One of the wonderful things about being a blogger is that people want to send you baseball books. Now, personally, I have a motto. My motto is, "Happiness is a pile of unread books". Which means that when people want to send me books, I typically let them. They don't have to be Cardinal books. If they are, great. But if not, if they are baseball books, I'm perfectly fine reading about other parts of the game.
Which is why I just finished reading The Mets: A 50th Anniversary Celebration. I knew of the Mets, of course. While my immersion into baseball has come at a time when the divisions have gone from two to three and the rivalry that the Cards and Mets had has waned, there's still a lot of ties between the two teams. The 1980s was a great time in the history of both squads.
However, this book is great about delving into the real history of the club. From the beginnings as a compromise between MLB and a group trying to start a third league, to their improbable run in 1969, all the way through their disappointing slide as they deal with The Curse of Yadier Molina, the history of the club is laid bare for all of its glory--and all of its warts.
Reading this book, it really helps you realize how blessed we are as Cardinal fans. The Mets have won two championships in 50 years, but more often than not they've been beset with injuries and weak play at times they should have dominated. It's hard to believe that a team in the largest market in baseball has only two titles, one by a team that came out of nowhere and one that could have been prevented, perhaps, if a first baseman fields a ball.
I really enjoyed reading through the whole history of the club. It obviously meant more when you started seeing the names that you recognized, but the Mets have had a lot of famous players even from the very beginning. If you know a Mets fan, this would be a great Christmas gift for them. If you are one that just loves reading about the game, give this some strong consideration before your next baseball purchase.
Another book that I recently went through was A Moment In Time, written by former major league pitcher Ralph Branca. Branca's book traces his life, from his first interest in baseball all the way through the present day.
Branca's book is an easy read. Even though it is written with David Ritz, the style and wording comes across as if Branca is talking to you. That tends to mean that the book is not necessarily as in depth as you might like or any great work of art, but it tells the story well and it gives you some of the details that were going on at the time of the story.
Which is really one of the things that bugged me about the book. Branca would write about remembering seeing in the paper that Jackie Robinson had played his first game. OK, maybe, even though it wasn't a huge part of the paper in his recollection. Other things, though, like the conversation with his future father-in-law, seem stilted, the kind of thing you read in a bad fiction book when they are trying to set the scene. For example, here's a snippit of it:
"So you make movies, Mr. Mulvey?"
"Well, it's actually Sam [Goldwyn] who makes the movies. I make the deals with the distributors. I try to make sure that the movies make money."
"Of all the movies you've been involved with, what's your favorite?"
"Pride of the Yankees. I actually bought the rights to that film from Sam. I own it personally."
Does any of that seem natural? It continues on in that vein for a bit, talking about another movie, name dropping Frank Sinatra. While the gist of the conversation may have happened, I find it tough to believe that you'd have to spell out to a ballplayer and a movie mogul that Pride of the Yankees was about Lou Gehrig.
However, what really tarnishes the book is Branca's inability to make peace with the fact that the New York Giants were stealing signs when they made their comeback run against his Brooklyn Dodgers, a run that culminated in the signature moment that Branca is known for, the Bobby Thomson home run. Even after he has become friends with Thomson, when the cheating news breaks, he's more concerned with making press and nursing that grudge than he seems to be with the friendship he received out of the situation.
Obviously, Branca has a right to be somewhat bitter about it. Without the extra help, there's no doubt that the Dodgers would have been in the World Series that year since the race was so close. That said, even if you know what's coming, you still have to hit it. Branca seems to think that if Thomson, who apparently knew what was coming on that fateful pitch, had been in the dark, he'd have gotten him out. However, it was still a pitch that could be driven out of the ballpark. Thomson still had to hit it, even if he knew it was coming.
It's a good book, don't get me wrong, but I don't think Branca comes off as sympathetic in the whole thing as you would expect from a book bearing his authorship. That might just be my opinion, though--you won't go wrong in picking it up and deciding for yourself.
I've got more reviews coming during the offseason, but I had a little time before finding Tony La Russa on Letterman and David Freese on Leno and thought I'd bring these to your attention. Both are well worth your time!
