueller and Soup was gunned out. So instead of it being tie game, runner on third (Edgar Renteria moving over from second), Albert Pujols at the dish with one out, it was runner on second, two outs, Red Sox maintain their lead.

How this happened isn't totally clear. Supposedly third-base coach Jose Oquendo was shouting to Suppan "go go go" and Soup heard it as "no no no," so he put on the brakes. But this explanation only gets us partway there. After all, any major leaguer worth his salt knows you run on contact on balls hit to the right side and the defense back, and getting bamboozled by your third-base coach is something that shouldn't happen in any league above tee ball. The irony, of course, is that the National League team was supposed to have an advantage when it came to pitchers hitting and running the bases. Nope. Worse yet, it was David "Born to DH" Ortiz making the play to nab Suppan. So much for the home-field edge.

Speaking of losing the home-field edge, that one play wiped out the crowd entirely. From the pregame to the first pitch, right through Manny's home run and Walker caught at that plate, Busch Stadium was totally enthusiastic -- roaring, chanting, trying to will the team to victory. But with Suppan's gaffe, a pall settled over the crowd. I hesitate to use this word, but it seemed almost supernatural, as if it were the Cardinals who were surely cursed. (That reminds me of why Richard Pryor didn't want to give mouth-to-mouth to a dying man: "Because Death might jump outta him and into me!" You don't want to be the ones to revive the Sox, because the Curse might just jump outta them and into you!)

Now, I want to be clear about something I said earlier. The blunder at third tonight -- call it the Suppan Surprise -- was emblematic of what went wrong with the Cards, but it's not the reason they lost tonight's game. The reason we lost tonight's game was one Pedro J. Martinez. Pedro no longer has that knee-buckling curve he had a couple years ago, nor does he have the same high-90s heater. But I don't think I've ever -- and I mean ever, in all my years as a baseball fan -- seen a guy change speeds better than he did tonight. He's mystifying. His windup, arm angle, point of delivery, everything, looks the exact same on a 92-mph fastball as it does on a 76-mph change. Which means if you can get inside the heads of the hitters you're facing and out-guess them all night long (and make no mistake, Pedro is one crafty bastard), then you don't need great "stuff" to succeed. The stuff between your ears is all you really need. (Jesus, I sound like I'm turning into Johnny Sain.)

At the end of the day we can bitch and moan about Suppan's blunder, and Larry Walker getting thrown out at the plate, and Scott Rolen continuing his impersonation of Scott Baio, but you've got to tip your cap to the team we're playing. We're just getting flat-out beat.

Now, one last thing, and it's the only thing that made it difficult for me to tip my cap to the Sox tonight. And that's the Red Sox fan who was sitting two rows behind me. In fact, there were quite a number of Sox fans around me tonight; and yes, they were very loud and not at all bashful about supporting their team. None of that bothered me. What did bother me is the guy who screamed and yelled -- I kid you not -- on every single pitch of tonight's game. Doesn't matter whether it was Bill Mueller's double or a swing and a miss from David Ortiz, this guy was all over it. Here's a sample:

Guy (after a weak foul from Johnny Damon): "Way to get a piece, Johnny D.! J.D.! You the man now, J.D.! Give us something! Kick their ass now, J.D.! Wooooooooo!"

or

Guy (after a ball from Pedro thrown a foot out of the strike zone): "That's right, Pedro! Keep 'em thinking! Keep 'em guessing! You don't come to them, make them come to you! You're Pedro! Who are they? They're nothing! Wooooooooooo!"

After awhile it became clear that this guy wasn't rooting for the Red Sox so much as he was rooting for himself. His need to turn every play into an expression of his own obnoxious personality bordered on the pathological. It almost felt like we lost to the Sox twice -- once in real time, and once to the yutz behind us. Although to be fair, there were two Sox fans sitting to my right who basically apologized on behalf of Red Sox Nation. "Sorry," one of them said. "You're getting a bit of Fenway and the Bronx come to St. Louis." Yeah, maybe even more than a bit.

At the end of the game the fans filed out of the stadium, about as somber as I've ever seen a sports crowd. There was no anger, and none of the edginess you sometimes get when the hometeam is going down in flames and the opposing crowd is eager to rub it in. No, it was just sad. No one thought that this team, that played such beautiful baseball for so many months, would end up in the same discard bin as the '98 Padres.

As the crowd logjammed in the corridors of Busch, a strange message lit up on a side scoreboard: "Thanks for a great 2004 season." I'm not sure how it got there exactly. It was either sarcasm, or an omen, or maybe a genuine bit of gratitude for something that's all but slipped away.


Monday, October 25, 2004


DARE TO INSPIRE COURAGEOUS POSSIBILITY I once temped at an office that was covered wall-to-wall with "inspirational" corporate posters. They said things like COURAGE: Dare to confront that which can only be imagined and POSSIBILITIES: Life's only limitations are the ones we make. Usually the backdrops would have, like, a guy ascending a mountaintop, or a sprinter crossing the finish line.

Kitschy, I know. And yet I'm going to indulge in some corn-fed optimism of my own tonight. See, I'm a pessimist by nature. I expect the worst. I see black clouds everywhere. And that's why, on the eve of Game 3, with the Cards down two games to none, I offer you 5 reasons to feel good about our chances in the World Series:

1. We're back at Busch. You've heard it a zillion times already: the Cards are undefeated at home this postseason. Don't put much stock in that (if anything, that means we're due to break the streak). But what you can trust is the Red Sox road record. As I mentioned in yesterday's post, the Sox are decidedly worse away from Fenway this year. It's not their pitching that's the problem (their runs allowed are about the same home and away) -- it's their hitting. They score 6.4 runs per game at home; 5.3 on the road. Shave off one extra run each game and the Cards might be in business.

Pessimism Alert: The Sox sewed up the ALCS while winning the last two games in perhaps the most hostile playing environment in all of baseball. So clearly they're not gonna get too rattled.

2. We're facing Pedro in Game 3. Two years ago that sentence would have made me wet my pants. Nowadays -- eh. I mean, Pedro has never pitched in the World Series before, and it's not difficult to see him rising to the occasion and getting medieval on us. But Pedro is slightly built, and seems to wear down into October. His ERA the last two postseasons: 5.11. His ERA since mid-September: 6.65. That's enough to give us hope.

Pessimism Alert: Sure, Pedro seems to pitch poorly in the postseason, but that may just be because he usually faces the Yankees. Pedro's ERA against the Yanks is nearly two runs higher than it is against everyone else. And against everyone else he's pretty good.

3. Get past Pedro and suddenly the world looks cheery. Robb from Randon Redbird Reasoning pointed this out -- if the Cards can win Game 3, the rest of the series lines up like this:

Game 4 -- Derek Lowe (beatable)
Game 5 -- Tim Wakefield (more than beatable)
Game 6 -- ??? (Schilling may have pitched his last game of the year)

That's not exactly fear-inspiring.

Pessimism Alert: Is the Cards rotation any better?

4. Defense, or lack thereof. Let's be clear about one thing: Boston's defense is not as bad as it has been these last two nights. In fact, the only thing you can really glean from their back-to-back four-error performances is that they're not likely to do that ever again. However... the Sox defense is generally not as good as the Cardinals' to begin with. And they'll have David "Dr. Strangeglove" Ortiz playing first. And the weather in St. Louis is supposed to be wet and sloppy. Add it up and I think you can expect some more holes for our hitters to exploit.

Pessimism Alert: The Sox have already won two games with as bad a defense as you can imagine, so why should they be worried?

5. The percentages. They're not in our favor, obviously. Rob Neyer estimates the Cards have a 22% chance of winning the series. Baseball Prospectus, using infinitely more sophisticated methods, gives us a 29% chance.

