Strangers In A Crowd

“It was like coming this close to your dreams…and then watch them brush past you like strangers in a crowd.”–Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham, Field of Dreams

Back in September 2001, not knowing that the world was going to change in just over a week, a Cardinal rookie wearing 52 threw a no-hitter out in San Diego.  It was the first fall that I was in a house I owned, being married less than two years.  We watched what must have been a Monday Night Baseball game on ESPN and I still remember Bud Smith finishing it off and being excited about what that meant for him and the organization.

Last night, another Cardinal rookie wearing 52 took the bump.  This time, the jump in technology helped me out as my son had a fall baseball game at the same time as St. Louis was taking on the Nationals.  I kept checking the score in between batters and noticed when I checked late in the game that, through six innings, there was a zero in the hit column.

I was able to get into the car to hear John Rooney call the last out of the seventh, then settled in to watch.  Figuring that, of course, now that I could watch the game the first batter would get a hit, I was excitedly pleased to see the double play that got Michael Wacha out of trouble in the eighth.  As the ninth inning approached, I got to do the dad thing of letting my son stay up a little later to hopefully watch history.

With two outs to go, I really thought Wacha was going to be able to do it.  Oh, how he should have.  When they talk about baseball being a game of inches, they never really point out how heartbreaking it is.  Six inches lower, Wacha gets that ball in his glove, does the underhand toss to Matt Adams, and we’re talking history.  Six inches further out, Pete Kozma can get to that ball better and perhaps make an online throw.  Six inches.  That close to a dream, then watching it brush past you.

What might have impressed me the most was that Wacha was able to do this with an economy of pitches, especially while striking out nine.  When I saw that he had the no-hitter through six, I figured he was going to force Mike Matheny into a terrible decision, whether to leave him out there and run up his pitch count or keep him out there to chase the no-hitter.  When I looked up the pitch count, I saw there was no debate.  Wacha didn’t cross 100 pitches until the ninth inning, which mean there was really no reason not to let him go after history.  (Do you think Wacha can teach Shelby Miller how to go a little deeper into games?)

In some ways, it was fitting that Washington tore at the Cardinal hearts a little bit, given how the Redbirds destroyed theirs in the playoffs last season.  While breaking up a no-hitter really doesn’t have the same weight, it’s still very painful.  (Texas fans might have had a little schadenfreude going on as well.)  As our friend Kevin Reynolds put it, Ryan Zimmerman probably doesn’t remember that hit in a year, but it’ll keep Wacha up at night for decades.

Of course, no game is so wonderful that our resident grinch can’t try to stir people up afterwards.

In a theoretical world, maybe Strauss has a point.  (BTW, has anyone else felt like maybe the Post-Dispatch marginalized him with the promotion to columnist?  I’ve read a lot less and been aggravated by him a lot less this year with him not covering the team regularly.)  When Albert Pujols was in his prime, he very well may have gotten the tag down on Zimmerman or been able to stay on the bag.  Actually, the way that Pujols went to his right at times, he might well have fielded that ball and thrown to Wacha covering. (OK, maybe a slight exaggeration!)  So, on the face of it, there’s merit to his Tweet.

However, let’s count the ways that it doesn’t have any relevance.  1) Pujols is well down from his prime, as we all know.  2) Pujols is now residing on the disabled list, which would have made it hard for him to do anything relating to fielding.  3) Wacha would not have been on the mound, since he was selected with the compensatory pick that came from Pujols signing with the Angels.  4) The game would have likely been a matchup of also-rans as the Cards wouldn’t likely be heading to the playoffs with Pujols and his contract on the roster.

To put it another way, you could have just as easily said, “Ozzie Smith makes that play. #justsayin” and been about as accurate as Strauss was with the Pujols tweet.  Maybe in his prime he does, but I don’t think Ozzie–who does seem to keep himself in good shape, granted–would have likely run down that ball last night.

It’s as obvious as it gets who the Hero is from last night, but who is the Goat?  You can’t give it to Kozma for that last play–he did everything he could.  Same with Adams, though as he put it, “I should have tried to trip [Zimmerman].”  I guess I’m going to go with David Freese, who went 0-3.  Kozma could have gotten it as well, as those were the only two without any hits.

Kudos go out to Yadier Molina, who not only called an impressive game but drove in an insurance run.  Shane Robinson gets a shoutout as well for driving in the first run and making an excellent running catch to keep the no-hitter intact through eight innings.  Perhaps Matt Holliday‘s back knew what tonight would bring and decided to keep him out of the lineup again.  I’d be a bit surprised, given the afternoon affair and the day off tomorrow, if we see Holliday before Friday.

My good friend Bob Netherton expressed his reserve against Matheny replacing Wacha in the ninth after Zimmerman’s hit.  He wanted to see Wacha get the complete game and in certain situations, I’d have agreed with him.  If the Cards were up by, say, four or more, I’d have given Wacha another batter or two.  If the Cardinals had already clinched the division, I’d have stood right next to Bob in his outrage.