The press conference just ended. There will be links and stories throughout the internet soon (and, as long as it has taken me to write this, many are now up). Most of Cardinal Nation already knows, though, that Tony La Russa has decided to retire from managing the St. Louis Cardinals.
History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme. In 1964, after an amazing comeback had led to a World Championship for the Cardinals, manager Johnny Keane left his position with the club to take the same job with the team he had just defeated, the New York Yankees. Keane was furious that the club had thought to fire him while the team was struggling and wouldn't accept a new contract with the organization. (Hat tip to Bob Netherton for bringing the situation to mind on Twitter.)
Now, 47 years later, an equally remarkable comeback has led to another World Championship that will have to be defended with a new man in the managerial chair.
There are a lot of names being thrown around. Jose Oquendo, of course, and former Cardinal Terry Pendleton. Terry Francona will also be considered a front-runner. Even Ryne Sandberg, as a jab at those baby bears up north. There's no telling who the next manager of the St. Louis Cardinals will be, but let's wait on that. It's time to look at who the last manager of the St. Louis Cardinals was.
A West-Coast guy that came to St. Louis already well established, it took TLR a long while to reach the fan base, or at least portions of it. I still remember when a group of fans pooled their money and rented a plane to fly over a spring training game trailing a banner that said "Fire La Russa". The early years in St. Louis were on the rough side.
Which really makes no sense. His first year, the Cards are one win away from a World Series. He was the reason the club went and got Mark McGwire, which gave us some amazing memories in 1998 and 1999.
Then we flip the calendar and begin one of the best decades ever for this organization. 2000, they go to the NLCS. 2001, they lose a heartbreaking Game 5 in the NLDS. 2002, back to the NLCS. 2003 was a down year, but it also led us to a great baseball book, Three Nights In August. 2004, a 105-win team that runs into a team of destiny in the World Series. 2005, a 100-win team that may have lost in the NLCS, but not without a defining moment.
All of that leading up to 2006. An 83-win team that was better than their record, but was more remembered for stumbling into the playoffs than for the fact that they could have been an 88-win squad with any sort of finish. A team that got healthy at the right time and played some outstanding baseball (plus took advantage of miscues from Detroit) to win #10 for #10.
2007 and 2008 were disappointments, sure, but with Chris Carpenter out for both of those years, Tony did the best with what he had. Both teams were in contention going into September, which is about the best you can hope for.
2009, another NLDS, though the results weren't what the club was hoping for. 2010 was the first year that the team really disappointed, as it collapsed in August and September after the big push to overtake the Reds. When 2011 started so slowly, many people--including myself, as you can easily check--were wondering if it was time to move on, if the methods and message were getting stale.
Boy, was I wrong.
I think it's pretty interesting that even TLR thought mid-year that it was time to move on. That he didn't necessarily have that fire in the belly that he used to. He let John Mozeliak and Bill DeWitt know so they could be prepared and then he managed out the rest of the season, never letting on so as not to distract from what this team was trying to do.
We all know that he seemed more relaxed, more jovial, more emotional in the clubhouse than he'd been. Do you remember the last TLR meltdown in the press room? Neither do I. It resembled 2006 in that Tony seemed to loosen up and the team responded with a spectacular run. Now we know why. Just like the team was playing with house money, everything in this postseason was gravy for La Russa as well. He knew where he stood in history. He knew what they'd done. He could accept going out like that, but adding on was just the topper.
You have to give him credit, also, for not changing his mind after the Cards won. He could have easily talked himself into coming back. Adam Wainwright is returning, this team as constructed should make a major push next season, and he'd move past John McGraw in managerial wins. However, the fire wasn't there. Perhaps that week he took when dealing with shingles opened him to the possibility of, if not life without baseball, at least life outside of the dugout. He stayed true to the principles that made him Tony La Russa. Love him or hate him, you know that he's always done that.