That doesn't sound like much. But keep in mind that just one week ago the Red Sox were given just a 4% chance of winning the ALCS. By that standard 29% looks pretty good. Hell, 29% is about exactly how often Edgar Renteria gets a base hit. If Edgar were up at the plate right now, against an average pitcher, with the entire World Series on the line, would you throw in the towel? Would you say it's over? Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? No, no, and no. 29% isn't impossible at all.

Pessimism Alert: But it's still 29%

Okay, that's all I got. I guess you could throw in there that the Cards bats figure to wake up a bit, but you know all that. I'm heading to St. Louis on a 6 a.m. flight tomorrow morning, and I'll be attending Games 3 and 4 in person. So posting might be lighter and slower than usual, but I'll still write when I can. In the meantime, cross your fingers and toes. I don't want to travel 1800 miles just to go to a dinner party with cardinal as the main course.


Sunday, October 24, 2004


BLOODY SUNDAY Rough night, huh? There's not much to say after a loss like this. I mean, sure, we can pick apart strategy and get into a lot of wouldas and couldas, but all that hair-splitting is overshadowed by the very real and obvious fact that the Red Sox are playing well right now and the Cardinals are not. They're up 2-zip; we’re not.

So tonight's post will probably have less to do with tactics and strategy and more to do with my glum mood. I'm just warning you in advance...

  • It wasn't until right before this game started that I realized Schilling-Morris was a rematch of those wonderful duels between those two in the 2001 ALDS. I guess the reason I almost missed it is that neither pitcher is as good as he once was -- especially Morris. Instead the matchup is like the Pixies reunion tour: sorta cool in a faintly nostalgic way, but nothing to get too excited about. (Although I might get excited if the Pixies did the National Anthem before Game 6 -- now there's a Boston-bred band I could get into!)

  • I've always had mixed feelings about Schilling. Sometimes I think he's a pompous ass; sometimes I think he's about the most admirable superstar in all of baseball. And sometimes the two opinions co-exist uncomfortably in my mind. Like that open letter he sent out after 9/11 -- one of the more heartfelt things I've ever heard from an athlete. And yet, I'm embarrassed to admit, a small part of me thought it was nothing more than Schilling grandstanding again. And then there was the time Schilling showed up at the memorial service for Darryl Kile in St. Louis. Mind you, Schill didn't really know Kile. They'd been teammates back in '91, but that was it. Yet Schilling flew to St. Louis anyway, because he considers everyone in baseball his brother, and he wanted to pay his respects in person. 99% of me thought you couldn't find a classier move in all of sports. 1% of me thought Schilling just wanted to show the world what a great guy he was.

    But in the end it's the better part of Schilling's nature that wins out for me. For one simple reason: because whether he's altruistic or self-absorbed, whether he's authentic or simply posturing, he always comes across to me as a full-blooded human being, clearly a well-rounded poerson with a life outside of baseball. That's rare in sports, and great for the game.

    What does any of that have to do with tonight's showdown? I don't know; not much. But it would be foolish to pretend those thoughts don't go through our heads as we watch these games. They become intensely personal contests, whether we care to admit it or not. (Jesus, I just heard myself say that in the voice of Tim McCarver -- that means it's time to move on...)

  • The record won't show it, but I thought Schilling was much better tonight than he was last Tuesday in the Bronx. That night he got by on sheer guile. Tonight he got by on guile, a good fastball, and a sharper breaking pitch. Apart from a slightly hobbled gait walking off the mound in the 4th, I saw no effects from his bad ankle, and I couldn't have said that after Game 6 of the ALCS.

  • So: should the Cardinals have bunted on Schilling? After all, he's gimpy, the field was slick, and there were plenty of moments (I'm thinking of Marlon Anderson leading off the top of the third) when it would have made sense. But the Cardinals never so much as squared. Why? Two guesses: (1) Mueller looked to be shading in all night in anticipation of this very strategy, so perhaps a bunt wouldn't have done any good (although with Mueller's glovework it may have been smart to give it a whirl); or (2) La Russa didn't want to exploit Schilling's injury because, well, that's just not "Cardinal baseball."

    Point (1) I buy, but not point (2). After all, did the Astros lay off Steve Kline's hanging breaking pitches because they were byproducts of his injured finger? No. Should David Ortiz have stopped running to first last night because Tony Womack was down on the field? Of course not. As cutthroat as it sounds, I'd would like to have seen the Cards at least test Schilling off the mound.

  • It's a shame this game didn't live up to its aesthetics. There was the thick autumn air in Fenway, the fans huddling for warmth and camaraderie, the mist steaming out of the players' mouths -- the only thing missing was John Facenda's voice-over. And yet the game itself was a dud, seemingly over by the 4th inning. Oh sure, the media will trot out the usual Schilling "warrior" angle, perhaps try to find new adjectives for "gutsy," but I didn't get an epic sense from this game. The only ABs that seemed very momentous were Pujols vs. Schilling -- two thoroughly self-confident guys who demand to be top dog, going at each other. Pujols won those battles, of course; but Schilling won the war.

  • By the way, I mentioned last night that the Boston crowd seemed rather subdued, and Hub fans e-mailed me and posted on our comments board that this was because the $3000+ ticket prices had squeezed out the everyday, lunchpail Sawx-a-holic and replaced him with a decidedly frou-frou, wine-and-cheese element. Sorry, I'm not buying it. Tonight's crowd was raucous as hell, even after the game was well in hand; surely the demographics couldn't have shifted that much overnight. So I stand by my original reading. I think last night's crowd was on needles and pins a bit, and tonight they allowed themselves to celebrate.

  • So what of La Russa's decision to start Matt Morris? It was certainly an eccentric choice -- Mo Mo had never started on three days' rest, plus the damp weather couldn't have been good for his self-described "cranky" shoulder. Morris wasn't horrible tonight, but he was still his usual frustrating self. In fact, the two innings that bit him (the first and the fourth) were microcosms for his entire season -- flashes of brilliance marred by pure slop.

    Here's something I want to bring up in regard to Morris... First of all, you all know that he's Jeckyll-and-Hyde from game to game, and you probably also know that he's Jeckyll-and-Hyde with runners on and without. The numbers are eloquent:
                                 AVG   OBP   SLG
    
    Morris with Bases Empty .245 .295 .373
    Morris with Runners On .301 .342 .591
    The reason for the split is fairly obvious -- Morris sucks from the stretch. When he's not operating off the full windup, he can't generate enough lower-body push to get any action on his curveball.

    So here's my question: shouldn't there be occasions when Morris simply pitches from the full windup even with runners on base? I'm not just talking about bases loaded/two outs. I'm talking about tonight, with Manny on second and Ortiz on first. Are they going to steal in that situation? No. Is there any huge risk by allowing the runners a big jump? No, not really. So why not just go to the full windup? Or what about in the 4th, with Millar on first and two outs? Millar stole only one base all year. He's not gonna go in that situation. And yet, pitching from the stretch, Morris gave up back-to-back doubles to give the Sox a 4-1 lead. I say if the guy's that bad with runners on, just let him pitch to his strengths and suffer the side effects.

  • This game was one dull ache punctuated by seering jolts of pain. The truly painful moments were all the same. In the first, fourth, and sixth innings the Sox had two on and two outs. And each of those times, like clockwork, they got a big hit (two of those with a two-strike hole). And the hits weren't bleeders either -- all three were ringing shots. One single, one double, one triple, and that was your ballgame.

    The Cardinals, conversely, got some ringing shots of their own with two outs, but every time they seemed to be right at someone. The second inning was especially frustrating -- fast runners on first and second, on the move, and Matheny smokes the ball... right into Mueller's glove. I mean, liners off the bat of Mike Matheny are about as rare as Great Pumpkin sightings, and yet this one turned into a double play, end of inning.

