Some losses you can take in stride. Running into a hot team or a ace pitcher, you know going into the game that a win is unlikely and, when it doesn’t pan out, you easily move on because, truthfully, you didn’t expect to win that one.
Some losses are frustrating. A mediocre pitcher shuts down the club. Too many double plays kill scoring opportunities. You can shoulda woulda coulda all night long, knowing there were chances.
Some losses, though, just hurt. Usually it’s a left-right combination that you didn’t see coming but dealt right to your solar plexus or perhaps, depending on your gender, just a bit lower.
Last night’s game was one of the latter, a game that left you silent, reeling in the what-just-happened of the moment. You doubled over after Josh Hamilton‘s home run, only to be laid flat a few batters later.
And it’s not like you can grasp blindly at managerial decisions to ease your pain. Letting Adam Wainwright start the ninth made sense, as well as going to Edward Mujica when Albert Pujols got his first hit against his old team to lead off the inning. You could make arguments, but you can’t fault what Mike Matheny did there. In the moment, it was logical, rational and likely gave the team the best chance to win. It just, inexplicably, didn’t happen.
Going into the game, the Pirates had lost and the ace was on the mound. To have both of those conditions and see that win ripped away at the last minute is sickening. If the Cards lose the division by one game this season, this could be the game many look back on and say “If only….”
What’s extremely frustrating is reading this morning that Mujica shook off Yadier Molina twice in the ninth, both times costing him immensely. He shook off Yadi before Hamilton’s homer. He shook him off again before Erick Aybar‘s RBI single when it looked like Mujica might be at least able to work a Houdini act and get the game into extras.
Not saying that it wouldn’t have come crashing down had Mujica actually paid attention to Yadi, but the odds seem much higher that we’d be talking about a series win and cutting into Pittsburgh’s divisional lead this morning had he done so. There’s a reason Molina has gotten all the publicity and glory and praise recently and that’s because he knows what he’s doing behind the plate. If the fan’s motto should be “In Mo We Trust” a Cardinal pitcher should always recite “In Yadi We Trust” before taking the mound.
Even without knowing that, it just seemed like something was going to happen. I was out running an errand during the latter part of the game and listened as Wainwright gave up the base hit to Pujols. After he did that, I just had a feeling that Hamilton was going to tie the game up. I don’t know why, maybe because we’ve seen the story before, maybe because that’s the way baseball goes, but I felt it coming. Unfortunately, this time my gut feeling was right.
So obviously Mujica is the Goat. Not that this should cause angst necessarily, though Mike will talk about that more this afternoon. Still, there were a number of good things that happened in this one that losing like that could cause an irrational rage.
For instance, we saw the club come back from a 2-0 deficit, which is not something that happens every day. Allen Craig, who gets to be our Hero of the night, provided the fireworks with a three-run shot in the fourth inning that briefly gave the Cards a 3-2 lead. Craig also chipped in another hit later on. Daniel Descalso got three hits, including a double that led to a run and a single that drove one in. The team did strike out a lot–12, compared to only two walks–but had done enough to win.
Then there was Wainwright. Looking for win number 12, he wasn’t exactly his most dominant self, but it wasn’t a bad game for the most part. It was the first game this season that he’d allowed a walk and a home run in the same contest and he only struck out three. That said, he had allowed a two-run single to Mike Trout and a home run to Mark Trumbo, so he wasn’t getting beat around and started the ninth having only thrown 98 pitches.
As I said, you can argue whether Wainwright should have stayed in the game, but St. Louis has a closer for a reason. A tired Waino in that spot is not usually better than a fresh Mujica. Matheny gave Wainwright a shot to finish the game, which is more than some managers would have done, but he wasn’t going to let him lose it. There’s an argument that Mujica should have started the ninth, but most would have rather seen Wainwright out there, I think. That at least would have been the call had Mujica started the inning and still blown it. (To be fair, I wasn’t on Twitter last night as it happened, so I’m not sure what people were saying in the moment, though that might not have been the best gauge anyway.)
A trip to the West Coast American League teams via Houston produced a 4-6 record, which is frustrating. As Matheny said, if they win the last couple of games, they feel much better about the trip than the record shows. Instead, they spent last night flying back over the United States, pondering what could have been, what should have been.
We got through the series without too much Pujols overload, I think. Then again, I usually muted the TV when I was watching it due to various factors, so I might have missed out. It’s interesting to note that one story indicated that the Angels and Cardinals wouldn’t meet again for three years. If that’s the case, the ninth-inning single that Pujols got might have been all that separated him from never getting a hit against the Redbirds. As much as we’ve seen him decline over the past three years, what would the next three hold for him?
Apparently it’s the AL East next season as the Yankees and Red Sox come to Busch (something tells me the marketing staff isn’t going to play up a 2004 World Series rematch like they did with Texas last month) while the Cards go to Baltimore and Toronto and have a home-and-home with the Rays and, of course, Kansas City. Something tells me those Yankee tickets especially will be hard to come by.
Someone that wasn’t in the lineup last night was Pete Kozma and it looks like his starting time in the next few days will be scarce as the team hopes he’ll work on his swing. The Cards are still saying that he is the starting shortstop and his defense is strong, but it’s not like they are going to come out and say differently if they are hoping to get a replacement on the trade market. Not surprisingly given the stature he has in the organization, Ryan Jackson is just going to keep plugging away at Memphis. It seems pretty likely he’ll be moved, either as part of a deadline deal or in this offseason, if the Cards aren’t willing to give him a shot now.
The Cardinals come home to face a Miami team that is playing good baseball of late. Add in the fact that the Cards haven’t won a weekend series since playing the Marlins in their park last month and you have the possibility that things again won’t go as they should. And, for once, the pitching matchups aren’t necessarily in St. Louis’s favor either.
Redbirds will start Jake Westbrook tonight. We know how Westbrook’s last outing went, six runs in four innings against Oakland. Save seven scoreless innings against the Cubs, Westy has been pretty erratic since returning from the disabled list. Of course, his only home start during that time was the Chicago game, so maybe the home cooking will help.
Westbrook’s done pretty well against these guys, so he has that going in his favor. That said, I don’t think anyone is holding their breath that he can put up a dominant outing tonight.
Every pitcher the Marlins are planning to start this weekend has an ERA under 2.75. Jacob Turner starts it off with a 1.76 ERA in his six starts this season. He wasn’t quite that good at AAA to start the year and his career big league ERA is a shade under 4.00, so he could be due for some regression.
Of course, if he is, there’s no guarantee it’s going to start this weekend. A ridiculously small sample size (he faced them in his first start of 2012 last June, giving up four hits–and five walks–but just one run in five innings, back when he was with the Tigers) so it’s hard to know just what tonight’s game will bring. I guess we’ll just have to watch it to find out!