Tony's the only manager a good chunk of Cardinal Nation (at least the wired ones that are using Twitter and reading the internet) have ever known. I remember Whitey Herzog, I remember Joe Torre, but my Cardinal fandom really developed with La Russa's tenure in St. Louis. Couple his time here with the explosion of the internet coverage and the ability to really live and breathe this team and it seems impossible that he won't be here constantly, staring out of the dugout with his sunglasses and thinking two innings ahead to when he'll need to double switch for David Freese.
How different is it going to be around here without Tony? There's no doubt he was the innovator. People pick on his use of the bullpen, but now everyone has a LOOGY and makes 2-3 swaps a game. Even if he took it to the extreme, it was because he knew baseball lives in the minutiae. It may only give you a 1% better chance to go to the lefthander, but so many games are won or lost in that 1%. Tony's passion for winning sometimes overrode what fans saw as common sense, but it shaped this team and this organization.
There's no doubt in my mind that no other manager in baseball and very likely no other baseball is the history of the game could have gotten the 2011 Cardinals to the title. None. No other manager could have his team that focused, that determined, for that length of time. Sure, TLR had Carpenter and Albert Pujols to help reinforce that message, but his prepared and focused demeanor was exactly what this club needed to fight off certain death day after day.
So what do we do as fans when we can't roll our eyes at the latest lineup experiment? When we have a named closer and a set pattern of doing things? When we can't blame the usage (or lack thereof) of a young player on "Tony loves his veterans"? All of our crutches, all of the things we thought we knew about the Cardinals, about this team, get to be rethought in the light of someone else other than #10 at the helm. It's going to be a hard process and I think it'll be something that helps us appreciate TLR all the more.
I know this managerial search is going to be a topic we'll hit on a number of times in the coming days, but right now, there's really only one thing to say.
Most every morning, I get my Cardinal glass out of the cupboard for the daily glass of orange juice. If it's not a work day, I'm usually putting on one of my 20 or so different Cardinal shirts. If it is a work day, occasionally I'll wear my dress Cardinal shirt. In the summer, I'm always seen in my Cardinal crocs, unless I have to wear shoes, in which case I sometimes have my Cardinal socks on.
My desk here at home is covered with Cardinal bobbleheads, statues, stadium giveaways. My license plate is CARDS1. I check the date on my Cardinal calendar, have a good selection of Cardinal books, and my stuffed Cardinal Fredbird (complete with 2006 WS Champs insignia) is well worn.
I'm the biggest Cardinal fan in this area, according to the number of people who came up to me this weekend and said congratulations on the Series win. People that I hadn't seen in months found me at our local fall festival Saturday to tell me they were thinking of me when they were watching the games. I would hope my fandom is fairly unquestioned.
And yet I still don't think I ever quite believed this was going to happen.
How could we? This was a team that spent about 70% of the season running in place. A team that could never win more than four games in a row. A team that hit the end of July in first place, but hit the end of August more than 10 games back in both the division and the wild card.
Who expects this to happen?
There's no doubt that there were some that never gave up, which is to their credit. They'd have believed there was a chance if the Cards were 20 out with 21 to play, I believe. More power to them and they've definitely been vindicated over the last few days.
However, there's too many posts I have, too much audio of me hoping for a positive outcome but not expecting one, for me to say now, "Oh, I knew it all the time." And, if I may be a bit presumptuous, I don't think that you come to this blog for blind homerism, but hope leavened with realism. I hope that's what you come for, at least, because that's likely what you are going to get.
It just turned out that realism had no place in this story.
This baseball team wasn't the richest team, though it wasn't poor by any means. It wasn't the strongest team and it wasn't by any means the fastest team. It wasn't even considered the best team within its region, much less in all the land.
This team had many players that made up its merry band. It had the Warrior, who could battle teams with amazing firepower and also could undermine them with guts and guile, depending on the situation. It had the Young Gun, a man who started building his legend early and then continued to develop it.
There was the Legend, one known far and wide as the most intimidating, the most amazing, the most everything of players. Aiding the Legend was the Hired Hand, imported indirectly from the mountain tribes to help the Legend in his times of trial. To go along with these two was the Rival, a man that had started out as a fierce member of an opposing tribe, only to become a trusted member of this team.