    Now, I'm not saying this is "bad luck" -- after all, positiong is part of baseball too, and it's not like the Cards hit any balls as hard as Bellhorn's double or Varitek's triple. But it was one of those maddening games where you thought, if this hit was just a hair to the right, or if that pitch was just a touch outside, then we might have had a real game.

  • The Cards may make a series out of this, but if so I have no idea where their pitching is going to come from. Last night the staff threw 190 pitches, and the Red Sox hitters whiffed on exactly nine of them. Tonight we threw 166 pitches and they swung and missed -- you guessed it -- only nine times. There are some very bad elements at play in this series, like a low-pressure system colliding with a high-pressure system to create a tornado. And one of them is that the Cardinals have very few pitchers who can make people swing and miss -- they survive by getting people to chase bad pitches while letting our defense do the work. The Sox, however, don't swing at bad pitches, and don't put the ball in play unless they need to. The end result is a lot of favorable counts and a lot of base on balls for the other guys. In the two games, Cards pitchers issued a whopping 14 walks -- and this from a team that handed out the third fewest free passes in all of baseball. When your strengths turn into weaknesses, well, that's called trouble.

  • Okay, I have to break this dour mood by telling you one thing that I truly enjoy, and that's the moment after Scott Rolen scoops up a sharp grounder but before he fires it over to first base. That split-second as he cocks his hips, before he unloads, is sheer pleasure. It reminds me of some lines from the poet Stephen Dunn: "I love the moment / at the races when they're all in the gate, / such power / not yet loose..." (And then a few lines later Dunn hits us with this one: "I love something to yell for, / something to bet my sweet life on / again and again." I hear ya, buddy.)

  • Why was Jason Marquis pitching in the 7th inning? Joe Buck suggested it was so he could work on his sinker (which has abandoned him this postseason) in a non-pressure situation. The unstated assumption is that Marquis will still start on Wednesday night. That only gives him two days rest, but today is Marquis' "throw day" anyway; and with only 25 pitches delivered tonight, starting Game 4 is very doable.

    But I'm not so sure Buck has this one right. I think it's quite possible that we'll see Danny Haren, and not Jason Marquis, pitching on Wednesday. Both Bernie Miklasz and Jonah Keri have already advised that the Cards start Haren, and it's clear to me that Marquis is deep in La Russa and Duncan's doghouse. It's not because Marquis is pitching poorly; it's that Marquis is not doing what his manager and pitching coach tell him to do, and then he's making excuses for himself afterwards, defending his way as the only way. For anyone who's followed the fitful marriage of Garrett Stephenson and Tony La Russa, you'll know that Marquis is headed down a bad path. And it would not surprise me if La Russa yanked him from the rotation, especially if he's the only thing standing between the Red Sox and a sweep.

  • Speaking of a sweep, it seems clear that the Red Sox Curse has very little to do with sorcery and witchcraft and very much to do with their World Series opponents. As Rob Neyer put it recently:

    The Red Sox lost one World Series in the 1940s, one in the 1960s, one in the 1970s, and one in the 1980s. In 1946, of course, they lost to the Cardinals, who won more games in the '40s than any other National League franchise. In '67 (Cardinals) and '75 (Reds) and '86 (Mets), they lost to the team with the best single-season record in the National League during that decade. This was tough competition. And this year? You guessed it: the Cardinals' 105 wins during the regular season are tops in the league for their decade.
    So what about those 105 wins now? Well, there were times in this game when I felt like Carrie, as in the character from the novel (and the movie) by that BoSox-loving horror writer, Stephen King. If you remember, Carrie is the class weirdo, the outcast who is led to believe, for one night, that she's a beautiful prom queen. But it turns out no one thinks she's beautiful. She's just being set up to be drenched in pig's blood.

    Likewise, all year long people said the Cards didn't have what it took to go over the top -- their pitching was lousy, they had no supporting cast, they were playing over their heads, whatever. But when the Cards won the NLCS, I thought they could really do it: succeed at the Big Dance, just like Carrie. It remains to be seen if we'll get doused in pig's blood, but I can sure feel the bucket teetering overhead.

    (It didn't help that America's prom king, Tom Hanks himself, showed up on TV tonight to declare his love for the Red Sox. "I'm an American," said Hanks. "There's nothing wrong with the city of St. Louis. They are a lovely people, they have lovely colors on their baseball uniforms -- but come on! I want Billy Buckner to have a good night's sleep for crying out loud!" Two seconds later David Ortiz hit a long drive foul, then protested that it was fair. As the umps were huddling on the field, I half-expected them to turn to Hanks up on the Green Monster. Hanks would yell out, "Come on! Do it for Billy Buckner! Do it for America!" Whereupon first-base ump Brian Gorman would circle his index finger: home run!)

  • And yes, America really does seem to be loving the Sox. Check this out from Bernie’s Pressbox Forum:
    Fox's Game 1 attracted the largest national audience (23 million) for a Game 1 since Game 1 1996 (ATL-Yankees). It was a 26 percent gain from last year's Game 1 between Yanks-FLA. But... Boston topped all markets with a 44.3 rating, followed by STL at 42.3. Game 1 goes to the Red Sox on and off the field. Their fans won, too.
    Two ratings shares aren't that significant, but damn, they're not nothing either.

  • The Cards road losing streak in World Series play has now stretched to 8 games, dating all the way back to 1985. It'll be good to come back home, especially with the way the Cards players were treated by the Red Sox brass. (Did you hear about this? The Cards put up the Sox players in a nice hotel a few blocks from Busch Stadium, whereas the Sox sent the Cardinals to a hotel 30 minutes away from Fenway Park. Real classy, guys.) Not only haven't the Cards lost at Busch in the playoffs, the Sox are one team that shows some pretty extreme home/road splits (they scored almost a hundred fewer runs and lost a dozen more games on the road this year).

    But of course, the Sox proved in the ALCS that they can win big games on the road, which means it's entirely possible they've played their last game at Fenway Park all season. Hopefully our boys will show up on Tuesday to make sure that doesn't happen.

  • Saturday, October 23, 2004


    SLOPPY FIRSTS Were these two teams really the best in baseball? With both sides trying desperately to give the game to the other, it was finally the Red Sox who seized the moment and went up 1-0 in the World Series. A few observations:

  • I said earlier today that I'm not thrilled that this Series will invariably be told from Boston's point of view, but overall I'm glad we're playing the Sox. Our last three appearances in the Fall Classic were against Milwaukee, Kansas City, and Minnesota, and at times they seemed like mere regional affairs. This one feels more national, a bigger stage. The stakes seem higher.

  • But I have to say, the crowd seemed oddly subdued all night long. I don't know why -- perhaps they were expecting the worst, perhaps they were doused by Steven Tyler's National Anthem -- but it wasn't what I expected from Fenway. During the pregame introductions they treated the Cards like novel curiosities, not a sound in the house. And even during the biggest moments of the game they were withdrawn. I would think after a win under their belt they'll come back tomorrow night in full force.

  • As for lineup selection, I thought Francona made a good choice selecting Mirabelli as his starting catcher. Last night Harold Reynolds advised against this on ESPN (something about it disrupting clubhouse morale, of course), but with the way Wakefield's ball was fluttering tonight, Varitek would have had about four passed balls had he started. No way Varitek would have made up for that with four bases at the plate, especially since Mirabelli hit one off the Monster and can handle the stick pretty well himself.

  • On the other hand, I didn't like La Russa's decision to start Taguchi in place of John Mabry. My guess is that TLR considers Taguchi a better bat handler than Mabry, and hence he'd do better against Wakefield's knuckler. But while Taguchi is a better contact hitter than Mabes and his BB/K ratio is better, Mabry still gets on base more and is a much bigger power threat. I think that's too much to give up just to get So's bat-handling skills.

