The Pack Attack

Fifteen years ago tonight, I started up C70 At The Bat.  What better way to mark the anniversary than to highlight the current Patron Pitcher of the Blog?

Last night’s game was intense, but anytime the Dodgers and Cardinals get together there’s a whiff of October, even if the temperature reads 100.  Perhaps it’s the historic nature of the two teams, perhaps it’s the postseason battles that they’ve had in the last decade or so, but it always feels a little different when the blue and the red are out there.  I don’t know what it is, but Dodgers/Cardinals games aren’t necessarily a rivalry, but they are still special.

I told a couple of people–I think I may have even said it Sunday night on Gateway–that when you see an Albert Pujols home run (or anything big–a clutch RBI, a game-winning hit, etc.) you have to realize you might have seen the last one of his career.  Of course, I say that Sunday and he almost goes yard Monday night and then starts the scoring last night with a bomb.  If he keeps swinging like this, you don’t have to be as concerned you are seeing the end of history.  It was his only hit of the night, though he also drew a walk, and briefly had his average over .220 before it settled at .219 at the end of the night.  You ride the hot hand and I imagine AP will be DH for a couple more games.

The way the team has struggled for runs, you might think a two-out homer would be all they’d get, but then Juan Yepez singled, Corey Dickerson continued to surge by hitting a ground-rule double, and after a wild pitch brought in Yepez, Andrew Knizner brought in his first run of the night.  It’s interesting that right after the news that Yadier Molina would be returning at the beginning of August Knizner has perhaps his best game of the season.  It was his second three-hit game of the year (after a game in Milwaukee very early on) and he drove in three RBI as well.  Usually a game like that would come right before Yadi’s Instagram post signaling a return!  Knizner has a three game hitting streak (not counting his defensive appearance at the end of Sunday’s game) and has four RBI in that span.  Maybe he’s starting to find something.

The Cardinals got another run in the third on a Nolan Gorman homer, meaning that the oldest and youngest Cardinals homered in the same game, then tacked on two more in the fourth to put the club up 6-1.  With most clubs–and with a different pitching situation in this one–you might think this game was over.  Not in the least.

Jordan Hicks was the opener, going 1.2 innings, but he walked three in that span which isn’t what you want to see.  He’s kept the walks down since his return from the injured list so maybe, even if you want to use an opener, Hicks isn’t the guy for it.  Maybe he needs a well-worn mound to come out to!  Johan Oviedo got the last out of the second and then allowed a Freddie Freeman RBI double in the third.

Oviedo wound up getting the win because it was a scorer’s decision with the starter not going long enough and Matthew Liberatore, who pitched the longest, was definitely not effective.  Liberatore pitched a scoreless fourth, but gave up a two-run homer to Trea Turner in the fifth and allowed a ground-rule double to start the sixth.  He got Cody Bellinger to ground out, moving Hanser Alberto to third, before Junior Fernandez came in and got two groundouts, though Alberto scored on the first.

That made it 6-4 going to the seventh.  Fernandez has been stellar since his last callup but the Dodgers pieced together something.  Trea Turner reached on catcher’s interference to start the inning, then Freeman got one of his four hits on the night and people started getting nervous.  Will Smith singled, driving in Turner.  Lars Nootbaar tried to get Freeman at third and made a strong throw that might have gotten him had it not hit Freeman and bounced away, thankfully saved from going into the dugout.  Second and third, nobody out, which got much worse when Fernandez walked Justin Turner to load the bases.

That’s when a hero emerged.

With the Dodgers pinch-hitting Max Muncy, a left-handed batter, Oli Marmol went to the bullpen and got Packy Naughton, number 70 himself, to see if he could keep the game under control.  It looked dicey to start with, as Naughton ran the count to 3-1, but Muncy then popped out to shallow center where Freeman couldn’t tag up.  Then Alberto flew out to shallow left, again where Freeman couldn’t head home.  Finally, after a bit of a battle including a check swing that was called a ball but could have gone either way (like most check swings), Bellinger struck out.  Oviedo got the win, but Naughton won the game right there.  He may have ridden the Memphis shuttle a few times but Naughton has proven himself a strong part of this bullpen.  His ERA is inflated by a couple of rough outings when he was the starter, but as a reliever he’s allowed only one earned run in 14.1 innings.  The club’s been looking for someone that can hold games close in the middle innings and the Patron Pitcher just might be the guy they are looking for.

Of course, the anxiety didn’t end there.  After the Cardinals, thanks to Knizner’s third RBI of the night, added on an insurance run, Giovanny Gallegos cashed in the policy, allowing a home run to Freeman to start the ninth.  It eased some when he struck out the next two, but then he walked Muncy on four pitches and ran 3-0 to Jake Lamb.  Thankfully, Lamb went ahead and swung at the next pitch (which was a strike, at least) and flew out to center to end the game.  As the TBS announcers noted, that made three straight outings that Gallegos has allowed a run, which is not ideal.  I wrote yesterday that since the beginning of June he’s been good and maybe you don’t worry as much about two outings, but three in a row, especially when two of those games the run came via homer, is at least noteworthy.  Lefties have four homers against him (of the five he’s given up) and are hitting .286, so I imagine Marmol will do his best to make sure Gallegos doesn’t have to face the big lefty hitters in the late innings if at all possible.

It was good to see the Cardinals get a win against a quality opponent.  Tonight’s matchup of Tony Gonsolin vs. Adam Wainwright should be a low scoring affair that will probably cause a lot of tension and nervousness as well.  I mean, Gonsolin hasn’t been charged with a loss yet and has an ERA under 2.  The way this offense was hitting last week, they might have scored negative runs against him.  However, things have been stirring, especially at the bottom of the lineup, and it’ll be interesting to see if they can keep it going tonight.

As noted above, this marks my 15th anniversary as a blogger.  (The time stamp says the 14th but the game I wrote it after was on the 13th.)  It’s remarkable to see the damage Kip Wells has continued to wreak this far after he was a Cardinal.  In the last decade and a half blogging has risen and fallen, as there are many fewer blogs out there these days.  Between Twitter and podcasting, there’s less of a need to write 1000 words about your opinions.  The United Cardinal Bloggers is mainly just a title now and while we still get to do things like have Blogger Day (which is this Saturday) we don’t do the group projects and such like we did in the past.  CardinalsGM is still active, even as Tom Knuppel seems to have handed over the reins to a new generation and Viva El Birdos is of course still the headliner, but there aren’t many others that were around back in the day that are still here.  Heck, there aren’t many others that started after that that are still around!

That doesn’t mean that Cardinal fandom is any less passionate, any less involved, any less connected.  It just is different these days.  At times I wonder why I’m still chugging along for a few readers.  I mark it down to some form of OCD, feeling a need to continue this because I can’t imagine not.  Maybe this will be my last season.  Maybe I should walk off into the sunset with Yadi and Albert.  I probably won’t, but it’s worth considering.  Until then, though, thanks for your support and patronage throughout the years!

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