The last two wins have drained plenty of people across the Midwest. Late inning victories. Relentless action. Playoff style baseball. I sat on my couch last night and my hands started to shake as the Cards climbed a 2-0 deficit in the bottom of the 8th inning. My heart started beating fast. I strangled my bottle of water. This is where the intensity of a long season can wear on the real baseball addicts. The souls who place their heart on a cutting board every time the boys in red take the field. It’s a pulse pounding journey. Sure, many of them will say it’s not THAT important but that is put out there to make it seem like it’s just a game. That is not entirely true.
For many people, baseball is a part of their lives. They look to it for escape, salvation or a sense of happiness that their lives can not provide at the moment. In the past year, my family has been rocked by misfortune. I was out of work for nine months, and that had put a vice grip on our finances and makes the mortgage payment a hurdle to this day. So when I am stressed and nothing I can do in my own life will help my mood, I turn to the Cardinals to lift me up for just one night. Give me a breather. Sure, the players don’t know me personally. They may not care about an individual in the crowd but they take the fans as a whole into consideration. Every home game, that sea of red means one thing to them. A cathedral of support that never dies. They know that tough losses sting us as much as them. It’s a team suffering pool. So, baseball is important in my life. For 7 months a year, it is king in my household and the results can flip my mood one way or the other.
Wow, after that prolonged speech, let me tell you about the game last night.
Shelby Miller provided six innings of fine pitching before leaving after six innings due to a line drive off his lower leg. He was cruising, only allowed 2 runs and seemed to be heading towards 7 or 8 innings before giving way to Seth Maness. Old friend Kyle Lohse held the Cards in check all night. The umpire was giving him the corners and he turned that into a hard time for Cardinal hitters. He only needed 77 pitches to get 21 outs. He allowed a couple baserunners in the 8th and was taken out. This was mistake #1 by Brewers manager Ron Roeneke. It’s a 2-0 game in September and you turn the game over to your pen with your stater’s pitch count still low. The Cards used a boneheaded play by first baseman Mark Reynolds to score 2 runs and tie the game. After Jon Jay singled in a run, Matt Holliday reminded people that players who make big money walking into the twilight of their career can run as hard as they possibly can down a baseline and slide into first. The play was ruled an out at first, and was eventually overturned. If Holliday was carrying his THOR hammer, this wouldn’t had made a difference. Matt Carpenter seemed to score on the aftermath of the play but the umpires ruled him back to third.
Matt Adams stepped to the plate. He worked a 3-1 count against Jonathan Broxton. It was big man against big man. With Broxton seeming off and firing pitches out of the strike zone, Adams would have to get himself out. Instead, Adams, drew his 24th walk of the season. It tied the game. It was the second bases loaded walk for Adams in the series. It seems he is finding the patience at the right time of the season.
After the tie, the game became a matchup of bullpens. Trevor Rosenthal fired a scoreless ninth. The Brewers never used their closer, Francisco Rodriguez, thinking he could be saved for a close. Pat Neshek and Zach Duke traded scoreless frames. The Brewers sent Kintzler, Will Smith, and Marco Estrada to the bump. The Cards countered with Carlos Martinez and Sam Freeman. The work of Carlos and Sam was tremendous. Base runners occurred, but each young pitcher rose to the challenge of pitching in meaningful September baseball. This is where young men get their trust patches. Preserving close tight meaningful baseball games in late September. It’s September 19th, which is considered late in baseball terms.
The Cards got a leadoff double from Yadier Molina in the 9th and wasted it due to a bunting attempt by Peter Bourjos. In his three seasons as manager, Mike Matheny still likes to give away outs. He forgot that just two weeks ago, Bourjos drove in Molina to win 1-0 against the Pirates in a walkoff win at Busch in game that Shelby Miller also pitched. Why have him bunt there?
The game stretched into the 13th. Fox Sports Midwest announcers Danny Mac McLaughlin and Ricky Horton implored viewers to hang tight and stay awake. The Cards could win this. Matt Holliday singled to start the inning. Matt Adams grounded into a force play. Jhonny Peralta singled. Tony Cruz, the forgotten catcher and hitter this month, came to the plate with a chance to win it. Cruz only had 3 at bats in September as he walked to the plate. Since Molina’s return, he had been shoved to the back of the bench as the emergency catcher. That didn’t matter right now. Cruz could win it.
You see, this is where baseball can be great and maddening at the same time. Cruz was rusty. He had sat on the bench all night long. He was the last guy Cardinal fans thought could be the hero. On twitter, all I heard was, “Cruz is batting in the 11th. Great.” Moments later, Cruz drove a single to center. Adams rumbled around third and scored. In an instance, everything that was supposedly standard about the game of baseball was flipped. Logic was gone. Surprise arrived instead of the expected. That’s baseball at its finest. Supreme misdirection.
The Cards won, maintained their 2.5 game lead on the Pirates(who swept the hapless Red Sox) and pushed the Brewers to 6 games back. In other words, the Birds delivered the division knock out blow to Milwaukee, who Jonathan Lucroy claimed to be a better team. As I stated last week, it doesn’t matter who is better on paper. It matters who plays great at the right time. In two vital series matchups, the Cards took 5 of 7 from the Brewers and knocked them out.
This weekend, the Pirates play the Brewers and the Cards host the Reds. What happens is way too hard to tell this morning? I would need something much stronger than coffee to have a clue.
I know this. Baseball is great. Baseball is frustrating. September baseball brings everything meaningful to an end. It challenges every fan, hard core or casual. It’s the final stage of the Summer Hunger Games.
On Thursday night, the Cards set themselves up well for the final 9 games. They won ugly, and it counts. In September, it doesn’t matter how you do it. Just win.