  • As it turns out, though, Tim Wakefield wasn't the secret weapon that Francona had hoped. I got hopeful before the game when I looked at Wakefield's record in interleague play the last three years. I figured that would tell me as well as anything how he'd done against teams unfamiliar with his knuckleball. And sure enough, he had a 7.27 ERA against NL teams compared to 3.76 vs. the Junior Circuit. So unfamiliarity doesn't necessarily breed success. Tonight Wakefield wasn't much better, leaving before he finished the fourth inning. And only a boatload of runs kept him from taking the L.

  • A lot of those runs came off the weak arm of Woody Williams, who was even worse than Wakefield. Less than one week ago Woody handcuffed the Astros on a one-hitter, with a great inside heater and an outside breaking pitch he was getting over for strikes. Tonight he had nothing, and it was clear from the get-go. He couldn't establish anything inside or outside -- it seemed like he was flinging the ball willy-nilly. Just an awful performance. On the night he ended up with 12 baserunners and only 7 outs.

  • Why was Tony Womack bunting in the second inning? The Cards got their first two hitters on, Wakefield was looking shaky, and T-Dub was in a hitter's count at 2-1. So what was La Russa's call? Bring on the sac bunt. The Cards ended up scoring their lead run on a sac fly and Joe Buck exclaimed, "that's a National League run at its best." Well, unfortunately the Red Sox just scored four American League runs at their best, and by the end of the night the Cards would need 12 runs to win the game. As Earl Weaver once said, "if you play for one run, that's all you're gonna get." That's all La Russa got, as he settled for a 4-1 deficit heading into the bottom of the second. Yuck.

    ADDENDUM: Tony La Russa did not call the bunt. Womack bunted on his own and after the game La Russa said, "That was not a good play." My apologies to TLR.

  • By the time the Sox had made it 7-2 in the third, I started having flashbacks of Game 1 of the 1982 World Series, when the Cardinals were roughed up mercilessly by Harvey's Wallbangers. I was at the game that night, and I remember sitting slumped in my seat high up in right field, thinking, "this team's just better than us." I had the same thought early in tonight's game, but just as the Cards wound up getting their shit together against Milwaukee in '82, they chipped away in this game, improbably tying the score 7-7 and 9-9. Yeah, we fell short, but at least we know it's not a mismatch.

  • Are these Sox hitters stubborn or what? They saw 190 pitches on the night, or 24 per inning. They just do not give away at bats. Of course, it doesn't help that we have almost no power pitchers on our staff, making for long ABs (and, at four hours, a very long game). We only struck out 3 guys on the night. With Morris and Suppan going the next two games, get used to it.

  • As much as the Sox impressed me as batsmen, they impressed me far less as gentlemen. I know, I know, gentlemanliness is a quaint notion nowadays, but what was with that slide into second by Orlando Cabrera, when he came up elbow-first? (Thank God Reggie Sanders reprimanded him the next inning.) The other bush-league moment was Manny Ramirez trotting to first on a tie-breaking single with his finger telling the world he was #1. A one-run game in the seventh and you're acting like you just hit a walk-off homer? Ridiculous.

  • Fortunately the baseball gods got their revenge an inning later, when Manny made Skates Smith look like Elvis Stojko out in left field. I noticed he wasn't holding up the #1 sign as he was tripping over himself on Larry Walker's liner.

  • All in all the Cards benefitted from a lot of luck this game -- not only Manny's commedia dell'arte in the field, but also Wakefield's wild streak in the 4th (you know you're wild when you walk Sanders and Womack back-to-back). But they also ran into some awful luck too. First there was the tailor-made double-play ball off the bat of Ortiz in the 7th inning. It ended up hitting the lip of the infield and ricocheting off Tony Womack, not only widening Boston's lead but possibly breaking Womack's collarbone in the process. The Cards got more bad luck in the 8th, when home-plate ump Ed Montague punched out Jim Edmonds on a called third strike to end the inning and leave the bases loaded. The ball was at least a foot inside, the worst ball/strike call of the entire postseason. Now, I'm not saying that Montague stole us any runs -- I mean, who knows what Jed would have done in that situation. It's just a shame that it was the biggest moment of the game up to that point, and the star was not Keith Foulke or Jim Edmonds but Ed Montague. Great timing.

  • I got a kick out of Julian Tavarez trying to wave Mark Bellhorn's drive foul in the bottom of the 8th -- Carlton Fisk in reverse. Damn. Tavarez has now given up as many home runs in his last four games as he has the previous two years.

  • Here's a glimpse of the mood up in New England. A guy I know, big Sox fan, had been in phone contact all game with two of his friends back East. The first called him after the Sox made it 4-0 in the first and said, dead serious, "I think we're gonna sweep 'em." After the Cards tied it 7-7, his buddies called him from Fenway and said, just as seriously, "That's the series. We blew it." Hilarious.

  • There are two ways of looking at tonight's game. The first is that the Red Sox made four errors and issued six walks and yet still ended up whupping us. The second is that the Cards got zilch from their starting pitcher, almost nothing from their 3-4-5 men (oh Scotty Rolen, where were ye?), played their worst all-around game of the postseason, and went into the bottom of the 8th all tied up. I'll guess we'll know more tomorrow which way the possession arrow is leaning.

  • SAILING INTO SEAS OF CHOWDER I don't have any coherent theme to this post. Just a lot of random thoughts about what's to come...

  • This is the first "classical" World Series in five years. A classical series, according to my own made-up definition, is one that involves teams that were part of the original sixteen teams of the 20th century. Over the last few years we've always had an expansion team in the Series (Florida, Anaheim, Arizona, etc.). Nothing wrong with that, of course; but I admit I have a soft-spot for traditions that stretch back over a hundred years.

  • Speaking of odd stats, did you know that the Red Sox haven't won a World Series since 1918? I stumbled across that while researching these teams last night. My first thought was, "no, that's can't be right -- they had to have won at least once in there." But sure enough, they didn't. You could look it up.

  • The Cards won't start a lefty in any game this series, nor do they have their primary southpaw (Steve Kline) available out of the pen. Guess who did better against righties than any team in the majors? Yep, the Red Sox. By a longshot (an .840 OPS vs. Colorado's .805). Gulp.

  • The Sox pose matchup problems for us in other areas too. The Cards don't "live and die" off the homer the way, say, the Cubs did this year. But it does provide us valuable nourishment. And unfortunately Boston allowed fewer homers this year than any AL team. Their only real pitcher with a case of gopheritis is Wakefield (knucklers that don't knuckle are basically hanging curveballs).

  • It dawns on me that the Sox match up so well against us because they were designed with one goal in mind: to beat the Yankees. And the Cards resemble the Yanks quite a bit, I think. Although our middle relief is much better than the Yanks (or the Sox, for that matter), which means this Series probably won't have those bizarro affairs you had over in the ALCS this year.

  • Did you know the Sox have finished in second place in the AL East for seven straight years? That's wild.

  • The biggest difference I see in these two lineups is that we concentrate more talent in our top players. Conversely, they do a much better job of getting good bats throughout the lineup. Let's say, for example, that you took the average MLVr (a catch-all offensive rate stat developed by Baseball Prospectus) for each lineup. The Cardinals are no doubt stronger overall -- a .211 MLVr compared to .168 for the Sox -- but the Sox have much better balance. Here's how each lineup slot compares to the team's average MLVr:

    1. Womack        -.190    1. Damon         -.017
    
    2. Walker +.182 2. Bellhorn -.109
    3. Pujols +.314 3. Ramirez +.195
    4. Rolen +.208 4. Ortiz +.150
    5. Edmonds +.264 5. Millar -.022
    6. Renteria -.222 6. Nixon +.042
    7. Sanders -.151 7. Varitek -.001
    8. Mabry -.022 8. Cabrera -.142
    9. Matheny -.387 9. Mueller -.098
    ------- -------
    Average +/- .216 +/- .086
    As you can see, they're more "complete"; we're more treacherous. Some will say that the Red Sox goal should be to limit our Big Four -- if they do that they win. Others, like Buster Olney, say no, you're not going to contain those bats in the heart of the order. Boston should simply accept that they'll do some serious damage while limiting the other guys in the order -- sorta like giving Michael Jordan his points while stopping John Paxson and Horace Grant. The flaw in this thinking: that strategy didn't work at all for Houston.