However, neither of those were the case.  With the Reds losing but Pittsburgh and Atlanta winning, St. Louis had to win this game.  The pain of losing such a start would have been intense and devastating in a number of ways.  Wacha was up to 112 pitches and he’d only crossed 100 once in his big league career, back in June.  His control had been a little weaker in the last couple of innings and you would hate to see him get away from him against Jayson Werth and have the game be tied.

It’s hard to know if Trevor Rosenthal is now “the closer” or what.  With only one out to get, Rosenthal was a strong choice last night and that gave him saves in back to back games.  I think most of us expect to see Rosenthal finishing games, but it’s not long enough of a pattern to see if he’ll always be getting that call.

As noted, the Braves and Pirates both won, as did the Dodgers.  The Reds have made it extremely difficult on themselves to win the Central, falling three games behind the Cards.  They could be eliminated from that race today with the right set of circumstances.  Our standings:

Atlanta —–
St. Louis 0.5
Los Angeles 2.0
Pittsburgh 2.5
Cincinnati 3.5

There’s a lot of afternoon baseball today.  The schedule kicks off with Daisuke Matsuzaka and the Mets going up against Mat Latos and the Reds.  If you are going to need to stay in a race, throwing Latos out there is a darn good way to do it.  Gotta expect the Reds win this one without too much difficulty.

The Reds start about an hour before the Cards do.  About 45 minutes after the Redbirds and Nats get going, Pittsburgh and Chicago start up, with Francisco Liriano going against Jake Arrieta.  This would also seem to be a game that the Pirates will be heavily favored in.  It also is another reason for St. Louis to win the division, as both Liriano and Latos are now set for the wild-card game and you don’t want to face either of them in a winner-take-all scenario.

The Braves don’t play until this evening, when Paul Maholm takes on the Brewers and old friend Kyle Lohse.  Lohse is better at home than on the road, but perhaps he can help out his former team just one more time.

The final game of the night will be out on the West Coast, where Ricky Nolasco and the Dodgers will face Barry Zito and the Giants.  Zito’s been out of the rotation for a while, but the Giants shut down Madison Bumgarner and Zito will make the last start of his Giants career (and, depending on how the free agent market goes, perhaps the last of his career entirely).  Expect the Dodgers to romp unless Zito can find some of that NLCS Game 5 magic.

Another rookie pitcher goes for the Cardinals today as Miller tries to compete with what Wacha did.  Remember, when Miller threw his “perfect game”, Adam Wainwright came back the next day and took a no-hitter into the eighth.  No pressure there or anything, Shelby.  None at all!

  PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP
Ian Desmond 3 3 1 1 0 0 1 0 1 .333 .333 .667 1.000 0 0 0 0
Bryce Harper 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0
Adam LaRoche 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0
Anthony Rendon 3 3 1 1 0 0 1 0 1 .333 .333 .667 1.000 0 0 0 0
Denard Span 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0
Jayson Werth 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0
Dan Haren 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0
Total 20 20 2 2 0 0 2 0 7 .100 .100 .200 .300 0 0 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/25/2013.

Miller doesn’t have a ton of exposure with these hitters, but he’s been quite effective when he has faced them.  He allowed two runs (neither were earned) in 6.2 innings against Washington when he faced them in April.

The Nationals just keep running out good pitchers this series and they seem to have saved the best for last.  Jordan Zimmermann has been outstanding this year and is looking for his 20th win of the season.  He’s coming off a complete game shutout of the Marlins and you know he’s wanting to end his season on a high note.

  PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SH SF IBB HBP
Yadier Molina 15 13 7 1 0 0 1 0 0 .538 .571 .615 1.187 1 0 0 1
Carlos Beltran 14 14 4 2 0 0 1 0 1 .286 .286 .429 .714 0 0 0 0
Matt Holliday 13 10 3 0 0 1 2 3 2 .300 .462 .600 1.062 0 0 0 0
Jon Jay 12 11 4 0 0 0 1 0 3 .364 .417 .364 .780 0 0 0 1
Allen Craig 7 7 3 0 0 1 1 0 0 .429 .429 .857 1.286 0 0 0 0
Matt Carpenter 6 6 2 1 0 0 3 0 0 .333 .333 .500 .833 0 0 0 0
Daniel Descalso 6 5 2 0 0 0 1 0 1 .400 .500 .400 .900 0 0 0 1
David Freese 5 4 3 2 0 1 3 1 0 .750 .800 2.000 2.800 0 0 0 0
Pete Kozma 5 5 2 1 0 0 2 0 2 .400 .400 .600 1.000 0 0 0 0
Total 83 75 30 7 0 3 15 4 9 .400 .451 .613 1.065 1 0 0 3
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/25/2013.

He’s not been at his best against the Cardinals, though that was done in prior years when he may have been continuing to deal with arm issues.  He didn’t face the Cardinals when they were in our nation’s capitol back in April.

It’s going to be a tough one for the Redbirds today but it’s a winnable one.  If they do, they can start stocking the champagne because a two game lead with three to play (at least) would be a very nice cushion.  Let’s hope they get it!

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