There was no way the St. Louis Cardinals were going to win that game. There was no good reason why they should and many reasons why they shouldn’t. It just wasn’t a game that was going to be a good outcome.
Yet we are talking this morning about a magic number of 8 (worn at times by Troy Glaus, Allen Craig, Gary Gaetti, and J.D. Drew when he debuted on 9/8/98) precisely because the Cardinals went out and won a game they shouldn’t have. Jon Doble has used the hashtag #BecauseMatheny (and oh, are we going to get into THAT discussion in a bit) but this one would fit snugly in the #BecauseBaseball category.
They got their first hit in the fourth inning, which was promptly followed by a double play. Their next hit came with two outs in the sixth. Their third came in the seventh, which was again eventually followed by a double play. Three hits in seven innings. Their most productive inning of offense was actually the third, when Kolten Wong was hit by a pitch and Matt Carpenter walked. When that’s how you are building your “big innings”, you might want to start thinking about tomorrow.
And yet, it’s September. I am coming to the belief that the Cardinals save all those “should lose but win” games for the final month while other teams use theirs throughout the year. You win a game like this in June, it’s nice but quickly forgotten. You win a game like this in a pennant race in September, that tends to reverberate. I mean, we still remember Adron Chambers‘ Wild Run, don’t we?
So Oscar Taveras leads off with a single in the eighth. Now, for some reason (note the hashtag), Mike Matheny pinch-runs Peter Bourjos there, even though 1) the Cardinals are down two runs, so that run isn’t the difference in the game and 2) there seemed to be no real desire to try to steal a base. Taveras might not be Bourjos-fast, but he can still go first to third on a hit if necessary. Wong then grounded out on a ball that could have been a double play had Bourjos not broken it up at second, but I don’t think you pinch-run a guy because he has double-play-breaking-up abilities.
The Cards catch a break when Mark Reynolds forgets how many outs there were and casually fields A.J. Pierzynski‘s foul ball, touching first for the second out instead of firing to second and starting the double play. When the Milwaukee bloggers start writing their analysis of the breakdown of these Brewers, the mental play is going to get a pretty strong look, I imagine. It’s September, though, and things like that do tend to go the Cardinals’ way, for whatever reason.
Speaking of going St. Louis’s way, the Cards finally get a replay review to work out for them, making them 1-442 this season. All right, that’s an exaggeration, and the reviews have gone their way more often of late it feels like, but still, if they could get only one review of the season, reviewing Matt Holliday‘s slide and getting it right–that he was safe–might have been the one to choose. The umps still blew the call when they forced Carpenter back to third instead of letting him score as he should, but that was negated when Matt Adams drew his second bases-loaded walk of the series. (Some people don’t get to do that all year long!)
Then you have the ninth and the play that, had the Cards not pulled this out in extra innings, would have been attached to Matheny’s neck for him to wear the rest of the year. Yadier Molina starts the inning off with a double, firing up both him and the dugout. They are stoked. Tommy Pham comes into the game to run for Molina. That’s understandable, though since Pierzynski has already been used, you really need to try to score here and not have to play a long time with Molina out.
With nobody out, of course the main thing is to move Pham over to third. While Pham has some speed, trying to steal third probably is low on the idea list. Bourjos steps in and tries to bunt Pham over. He’s not really close, and it’s strike one. He botches it again and it’s strike two.
Now, I want to go on the record as saying these first two bunts, while they wouldn’t have been my choice (with a runner on second, you aren’t likely–LIKELY, since this team seems to be exceptional in the art of the double play–to hit into a twin killing, so I’d have let Bourjos try to hit the ball to the right side) but they are defensible. A successful bunt has Pham at third with one out, and while that’s no guarantee, you like your odds. After two ugly bunt attempts, though, and with a real hitter up there instead of a pitcher, you take off the bunt sign.
You take off the bunt sign.
Hello?? Are you listening? YOU TAKE OFF THE BUNT SIGN.
Someone tried to tell me on Twitter that Bourjos might as well have bunted the 0-2 pitch because he was a strikeout guy anyway. First of all, you NEVER bunt with two strikes unless it’s 1) a pitcher, the definition of a strikeout guy or 2) a very talented bunter who you have confidence in getting it down even with that 0-2 hole. Bourjos is neither one of those things. Bourjos is the guy that’s hit .291 in the second half of the season. Yes, his strikeout rate is a little high, but it’s far from a sure thing, which bunting the way he was bunting surely was.
Matheny doesn’t remove the sign, Bourjos bunt-strikes out, which means the Brewers walk Wong because they know the Cardinals can hit into double plays. Even with two speed guys on the base paths, they don’t attempt anything and watch Randal Grichuk and Carpenter strike out to end the frame.
If the Brewers hadn’t finally put Jimmy Nelson into this one, a guy St. Louis has just torched everytime they have seen him, the two teams might still be playing. Thankfully the Cards wound up on top, because the Red Sox had already been useless, losing to the Pirates after the tying run on third got hit with a live ball. (How many times are you told to take your lead in foul ground? Granted the guy was diving back but still, such a tough way to go out.)
In all that mess, it’s easy to forget that Shelby Miller pitched yet another good game, allowing two runs (one earned) in six innings, but he could have gone seven had he not been hit with a line drive to the shin in his last frame. The unearned error was on him as well, given his ugly throw in the direction of second that wound up in center field. Watching that, it looked like he never really got set, being partially turned to first thinking he was going to go that way. It wound up costing him, but eventually he got off the hook.
Hero gets to be Matt Holliday, who along with the dive also had the leadoff hit in the 13th before being erased on an Adams groundout. Goat will be Peter Bourjos, because everyone else did just enough to get out of consideration. I really was tempted to break my rules and name Matheny, though.
Cardinals start the last home series of the year against the Reds this evening. So hard to believe that Busch Stadium is about to close its doors for the 2014 season (and, most likely, open them back up for the 2014 postseason). It’s been an amazing and frustrating season and now we are just 10 days away from it ending.
John Lackey hopes his dead arm has revitalized like Adam Wainwright‘s as he goes out there to start this evening’s game. Lackey, as you know, was skipped over his last start given the fact that he’s put up a 9.00 ERA in his last two starts and it’d have been worse over the last three if you’d counted the unearned runs. We can only hope rest was the cure for what ailed Mr. Lackey.
The table shows Lackey having good success against the Redlegs, and his first start against them in Cardinal red wasn’t bad at all (six innings, two runs, seven strikeouts). His last outing was also against the Reds, and it wasn’t nearly as nice. Two runs still, yes, but two innings plus is all before being ejected from the field of play. We’ll see if he sticks around longer tonight.
I said last week if the Reds wanted to play spoiler, they’d find some lefties with terrible stats and run them against the Cards. Meet David Holmberg. David throws with his left hand, has a six ERA in five appearance, and shut down the Cards for 5.2 innings two outings ago when he came in and was the emergency fill-in when Dylan Axelrod went down. To be fair, his last start he gave up just one run in six innings to the Brewers, so he’s trending the right way. However, this is just one of those type of pitchers that usually gives St. Louis fits.
It’s September, right? Let’s put that to the test and see if there’s not a way the Cards can win this one tonight as well! But before then, be sure to read the latest edition of Dugout Thrones at Viva El Birdos. It’s parody like I could only dream of doing!