  • About that lineup I printed above: I'm not positive Mabry will be our DH, even though that contravenes even the most basic common sense. TLR has suggested that he might go with righthanded designated hitters (I have no clue why), and that Taguchi might start tonight against Tim Wakefield (again, no clue why, especially since Gooch has no patience at the plate and always seems to lunge too far forward -- awful against a knuckler). Please please let's hope La Russa comes to his senses here. The DH should favor us in the series (what with Millar sitting on the bench and Ortiz playing the field in St. Louis); let's not screw that up.

  • Speaking of odd decisions, I'm not sure why Francona is starting Wakefield in Game 1. If he didn't feel the need to rub the Yanks' noses in the Game 7 blowout by bringing in Pedro in the late innings, he might have Pedro available. But Wakefield is a serious wild card. I could see him giving up 8 runs and I could see him shutting us out for 8 -- it all hinges on that unpredictable knuckluh. No one in our lineup ever sees that thing (unless you count Arizona knuckleballer Steve Sparks; and really, you shouldn't). Another factor: Jason Varitek (and not Wakefield's usual catcher, Doug Mirabelli) should be starting behind the plate. So the more Wakefield's tumbler floats, the harder time Varitek is gonna have.

  • The Sox seem to have an advantage in Games 2 (Schilling/Marquis) and 3 (Pedro/Morris). But keep in mind, almost none of those pitchers are throwing anything like they did the rest of the year. Schilling is being held together with baling wire and bubble gum, Pedro has been declining for weeks (and I hear he has trouble loosening up in cold weather), and Marquis is a shell of the pitcher he was for most of the season. And Morris is, well, Matt Morris. Who knows. Seems to me the biggest question mark is Schilling. If he's serviceable at all, I think the Sox have the edge this series; if not, advantage St. Louis.

  • Does the Green Monster help any of our hitters in this series? I can't think of anyone who relies heavily on going to left field, except for Reggie Sanders. Most of our other guys hit well to all fields (one of the reasons we couldn't take much advantage of that short porch down in Minute Maid).

  • Do you realize that virtually all of Yankee Nation will be jumping on the Cardinals' bandwagon this series? After all, they want to crack out those 1918 signs next spring. Given the huge reach of Red Sox Nation, plus the long arm of Redbird Nation, plus all the Yanks fans with a rooting interest, this might be the most hotly contested Series since... I don't know... 1981 (Yanks/Dodgers)? Somewhere Rubert Murdoch is very happy. (Actually he's probably very happy 24/7.)

  • Does anyone remember that wild series with the Sox last June, the first time we played them in 36 years? The third game of that series was epic (or at least as epic a game as you'll find in June -- our game write-up is here): extra innings, wild seesaw shifts on the scoreboard, brawls in the stands between Sox and Cards fans. Just awesome. If that game was a harbinger for this series, make sure you wear your kevlar vest.

  • Bill Simmons likens the Sox victory over the Yanks in ALCS to the US hockey team beating the Soviets:

    The best comparison you can make is when USA beat the USSR in 1980... then
    they had to win the gold medal 2 days later. Everyone here is on such a natural
    high over these past 36 hours, it's easy to forget that there's still some work
    to be done.
    Let's see then, that makes St. Louis, uh... Finland.

  • Our friend Will Leitch has a great piece in the Wall Street Journal Online about the Cardinals' fan base (I believe it's subscription only, but here's the link to the main page). Money quote:

    Much has been written about the competitive economic disparity in baseball, how small market teams like Kansas City can't compete against major metropolitan areas. But look at the two cities' estimated populations as of July 1, 2003:

    Kansas City: 442,768.
    St. Louis: 332,223.

    The Cardinals do not have their own cable station. They do not have owners who made billions selling their dot-com. They are building a stadium with their own money. They have the seventh-highest payroll in the game despite having fewer people than Portland. Why? Because of their fans. Busch Stadium has passed the three million mark in attendance six times in the last seven years, the team's merchandise sells better than every team's but the Red Sox, Yankees and Cubs and the team is regularly one of the top draws on the road as well. Without such devotion, the Cardinals are the Royals.
    They're also the biggest cable attraction in baseball, except for -- who else? -- the Red Sox.

  • According to the most advanced metrics, the Cardinals and Red Sox are the two best teams in the majors this year, so no need to gripe about the wild card, or fluky teams that slipped through the back door -- this is the best against the best. Also, this is the first Series since 1975 that features the highest-scoring offense in each league. Actually, that matchup -- between the Sox and the Reds -- is a good comp for 2004. The Reds won well over 100 games on the strength of a ferocious middle of the lineup, good D, and acceptable starting pitching. Ditto for today's Cards. The '75 Sox were much younger than today's version, but just as shaggy. (By the way, despite the high-octane offenses in the '75 Series, there weren't a ton of runs scored that October. But if the Series can be half as good as that one -- which many people consider the greatest Fall Classic of all time -- we'll be in good hands.)

  • While the NLCS was in doubt, a lot of sportswriters were yearning for Boston-Houston so they could make lots of parallels between Texas/Massachusetts and Bush/Kerry. King Kaufman of Salon makes a great point along these lines:

    Just as the Red Sox clubhouse -- a Republican oasis in Democratic Boston -- would have made a poor stand-in for John Kerry, the Sox don't exactly work as the poor little team that could... [T]he Red Sox have the second biggest payroll, half again more than the merely upper-middle-class Cardinals. If rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for Microsoft, rooting for the Red Sox isn't totally unlike rooting for Oracle.
    One of my frustrations with New Englanders is their constant tendency to frame their teams' successes as the triumph of blue-collar sturdiness over glitz and glamor. That's the running theme of the Sox rivalry with the Yankees, as well as Celtics/Lakers, and it was the dominant motif that emerged from Patriots/Rams.

    I think this is bunk, of course, and it's the only thing I don't like about this Series. Seems no matter what the Cardinals do, it'll be talked about in relation to that stupid Curse, with, of course, the Red Sox playing the team that has all the baggage, the big uphill climb. Whatever. The Cards' payroll this year was $82 million. The Sox was $131 million. If that's baggage, then I think it's the good kind.

  • This doesn't have anything to do with the Series, but a Cardfan named Roger Sachar sent me this email and I want to help him out:

    When I was 16 years old, I told my Dad that I know more about baseball than he did. To prove me wrong, he asked me the following question, which I have not been able to find the answer to for the past decade: "There was a player for the St. Louis Cardinals who had a permanant cut on his hand. To protect it, he wore a sponge underneath his glove... What was the name of the player?" My dad was born in 1935, and lived in St. Louis from his birth to 1976. My deepest thanks would go to anyone who can provide the answer to this brain buster.
    I'm stumped. Anyone know?

  • I'm going to be at two of these games -- 3 & 4 in St. Louis. Warning: the Cardinals' record in World Series games I've seen in person is only 1-5. That's right. The Cards have lost only 3 games at home in the Fall Classic over the past 36 years, and I've been there for all of them. And I saw the first two games in the Metrodome in '87, when we were outscored 18-5. So yeah, I'm a black cat, a broken mirror, an umbrella opened indoors. But: I'm on a one-game winning streak (Game 5 in '87), so maybe the tide has turned. Either way, none of us will forget the next week for as long as we live...