There were others, of course. The Local, the Phenom, the Lefty, the Poet, the Gunslinger, the Finisher. All sorts of names and characters made up this unique team.
Every year, the Lords of Baseball held a contest in the fall of the year, when the leaves were changing and the north winds began to blow. This contest was to see just which team would be able to hold the title of Best Team and feast on the adoration of those that followed these brave and intrepid men. Teams came from far and wide, down long and winding roads, to get to the tournament, well knowing that only eight of them would be allowed inside the gates once they arrived at their destination.
In 2004, the Cardinals trailed the Houston Astros three games to two in the National League Championship Series. It was a tight affair that went into extra innings, before Jim Edmonds gave the franchise one of its iconic moments, smashing a home run in the twelfth inning, sending the series to a Game 7. Of course, that game was a great one in its own right, with The Catch by Edmonds and the home run by Scott Rolen off of Roger Clemens that send the Cards to their first world series since 1987.
Last night, I tweeted before the bottom of the 11th that "this game really needs a Jimmy E home run." Then David Freese walked to the plate. David Freese, the A-ball player that Cardinal fans thought was a throw-in when the deal was made to send Edmonds to San Diego back in 2007. So as he stepped to the plate and worked the count, I thought about this blog and said to myself, "I could write that story." (Though, obviously, not as well as some of these guys.)
Then Freese swung, and I said to myself, "Do I get to write that story?" That question was quickly answered as the baseball nestled in the grass of the center field batter's eye, quickly scooped up by an exultant fan.
And suddenly, the team that was dead for the umpteeth time in the last couple of months crawled out of that grave and said, "Guys, you are going to have to do better than that to keep us down."
The fan base has called them zombie Cardinals and never did that description seem so accurate as last night. The Cardinals couldn't hold off the relentless Texas onslaught and seemed like it was going to finally put them down. Every time the Cards scored to tie the game, Texas immediately responded. A 7-4 lead in the seventh seemed fairly insurmountable, especially given Texas's bullpen, especially when a rally in the bottom of the seventh fizzled out.
And yet they weren't done. One in the eighth, though they left the bases loaded and seemed to have not quite been good enough. Then, the ninth. Two runs down against Neftali Feliz, one of the best closers in the game. And therein lies the difference between 2010 and 2011. In 2010, the Cards always seemed to make a game of it, always getting the tying run on or to the plate but never being able to cash in. This year, this run, they seem to do it.
Still, you have the tying runs on with Freese up and he's down to his last strike, against a flamethrowing closer looking to get his franchise their first win. The magic is over, right?
As one of those football analysts says, "Not so fast, my friend."
While it may have not been the driest rainout in history (not being in St. Louis, I'm not sure what the weather actually did, but I know that at least earlier in the evening, there wasn't much coming down), it could have been one of the most important. Or it could have postponed the inevitable.
The difference may come down to Jaime Garcia and how well he can pitch tonight in Game 6. As we all know, Garcia is very tough at home and the Rangers have struggled some away from Rangers Park. All that said, this is a rematch of Game 2, a game that was 1-0 in the ninth inning. It's not that it's a walk for the Cards.
There have been a lot of stats thrown around, something that Jon and I talked about on the UCB Radio Hour yesterday evening. The Cards have won four of five when they have trailed 3-2 in the World Series. The home team has a significant edge in these kind of situations. There are all sorts of things you can look at and I'm sure there are a number of stats that back a Rangers win as well.
In my mind, you have to throw out any stat that doesn't apply directly to this team. This team didn't play in 1982, when the Cardinals came back home and took care of the Brewers. While I'd love to see history repeat itself, as it seemed to do a lot this summer as this team turned into the 1964 squad, it's tough to see where that's all that relevant.
What we do know is that the season hangs in the balance tonight. I like the position that the Cardinals are in, but I realize that the narrative works to the Rangers advantage as well. So many people looking forward to Game 7, the idea that the rainout works in the Cardinals' favor, all of that seems to lead to an opening sentence tomorrow morning of "The rain could delay the Rangers' parade, but it couldn't dampen it."
