If Ifs and Buts Were Candy And Nuts…..

I thought that Game 3 was going to be the most frustrating game in the series.  Instead, let’s move Game 3 to aggravating so that Game 5 can have its rightful place in the frustrating spotlight.

Going up against one of the best pitchers out there, the Cardinals load the bases with nobody out.  Cardinal fans are ecstatic, figuring that Joe Kelly is going to get an early lead and perhaps this can be the clincher we all want to see.

However, just like series, innings can pivot in an instant.  All it takes is a strikeout, which Matt Adams provided, and a double play, courtesy of Yadier Molina, and Zack Greinke gets away unscathed.  Even a sacrifice fly there could have changed the complexion of the game.  A base hit surely would have had the Cardinals rolling.

Then, after Kelly gets touched for two runs, the top of the order again strikes.  Carlos Beltran almost tied the game himself with a two-run homer, but instead settled for an RBI triple (and no bat flip).  Matt Holliday then did tie it up with a double and Adams put runners on the corners with a broken-bat, shift-aided hit.

Two on, one out.  A sac fly here gives them the lead, an extra base hit might even put them up by two.  Instead, Molina, who worked the count to 3-1, winds up bouncing back to Greinke for a double play.

As Ben noted in the Bonfyre, if I gave out postseason Heroes and Goats, there’s no doubt that Molina would have received the latter for this game.  His strikeout in the futile rally in the ninth would have sealed the deal.

The Cardinals got two chances off of Greinke.  That’s one more than they got in Game 1 and really one more than they should have expected.  When they didn’t capitalize, you knew that it wasn’t likely their day.  The fact that the Dodgers hit four home runs after that just put icing on the deal.

The ninth, which I’ll admit, I didn’t see given my frustration with the game and some other projects that I needed to attend to, was a nice reminder of past Cardinal glory without the actual success of those attempts.  About all the rally did was put a little doubt in Don Mattingly‘s mind about who to use in the ninth should he need someone in Game 6 or 7.  The Cards have hit Kenley Jansen twice in this series (well, Game 1 was just one batter, but it mattered) and you wonder if Brian Wilson might not get the next save opportunity.

So, after a day when everyone was reminding people that St. Louis lost a 3-1 lead last year, the Redbirds did nothing to counteract that narrative.  Obviously, this year isn’t last year and Mike did a great job yesterday pointing out why it was different than any of those in the past, but unfortunately that’s going to persist, especially since all indications are this series is going to go seven games.

There’s no guarantee of that, obviously.  The Cardinals are going home and they get to throw Michael Wacha, who has been so brilliant in these playoffs.  However, this will be the first time as a starter that a team has faced him for the second time.  He did, as Mike led off his story from Tuesday, face the Reds in a four-inning relief stint in relief of Adam Wainwright before turning around and facing the Reds in his first start back in the rotation, which is similar but not completely the same thing.  (That second appearance turned out OK, if you don’t remember.  Six innings, no runs in Cincinnati.)

However, St. Louis does have to contend with Clayton Kershaw again.  Even though they had some success against him in the regular season, it took a wild pitch and an unearned run for them to be able to topple him in Game 2.  They may have used up all their strange baseball plays in Game 4, so I don’t think we can count on the same method working twice.

It would seem the best chance for the Cardinals to finish this up in six is to take a scoreless game into the sixth or seventh, have the Dodgers be forced to pinch-hit for Kershaw, then score against their bullpen and hold on.  As someone on Twitter said yesterday, make sure just the rookies pitch, after Edward Mujica and John Axford gave up what turned out to be the home runs that provided the final margin.

Lots of talk about the absence of Shelby Miller in this series and it’s understandable.  I thought that we were going to see Miller early in Game 5 as he warmed up when Kelly was struggling, but Kelly then got a double play and worked his way out of a jam or two, as he does.  Honestly, given the interchangableness of some of these pitchers, it might have been to the Cards’ advantage to throw Miller in this start and put Kelly in the pen, since the Dodgers hadn’t seen him.  However, given that Miller hasn’t pitched but once (and then just an inning) in October, that start probably wouldn’t have gone very long.

By the way, I expect that, if the situation is right, Adrian Gonzalez might just get a fastball inside from Wacha or Wainwright in the next couple of nights.  Making Mickey Mouse ears toward the clubhouse seems to be unnecessary taunting, especially since he did it after his first home run that put the Dodgers up 3-2.  If the Cards had roared back and cited that as inspiration, the story might have been a bit different.

The Cards still have the advantage, of course.  They go home, which they haven’t done in this situation since the 1968 World Series.  They have only dropped one game at Busch this postseason and were better there than on the road during the entire season.  They have Wacha and Wainwright.  They still have the edge.

Let’s just hope they use that edge early instead of making us sweat out Saturday.  Because we know what happens in one-game playoffs and they aren’t always good.

I hope to have something a little more light-hearted and off-topic up this afternoon or tomorrow morning.  I also will probably have a Q&A with a Dodgers blogger sometime before Game 6.  Enjoy the off day and let’s hope this weekend is a winner!

  • Ben Chambers

    I was hoping that Gonzalez would at least get a high hard one from Axford yesterday when he was up, but instead he got a second home run. I don’t think Wacha or Wainwright will give it to him, because we need those guys to stay in the game, and you have to think that the umpires will be looking at Wainwright pretty intensely. I would like someone like Mujica to come out of the bullpen to face him, hit him around the numbers, and then either get thrown from the game or replaced. That’s the safest way to do it in the postseason.

    • Cardinal70

      Well, again, it’s got to be the right situation. Most likely (and where it looks the least petty) is if the Cards are up 4-5 late in a ballgame. Then again, I remember getting perturbed when the Giants hit Holliday in Game 7 last year up 7-0 or something, so perhaps I’m not being consistent here.

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