  • Friday, October 22, 2004


    SWEET SIXTEEN

    Mishmosh of observations from Game 7:

    # of people around Kiener Plaza looking for tickets: 60

    # of people near the Patio Bar looking for tickets: 50

    # of people near the Musial statue looking for tickets: 40

    # of people I saw with tickets for sale: 0

    While at the bar (which was mostly people just spilling out on the sidewalk along Market Street) a cab pulled up and some college aged guys spilled out. None wore red. All wore boots. Astro fans. These guys looked very eager to do some ribbing as they made their way through the sea of red. They found no takers. As was the case with the few other small groups of Astro fans, they were pretty much just ignored. Seriously, it was like they were invisible. The college guys kept going up to groups and trying to start stuff with Cardinal fans (and they weren't a-holes at all, they just sort of expected some kind of Jim Rome-style smack talk, I think) and nobody really even gave them two seconds. It was like : "This is our party, you wouldn't understand. Thanks for stopping by. Run along now." I loved it.


    Best costumes I saw:

    * One lady had a wide brimmed hat that was supporting a huge pumpkin that had "CARDS" carved in it. Encircling the pumpkin were stuffed cardinals.


    * Beekeepers hats (pictured)
    * The Bee Busters (pictured)
    * Mr. Cardhead (pictured)




    Best Non-costume




    Once inside the park:

    He may do it before every game but when he took the field before the first inning Renteria knelt down, Rocky-style, and appeared to be praying out at his shortstop position.

    Crossing my mind in the bottom of the 4th: "I wonder what Larry Walker thinks when he hears Ernie Hays crank out "If You're Happy And You Know It" on the organ in the middle of a Cards rally?"

    Best early game quote: "I like this year's Fredbird. Last year's couldn't dance. He was weak" - my mom.

    The differences between the two defenses is way more striking in person than on TV. The Astros, with the exception of you know who, seemed slow to react to the ball, heavy-footed, and just not that good. As Brian noted, the singles by Edmonds and Cedeno probably don't get through an average infield. The Cardinals, though, were all over the place and seemed to get to everything. There were several fly balls that guys caught on the dead run or at a weird angle, and they caught every single one.

    Edmonds' catch was simply unbelievable. Being there, I could see just how far he had to run (backward, diagonally, with his glove on the opposite side of the ball) to make that play. It is possibly the best defensive play I've ever seen in person and certainly the most crucial to a team's season.

    Our section was thrilled when Beltran tried to run on Edmonds. We got more excited when we saw the throw because it was strong and on the money. I expected him to be out, but then...

    The "Roger, Roger" sing-song chant that kicked up in the 6th is a tiring one. The "Raaaahhhh" part is the worst.

    The best word I can think of to describe Rolen's homer is "sudden." From where I was sitting behind third base I couldn't see the ball clear the wall so I quickly shifted my gaze to Pujols to watch his body language. He was pumping his fist and trotting home but I still wasn't sure so I looked over to Rolen, recognized the head-down sprint, and just lost all control. The time between his swing and my recognition of what happened was about three seconds but, as I just described, I remember all of it like a three hour movie. I then felt, honestly, a surge of electricity that seemed to be passing through all the fans. It was absolute unbridled, sudden joy. Phenomenal.


    Thursday, October 21, 2004


    HOOSIER DADDY! So it was Jasper, Indiana native Scott Rolen -- who grew up a Cardinals fan, who longed for moments like tonight -- who came through in the clutch, pounded a first-pitch fastball over the wall in left, and sent the Cardinals on their way to their first NL pennant in seventeen years. No analysis tonight, just celebration. Let's thank this cast of heroes:

    Jim Edmonds

    His catch of Brad Ausmus' drive in the 2nd inning -- sprinting, diving, grinding up turf with his belly -- is one of the best he's ever made, and that means something with Jedmonds. He doesn't catch that ball it's 3-zip Astros and they very well might be packing their bags for Boston right now. (Oh, and it was a shame Edmonds picked up an error the next inning. As usual, Fox missed what really happened on that play -- the throw had a chance to nail Beltran, but it hit Beltran on the arm beforing skittering away into the visitor's dugout. Edmonds, Rolen, and Suppan all played the ball properly, but it was just one of those things.)

    Jeff Suppan

    Jeff Suppan outdueled Roger Clemens tonight. You know that, I know that, but I don't care -- I'm gonna say it again because I like the way it rolls off the tongue: Jeff. Suppan. Outdueled. Roger. Clemens.

    I never thought I'd be able to write that after 4 innings. Suppan was only down a run, but he was juggling chainsaws from the get-go -- there was the lead-off homer by Bidge, the long drive by Ausmus, the HBP leading off the top of the 4th. Meanwhile, Rocket was buzzsawing through our lineup. He wasn't vintage-era Roger Clemens, but he was hitting his spots with a sizzling, mid-90's fastball. I thought the 'Stros were going to be able to ride that all the way into Lidge Time.

    But just as he did in Game 4 against the Dodgers and Game 3 against the Astros, Suppan got stronger as the game wore on. Against L.A. he set down the last 14 guys he faced; on Saturday he set down the last 10 he faced; and tonight it was the final 9. In his three starts this series he's given up only 10 hits (that's cumulative) and has held opponents to a .152 batting average.

    Oh, and he also drove in the first Cardinals' run with a lovely suicide squeeze. Not bad, Mr. Soup Can.

    Roger Cedeno

    Did you guys know Roger Cedeno had 200 at bats this year? He's been virtually anonymous all season long, with nothing on his resume for the last six months. And yet he finally showed up, deep into October, by getting a lead-off single in the 6th and scoring the tying run off Clemens.

    But as much as Cedeno deserves our praise, we should also give props to the Astros' middle infielders. The Cards must have hit a good four or five seeing-eye singles this game, nearly all of them just out of the reach of the cigar-store Indians stationed up the middle (that woud be Jeff Kent and Jose Vizcaino). I said last week that even in a short series your biggest flaws will catch up to you. With Adam Everett on the bench, infield defense is a serious flaw for the 'Stros, and it bit them tonight.

    Albert Pujols

    If it were up to me, I'd have followed King Solomon's advice and simply split the series MVP trophy right down the middle -- half would go to Beltran, the other half to Bert Pujols. But of course it was Pujols who got the bigger hit tonight -- a two-out, two-strike laser off of Clemens to tie the score in the bottom of the 6th.

    Pujols is the only hitter in the Cardinals lineup who doesn't worry me with two strikes. I mean, when he falls behind in the count 0-2 he's slugging .575. When he falls behind 1-2 (that was the count when he hit his double) he's slugging an outrageous .712. .712! How do you pitch to a guy like that?

    Scotty Rolen

    How many of you thought of McGwire's #62 when Rolen's drive landed a couple feet above the wall and a couple feet right of the foul pole? Rolen's blast will go down as one of the biggest homers in franchise history -- up there with Ozzie's and Jack's shots in the '85 NLCS and Kenny Boyer's grand slam in Game 4 of the '64 Series.

    Rolen's homer was set up by the good looks our hitters got of Roger Clemens early on. Pujols had six-pitch at-bats his first two times against the Rocket, and Rolen had an eight-pitch AB in the 4th before flying out deep to right center. By the time those two guys came up in the 6th, they had Clemens timed just right. And because Clemens refused to adjust -- he kept going to his fastball all night long -- it was only a matter of time before our big boys struck.

    The Cardinals Bullpen

    The real story of this series after the three games down South is how the bullpen advantage had tilted heaviliy in Houston's favor. While Wheeler and Lidge were befuddling Cardinal hitters, Julian Tavarez was losing his cool and Izzy was getting bombed by Jeff Kent. But after Kent's homer, Cards relievers collected themselves and shut down the Astros, allowing only 1 run over the final ten innings of relief in St. Louis.