So I am significantly worried about this evening, as I think most Cardinal fans are. We can talk about who is going to go in Game 7, if Chris Carpenter will start again on three days' rest, if it'll be a bullpen game, if Derek Holland will take Matt Harrison's slot since he'll be fully rested. All of that is legitimate talk, but the Cards have to keep their focus on tonight.
(By the way, the great thing about Berkman returning for 2012 is more great Berkman quotes like this one: "You do feel the pressure. But if you can't hit in the fetal position you shouldn't play in the big leagues." Man, how great is it having this guy around?)
Somebody that will be returning is Adam Wainwright, who had his options officially exercised. I love the story that he begged to be put on the World Series roster, a request that was never really considered. But how great would it be to start Waino for 2-3 innings in Game 7? Would be amazing, in my mind. Really looking forward to having him back in the rotation next year.
Five years ago the Cardinals finished up the Tigers and won #10. Hopefully they can use today to stay in the hunt for #11.
I started Monday off with a dead battery in my car. I ended Monday with a dead battery in my team.
After Game 3, Cardinal fans were riding high. Albert Pujols had a career--make that historic--night and things were looking good. After Game 4, Cardinal fans tipped their cap to Derek Holland and realized that a 2-2 tie wasn't too bad with Chris Carpenter going the next night.
Nobody told us that it wasn't just Holland. It was more that the May Cardinals had returned.
Multiple opportunities to score wasted? Check. Double plays of all sorts and sizes? Check. Carpenter getting no run support? Check. A bullpen stumble? Check.
Look at this Series without Game 3. The Cardinals have scored six runs in four games. Pujols doesn't have a hit, I don't believe. The starting pitching has been very good, but the bullpen has two losses on its record. These are not the things that inspire confidence in a team.
As for last night, there is plenty of blame to go around, including communication equipment, apparently. My focus really is on Matt Holliday. Three times the Rangers intentionally walked Pujols to get to Holliday. Here's what happened:
Top of third: Pujols walked, meaning first and third with one out. Holliday grounds into a double play.
Top of fifth: Pujols walked, meaning first and third with two out. Holliday grounds out to shortstop.
Top of seventh: Pujols walked, meaning runner on first with two out. Holliday singles, moving Pujols to third and himself to second on the throw.
The seventh would have worked out if David Freese could have gotten a bases loaded hit with two down, but he couldn't. Still, that third inning really gets me. A fly ball, a groundout to the right side, something to get that run in besides a double play.
Of course, you have the bullpen issue, leaving in Marc Rzepczynski to face Mike Napoli (who will almost certainly be named MVP of the Series if the Rangers win, causing much more gnashing of teeth among Angels fans) because the bullpen coach heard "Lance Lynn" instead of "Jason Motte" and didn't have Motte ready to go. Which lead to the first pitching change to issue an intentional walk only.
How in the world this kind of mistake happens is almost inconceivable. What did Tony say, "Get me the beard" and they thought Lynn's scruff counted? Forget the bullpen phone, let's get flags for the dugout to wave. Red means Motte, green means Fernando Salas, the striped one means Rzepczynski. Why not? It's not like it's a big secret who they have asked for.
The ninth was all sorts of problems. Allen Craig, who'd already been cut down on a failed hit and run, took off with the count 3-2 on Albert with nobody out. Apparently AP called his on his own and if he'd been disciplined enough to go through with it, it'd been no harm, no foul. Instead, Pujols swung through ball 4, Craig is out and what had been a rally was snuffed out. Holliday walked next, but Lance Berkman struck out and was out by a step at home when the ball got away, a step that was probably the result of him not leaving out of the box immediately due to not being sure what had happened.
All in all, it was the ugliest game from all facets, hitting, pitching, managing. The only person to come out unscathed, really, is Chris Carpenter, who threw a heck of a game. He made two mistakes, one that Mitch Moreland put into the upper deck and one that Adrian Beltre hit while falling down. (Seriously, still not sure how Beltre hit that one that hard while landing on one knee.) Other than that, he took care of business in a manner befitting the ace of the staff. He deserved a much better fate.
