Closing The Curtain

Adam Wainwright said that the Cardinals were going to do something “legendary” when they went to Boston to finish the World Series.  Unfortunately, the only thing that is going to be remembered from Game 6 is that Boston won a Series in Fenway Park for the first time since 1918.  And from the perspective of a Cardinal fan, even that is forgettable.

There was a lot of pressure on Michael Wacha last night and while I don’t think that he cracked or anything like that, it does go to show this game is harder than he made it look the last few weeks.  Expecting him to go out and throw shutout inning after shutout inning was illogical and overly demanding.  Yet, given the fact that night after night the bats really never showed up, that was what he was going to have to give to win a ballgame.  Eventually, it is going to catch up to you.

Wacha might have been all right last night had he not hit Jonny Gomes in the third.  There were two outs and he had him 1-1.  If he gets Gomes, which, granted, he had not done to lead off the second, the inning is over and the scoreless duel moves on to the fourth.  Instead, that loaded the bases and left him little room to maneuver with Shane Victorino, especially when he got behind in the count.

Obviously Wacha’s line was inflated by the fact that the relievers after him couldn’t be effective either.  With two outs and down by four after a home run by Stephen Drew (which, given how bad he had hit in this Series, pretty much was your indication that this wasn’t going to be the Redbirds’ night), Mike Matheny went to Lance Lynn after Wacha walked David Ortiz intentionally to put two on.

Earlier in the day, of course, Matheny had said that Lynn was their long guy now that Shelby Miller hadn’t pitched in three weeks.  While he’s not overtly saying so, Miller has to be frustrated with how the Cards used him over the entire playoff run.  He threw one inning in a game that the Cardinals were already getting blown out of against the Pirates and that’s it for the entire postseason.  To add insult to injury, Matheny had him warm up with two outs in the ninth and the Cardinals trailing by five.  Seriously?  I wasn’t aware of that, given that Ben and I were doing UCB Radio at the time, but that’s ridiculous.

Then again, I’m not sure Matheny doesn’t have a bit of troll in him.  People clamoring for Miller?  Sure, I’ll warm him up when it doesn’t matter.  People think that Ortiz should be more carefully pitched to?  I’ll intentionally walk him all night then, even in the eighth inning of a 6-1 game.  Matheny couldn’t pass Ortiz in more critical times, but when the season is just about over, now he can bring out the IBB.  I’d say Matheny has a spiteful streak if it didn’t completely clash with what we know of his persona.

And, after all that, Lynn can’t get a guy out, allowing the two inherited runners to score.  The rest of the bullpen held, but that didn’t really matter.  A team that hadn’t scored more than five runs since shocking Clayton Kershaw wasn’t likely to put up seven.

The Cardinals did, for a moment, look like that magical team that their postseason reputation says that they are.  They got the one run in during the seventh and the bases were loaded for Allen Craig.  A home run, of course, makes things really interesting but even a base hit would have kept things going and closed the gap.

All summer long, statisticians and the like had said that St. Louis’s average with runners in scoring position wasn’t sustainable.  All year, they said they’d come back down to earth.  Even when they finished the year hitting .330 in those situations, they warned regression was inevitable.  They were right, of course, and we knew they were right at the time, but we hoped that regression would wait a couple of weeks before evening out.  Instead, it hit and hit hard in this World Series (and, for the most part, all postseason) and Craig’s at bat was symptomatic of that, grounding a 1-0 pitch to first base to end the inning.

For all the faults and flaws of this team (I expect one of the first questions, should there be a UCB Weekend next year and if there is a Q&A with John Mozeliak as in the past, to be about postseason roster construction), there’s really little doubt that Boston earned this Series.  I hate to say they were the better team, but they probably were.  Without them being careless throwing the ball to third base in back-to-back games, they probably celebrate in Busch for the second time in nine years.  While we gripe about the Cards not getting a key hit here or there, much of that blame can be laid on the fact that they had good pitchers making good pitches.  You would like to see what had happened had Ortiz actually been mortal, but he’s a postseason legend and he acted like it on the big stage.

You have to tip your cap to the Sox.  It’s tough to do, though this Series loss isn’t nearly as angst-inducing as 2004, when a much better Cardinal team got swept by a team that hadn’t won in 86 years.  This time, one dynasty ran into another and lost.  The gap of celebrating at Fenway doesn’t resonate with folks as much as breaking the curse.  I expect that Boston fans will be tolerable this time around unlike 2004.  Well, as tolerable as Boston fans can be, of course!

With that, the 2013 baseball season ends.  The good thing about going deep into the World Series, even if you come up short, is that it makes the offseason that much shorter.  There are roughly 110 days until pitchers and catchers report to Jupiter.  That sounds like a lot, but it’s better than ending your season with 140 days or so to go.  With the holidays and the post-season wrapups and analysis, it’s really just that last month that gets bad.

What should you expect around this place?  Well, this blog specifically will be a little less regular.  As you know, I’m much more of a report-and-analyze rather than research-and-calculate, and when there is less news to discuss, that makes it much harder for me to write.  I am planning to do the Exit Interviews series that I started last year.  It may be a week or so before those start rolling out, but I’m looking forward to get cracking on that.  There will still be posts here, just maybe not every day.

I’m also hoping that our other Conclave members will be able to chime in this winter, covering the gaps with some interesting ideas and thought-out posts.  One of the big reasons we came together was for just that reason and I know that there will be some great things to read over the winter from those guys.

While it’s a downer of a day, we can’t end this post on a sour note.  This Cardinal team won 97 regular season games, more than anyone else in the league.  They beat two quality teams, including besting the likely Cy Young winner twice, to win another NL Championship.  They were one of the last two teams standing, which is something to be proud of even when the Series loss stings.

Best of all, this doesn’t appear to be an isolated case.  This is not a situation where a team pulled together for one last gasp.  This is a team that has a wide open window for postseason success.  Now, nothing is guaranteed and you never know how things will play out even if you do get to October, but there should be good, exciting Cardinal baseball for years to come.

Be proud to be a Cardinal fan.  Hey, the rest of the baseball world seems to hate us, so we’ve got to be doing something right!

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