    The poster child for this newly composed unit was, of course, Tavarez. How he pulled himself together to pitch these last two days is beyond me. He was pretty lucky tonight -- all three guys he faced got good wood off him -- but he still made quick work of the killer bees, his last out a grounder that ricocheted off his broken left hand. With the glove off, Tavarez's hand looked pretty gruesome, so swollen you could practically twist it into balloon animals. This wasn't exactly Schilling-esque (after all, Tavarez's broken hand was his own damn fault), but it was gutsy in its own way.

    In fact, the Cards played a seriously gritty game all night long. Bodies were flying around like there was no tomorrow (and for most of the game it felt like there wouldn't be). Not only did Edmonds lay out to catch Ausmus' drive, but Renteria was swarming all over the field, and Tony Womack -- gimpy back and all -- went tearing into right field to make the first out in the ninth. There was certainly no tightness on this team -- heck, our legs looked as fresh as they did back in April.

    The Houston Astros

    These teams were so evenly matched that I honetly felt like whoever won tonight was the better team. I didn't think that going into this series -- after all, we were 13 games better than them for six months, so one week of baseball wasn't going to change my mind about our superiority.

    But man, they played some great ball against us. When one samurai warrior defeats another, he doesn't gloat over him; he thanks him for giving him a worthy competition, for bringing out his best. These Astros brought out the best in us. And even though I don't feel great about denying them the first World Series in their entire existence, I thank them all the same.

    Tony La Russa

    He had been in the playoffs four times with the Cardinals -- three times in the NLCS -- and fallen short every time. If the Cards had lost tonight, TLR would probably take with him a reputation as a good-but-not-great manager who lacked the tactical smarts to get us into the World Series.

    Not anymore. La Russa did a great job this series. I've griped about some of his calls, but much more often than not he pulled the right strings. And his team is now 112-61 on the year. Wow.

    The St. Louis Fans

    Midwesterners like to play things close to the vest. Some people have even said that the Midwest (home of David Letterman, the Coen Brothers, Devo) invented the particular form of late-20th century deadpan that was the dominant mood in the country for so many years. Not surprisingly, then, it takes a lot to get us uncorked.

    Well, St. Lou showed up loud and proud tonight. They were raucous early on, but really got going when Jedmonds' pulled off his feat of derring-do in the 2nd inning. They were going nuts then, they damn near tore the house down when Rolen went yard, and they kept going nuts long after the game was over. Here's an interesting tidbit: after the game the Busch Stadium jumbotron showed Pujols celebrating in the clubhouse and the crowd went berserk. Then they put Walt Jocketty up on the jumbotron and the crowd went even more berzerk! Those are some good fans.

    So now we're... let's see, where are we? Oh yeah, right: the World Series. We have miles to go before we sleep, but for now let's not look ahead but rather soak in the glory of this moment. It's a nice feeling.


    Wednesday, October 20, 2004


    THE FAT LADY CLAMS UP My fingers are still shaking, so forgive me if Jim Edmonds comes out looking like Jgh Udmghgns. After 12 innings, 344 pitches, countless momentum shifts, and ten of my fingernails chewed to the bone, we finally got what we came looking for: a Game 7. Winner gets World Serious, loser goes home. So while we try to buckle down and keep it together before 7 p.m. Central Time, let's review how we got here and look at some of the day's biggest matchups:

    The Cardinals vs. Karma

    Today is the 22-year anniversary of the Cards' last world championship, so there were bound to be some ghosts in the air. The question before the day started: in whose footsteps would we follow? Would we be like the 1987 Twins, who defeated us in the World Series, who won two at home, lost all three on the road, then came back to sweep the final two games in the Metrodome? Or would we be like the 1985 Dodgers, who we defeated in the NLCS, who won two at home, lost all three on the road -- the last on a walk-off home run by a middle infielder -- only to return home and lose yet another late lead in Game 6? There's cosmic payback out there somewhere; but from where?

    Munro vs. Clemens

    Phil Garner will doubtlessly be ripped for starting Pete Munro in Game 6, and Munro's performance -- 4 earned runs, 8 hits, only 2.1 innings -- gives his critics plenty of ammunition. Only a heroic 9+ inning scoreless streak by the Astros bullpen kept this from becoming a cakewalk for the Cardinals.

    Indeed, one could easily look to the decision Jack McKeon made before Game 6 of last year's World Series -- when he pitched his ace on three day's rest and drove a wooden stake through the heart of the oppposition -- as a model for Garner to follow. But I think Garner made the right call, despite today's loss. Rather than throwing both his top pitchers out there at partial stength, he now has his best pitcher, Roger Clemens, going in Game 7 on full strength. Advantage Astros. What's more, it's hard to argue with the decision to start Munro when, all things considered, the 'Stros were right there at the end, this close to sneaking a win and having Clemens and Oswalt lined up to start the World Series.

    Pujols vs. Beltran

    In this week's Sports Illustrated Tom Verducci calls the NLCS "a glorified game of H-O-R-S-E between Carlos Beltran and Albert Pujols." With Big Play Al's home run in the bottom of the first, he matched Beltran with his fourth jack in the past week. And like Beltran's fourth homer, Pujols' bomb seemed like a form of alchemy -- he didn't even take much of a swing, just sorta flicked it with his wrists, and the ball boomed into the bullpen in left center. Unreal.

    Good Matt Morris vs. Bad Matt Morris

    We've said it all year, before nearly every one of his starts -- "you never know which Matt Morris you're gonna get." And yet you do know which Matt Morris you're gonna get after about two innings or so. In Morris' worst starts this year (those with a game score of 40 or below) he gave up 2.02 runs per inning over the first two frames. In Morris' best starts (those with a game score of 60 or above) he gave up only 0.15 runs per inning. That's a mammoth difference.

    And after only a few pitches today you could tell we didn't get the Good Matt Morris. He only threw one decent curveball all day, and never showed off that egg-falling-off-a-table curve he has when he's really on. I knew he was in trouble in the 2nd, when it took him eleven whole pitches to put away Brad Ausmus. In the 3rd inning he gave up a single, a double, and a run, and was spared further scoring only because of two b.b.'s hit at Edgar Renteria. Then in the 4th he gave up a "foul home run" off the bat of Mike Lamb and, one pitch later, a real one.

    In short, Matt Morris wasn't giving us that stellar performance we had hoped for. In fact, I wouldn't've complained if La Russa had yanked him for a pinch hitter when he batted with two on in the 3rd inning.

    But then something astonishing happened. With the Cardinals clinging to a thin one-run lead, Morris took the mound in the 5th inning to face Beltran, Bagwell, and Berkman -- the longhorn version of Murderer's Row -- and he mowed 'em down like it was nothing: seven pitches, three weak grounders, ho hum. It dawned on me later that it may have been Morris' last inning in a Cardinal uniform. Not a bad memory to leave us with.

    The Cardinals vs. the Jitters

    Pujols' first-inning homer had a Nembutal-like effect on my nerves, but the Cards still seemed pretty tight in the early going. Reggie Sanders threw a ball into the infield that missed the cut-off man by two miles, Scott Rolen bobbled an early grounder, and Tony Womack botched a double-play ball. And in general the Cards looked like they were pressing. The biggest sin was Albert Pujols' mad dash home in the 4th, when only a lousy throw kept him from being gunned out by 20 feet.

    On most days Albert is an uncannily good baserunner -- the type of guy who take the maximum number of extra bases with the minimum number of penalties. But today it was the opposite. His gaffe was particularly frustrating when you consider that he (a) ran through the stop sign held up by third-base coach Jose Oquendo and (b) left Jim Edmonds stranded in the on-deck circle.