Another unheralded point? Texas's defense is really good. If the Rangers win this series, it's going to be because they have made significant plays in the field. We've seen a game-saving play in every one of Texas's wins and David Murphy's catch to end the third might have saved another run and possibly been the difference.
Instead of those famous happy flights, the last trip of the season is a crappy flight. The Cards head home bloodied, but hopefully unbowed. There's still hope in this situation, even as we smart over the Game 5 loss.
You want hope? Let's talk hope. This wouldn't be a perennial nominee for Most Optimistic Blog in the Cardinal Blogger Awards if I couldn't give you some hope, now would it?
Let's talk about the fact that this isn't necessarily the biggest obstacle this team has faced this season. We know they were 10.5 games back and have extended their season beyond anyone's wildest dreams. We know that the Cards were down 1-0 to Philadelphia in a best of five and trailed Game 2 by four runs, but were able to respond. So far, this team has played its best baseball with no margin for error. In fact, the World Series was the only postseason series that they HADN'T trailed in, getting down twice to Philadelphia (forcing them to win two games in a row, one on the road) and trailing Milwaukee as well. They can rally.
You have Jaime Garcia going in Game 6 back in Busch Stadium. We saw what Garcia did the first time around and we know how well he does at home. If he can handle the pressure of an elimination game, if he can keep from coming unglued if something goes wrong, the Cards should be able to take that game. Colby Lewis did pitch well against Garcia in Game 2 and goes again in this one, but the Cards could and should be favored.
That gets you to a Game 7, where you never know what can happen. TLR will be using every body he can, mixing and matching since there's no tomorrow. So far, since the All-Star Game has "counted", there's not been a Game 7 and the home field advantage has never come into play. There's a first time for everything, and imagine how nuts things would go if Pujols hit a walk-off home run to win the World Series. As much as I'd hate to validate the ASG being tied to home field, I'm good with that.
Even if the Cardinals fail in this quest, though, there's a lot to be proud of. I got a NL Champions t-shirt this weekend and, while I've never rooted so hard for a piece of clothing to be dated, I'll be proud to wear it for a long time to come, because this team represents never giving up, fighting for what you want, never letting the odds determine what you do. Does this team still have that in them? We'll find out Wednesday night.
There's a lot of focus on Albert Pujols this morning and him deflecting the ball Jon Jay threw in enough that Yadier Molina couldn't get Elvis Andrus at second base, setting up first and second with nobody out. There's no doubt that some of the blame has to go there, but it wasn't the biggest issue of the inning, I don't think. Then again, your mileage may vary. There were so many to choose from.
--If you are an "announcer jinx" type of person, you had to hate hearing Joe Buck say that the Cards were playing in their 107th World Series game and they'd never had a 1-0 win in that time span.
--Maybe you want to go back an inning or so, when Daniel Descalso came up with runners on and two out instead of David Freese, who would have been in that slot if TLR hadn't done his regular defensive replacement move.
For me, though, I can't help but think back to that flare that Kinsler hit to start the inning. Another step closer and that ball is caught, there's one out, and Motte can go after Andrus with the crowd behind him and nobody on base. I don't blame TLR too much for having the "no doubles" defense in there, because you don't want to start an inning with a runner on second. Unfortunately, with Kinsler's speed, that's basically what happened.
I am also surprised somewhat that TLR did make the Rhodes/Motte move. It makes sense if runners are on first and second, I think, because you can get the out and even if the runners move up, you only risk a tie game if you can get Michael Young out. With a runner already at third, though, and nobody out, you need a strikeout. Rhodes, for all his value, wasn't going to give you that most likely. If Hamilton is fully healthy, the move is more defensible, but the idea that he was going to hit Motte's fastball (at least with any sort of authority) was really diminished by his groin injury.
You knew, though, that this was coming. I give credit to Kevin who called it on Twitter before the inning started, and while I teased him a bit, I had a low-level anxiety going as well. The narrative was that La Russa was a managing genius and the Cardinal bullpen was dominant. There came a time when the narrative was going to switch and after all the play of TLR on Thursday after Game 1, that time was likely coming soon.