    It was at that moment that I got genuinely scared for this team. We just weren't playing what I've come to know as "Cardinal baseball." All season long we were excellent at driving runners home from scoring position. Today we had 13 baserunners through 5 innings but only 4 runs. All year long we've been tremendous at preserving leads (72-16 when scoring first). Today we coughed up yet another late-inning lead. Combined with Tavarez's meltdown the other day, you sorta got the impression that maybe this Cards machine was on the fritz for good. But of course all that changed later...

    Renteria vs. the Goat Horns

    Did Edgar Renteria show up to play or what? Not only did he bang out three hits (entering this game he was only 1-for-17 in the series), he looked sprightlier than I've seen him all year. Seriously. He was going up, down, grabbing balls to his left and to his right, showing the kind of range he had when he was 25. And after he went deep in the hole and just missed gunning out Jeff Kent at first, he looked to the sky and howled with anger. Never in his six years in the Lou -- not even when he hit that three-run walk-off homer against the Cubs -- have I seen that kind of raw energy from Edgar. Now, I'm not one who believes guys need to wear their emotions on their sleeves to prove they're really playing, but it was nice to see anyway.

    Beltran vs. the World

    Speaking of emotions, one of the frustrating things about getting beat by Carlos Beltran is that he rarely shows any. He's like Robert Patrick in T2 -- he kills you without breaking a sweat.

    After Beltran's continued greatness today -- he hit two balls off the wall and reached base four times -- the question must be asked: is he having the best postseason series of all time? I think he probably is. His line (.476/.739/1.190) holds up against Lou Gehrig's from the 1928 World Series, but he's done it over two more games, plus showed off the kind of baserunning and glovework that I'm sure Larrupin' Lou did not. What about Barry Bonds' wrecking ball of a performance against the Angels in '02? Again, I'd take Beltran, who has more total bases and even a higher OBP than Bonds did in that series. I'm wringing my brain trying to come up with comparables -- Reggie in '77, Juan Gone in '96, Brock in '67 and '68 -- but I think Beltran bests them all. I guess the only more valuable postseason performances have come from pitchers.

    NLCS vs. ALCS

    Heading into today most media types were treating the NLCS as a mere warm-up act for the main attraction over in the American League. For example, the front page of ESPN.com, loosely translated, looked something like this for most of the day:

                                   SOX-YANKEES
    
    DIVINE WARFARE
    ARMAGEDDON
    APOCALYPSE

    *cards vs. astros at 4pm eastern
    But I can't really blame the media for focusing on that "other" series -- more people were interested in those two AL teams, plus they have a better backstory (86 years of Peloponnesian hatred), a better unfolding story (Lazarus vs. Darth Vader), and more striking images. (Can you believe that bloody sock? On a Red Sox player, no less?) So only the most hardened cultural communist would demand "equal time" for the National League.

    And yet after today I think we're starting to catch up to the drama up East. We've now had walk-off homers in back-to-back games, and we're going to a Game 7 tomorrow night (only the second time since 1973 -- last year was the other -- when both league championship series went the distance). All in all I'd say this is shaping up as the best postseason since 1986. So yeah, we might be playing a less frenzied, more Mid-American version of Sox vs. Yanks, but it's much more than Hal's Autobody vs. Chico's Bail Bonds out in some cow pasture.

    Our Bullpen vs. Theirs

    Until the ninth inning it looked like we might have our first game of the series with a modicum of bullpen sanity. You had Kiko Calero making quick work of the Astros lineup, and Chad Qualls and Dan Wheeler (whose face reminds me of a young Thrill Clark) one-upping them for Houston. And then Jason Isringhausen marred the string of scoreless innings by doing his best imitation of Tom Niedenfuer. The pitch he threw to Bagwell was the exact same as the one he threw to Kent two nights early -- a flat, first-pitch fastball that didn't run in enough on the hitter.

    I was upset all right, but if there's one guy I'd have chosen to beat me, it's Bagwell, who is, after all, practically synonymous with Astros baseball. And besides, Izzy made right by punching out Berkman for the third out (a literal game-saver with Lidge in the wings), then rolling through the Astros in Inning Ten.

    All along, while the managers were trotting both Izzy and Lidge out to the hill, the Fox broadcasters were freaking out, as if these closers were delicate newborn fawns instead of men from the same species as Goose Gossage and Sparky Lyle. Clearly they can handle the stress on their arms -- and besides, flags fly forever -- so calm down, Fox.

    Lidge vs. Miceli

    Brad Lidge is doing something I didn't think was possible -- he's trying to out-Gagne Eric Gagne. I mean, the guy is all but unhittable. Literally. He's pitched 8 innings against us this series, one hit, fourteen strikeouts. Good God.

    So here's my question: why didn't Garner bring him out to pitch the bottom of the 12th? If he was just totally out of gas, then I understand. But he didn't look to be out of gas; he'd only thrown 32 pitches; and he'd proven that he could get out the heart of our order with shocking ease. Besides, there was no one left on Garner's bench anyway, so you don't lose much at the plate by having him hit in the top of the 12th. I mean, if you're gonna commit to a guy, commit to him, especially given the ineptitude of your other option, Mr. Dan Miceli. I'm glad Garner didn't heed my advice, but I thought he shrank from the call of duty at the most critical time.

    But here's the thing: regardless of how many innings he pitched, I have no doubt Lidge will be available to pitch Game 7, probably for two innings or more, and probably with no loss of effectiveness. He's that good.

    Tavarez vs. the Scary Demons in his Head

    I don't think I need to persuade anyone of this, but I'll say it anyway: Tavarez is nuts. Even during today's game my parents (who were at the game) said he was running off the mound between innings, screaming like a banshee, and generally looking like he might have a nervous breakdown.

    And yet, damn, that skinny em-effer turned in one beauty of a performance today. His pitching was the very opposite of his demeanor away from the mound: composed, controlled, even elegant. I don't know what gods he prayed to to get his head on straight, but he quelled the Astros when we needed him most. I still think he's nuts, but I also can't help but have sympathy for someone who seems so troubled, and I'm very happy for him right now.

    Jim Edmonds vs. Dan Miceli

    This was the matchup we wanted. And just as velocity equals distance divided by time, Jim Edmonds facing Dan Miceli (lefty vs. righty, high-ball hitter vs. high-ball pitcher) equals very good things for the Cardinals.

    Carlos Beltran has been so good that there's been an almost unstated passing of the torch this series, as if he's now acquired the title "best centerfielder in baseball" from Jim Edmonds. Edmonds, of course, has been the best CFer these past five years, and he was clearly better than Beltran this year (he's my #2 pick for MVP after Bonds). So it was nice to see Edmonds remind everyone that, hey, he can bang a little too.

    If we can take tomorrow's game, you'll be able to run into any St. Louisan in any bar across the country, or sit next to them on any plane ride, and ask them, "where were you when Edmonds hit that homer?" Me, I was watching the game in my living room, and after Edmonds got all of it, I sat there relieved and content, with the calm of a Tibetan monk. About four seconds later I blew out my vocal cords.

    Suppan vs. Clemens

    Tomorrow night. This is what we wanted heading today -- a shot against the big guy in Game 7. There are probably some talking heads out there who'll say that the series will come down to "who wants it more," and they may even trot out the Astros' NLCS troubles of yore, or perhaps the three times in the La Russa Era that the Cards made the Final Four but fell short of the Big Dance. But tomorrow's game should have very little to do with desire and grit and very much to do with the bite on Clemens' split-fingered fastball. It'll be fun to watch.

    Of course, if you're a Red Sox fan you may be rooting for the Astros, just so you can take it to Clemens and exorcise all your demons at once. But remember, the Cardinals have played a starring role in Boston's drought as well -- twice they beat the Sox in a Game 7, in 1946 and 1967. It could be a rematch for the ages: Pesky/Slaughter, Lonborg/Gibson, Albert/Manny... Let's make it happen.

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