And you have to give all sorts of credit to Texas on this one, not even counting their gutsy play in the ninth inning. They made the plays when they had to, especially Andrus having a diving stop and glove-hand flip that stopped a run from scoring in the fifth. If Furcal's hit goes through, the game takes on a different tone. It could have easily snowballed on Texas there, but they didn't let it. Which is why they won.
Overlooked in all of this, though, is the incredible, outstanding work that Jaime Garcia did. Seven scoreless innings after some shaky outings in the postseason. Getting the key outs, and then looking in line to get the win when Allen Craig--again--got the big base hit to drive in the tiebreaking run off of Alexi Ogando--again.
Now, even though the Cards are tied 1-1 just like they were after Game 2 of the NLDS and Game 2 of the NLCS, there's a little less optimism in the fanbase, I think. First off, in both of those series, they had split on the road and were coming home. Now, the Cardinals have to go down to Arlington, which isn't necessarily the best place for this team--and the starting pitchers scheduled--to play. The first two series, the Cards lost the first but won the second, meaning that happy flights and happy thoughts got to last for another day. This time, there's no happy flight--for the first time in 18 tries--and you have a down note to dwell on until Saturday's first pitch.
The Cards are going to be playing in warmer weather (it should be around 75-80 at game time, instead of 40-45) in a smaller ballpark and having their less pitchers in that environment. It's not exactly the mix that kept the low scores in the first two games, and the Cardinals really don't want to get into a slugfest. Kyle Lohse has a 0.71 GB/FB ratio in 2011, while Edwin Jackson has a 0.79 this season. (For comparison's sake, Chris Carpenter has a 0.88 this year in a down year for him, Garcia has a 1.15 and Jake Westbrook has a 1.47, the reason why some think he should get a start in Texas.) The Cardinals will also being going up against two lefties that they've not seen before (or not much, at least), which typically has been an issue for them. This may be Prince Fielder's revenge--if the Cards had started in Arlington and split, we'd feel a lot better.
Does that mean that this series is over? Not by a long shot.
First off, c'mon, what would this team do with a 2-0 lead? They can't do things the easy way, we know that by now. If you are down 1-0 in games and 4-0 on the scoreboard to Cliff Lee in a best of five series and are able to come back and win, this setback isn't going to crush your spirits.
Secondly, this team, unlike probably any in recent Cardinal memory, is set up to really take advantage of the DH rule. The Cards get to start Craig (which, granted, means he can't pinch hit with the game on the line, but you have to have tradeoffs) and make a potent lineup that much deeper. With lefties coming, you'd think Furcal/Craig/Pujols/Lance Berkman/Matt Holliday/David Freese/Molina/Jay/Nick Punto. That, my friends, is a darn solid lineup. There aren't going to be very many easy innings with that one out there.
Third, it's true that the Cards have in the past struggled with new pitchers, especially lefties. That said, the guys in this lineup have hit lefties and, down the stretch, even players they didn't have a lot of video on, they were able to beat. Matt Harrison had a very solid year this year, there's no doubt about it. He struggled in August, but righted the ship and was very effective down the stretch. Interestingly, lefties hit him harder than righties, which may mean Skip Schumaker gets the call instead of Punto. His ERA at home was .80 higher than his road ERA, closing in on four. He can be hit.
Derek Holland in Game 4 might be the Cards' best chance of getting things back on the winning track, though. Holland won a lot of games at home, but his ERA was 4.69 there. Like Holland, his August was weak but September was strong. His postseason ERA is over 5, which gives some hope as well.
Both of these guys are new to the World Series stage. While Lohse and Jackson haven't necessarily played in the Series, they are more experienced in big games and hopefully won't rattle with the spotlight on them.
If this team is able to take the quality at-bats that we've seen them take, you like their chances of taking at least one of Games 3 and 4. Then you have Carpenter in Game 5 and you'd hope to win that one. Come back and you need one of 6 or 7, and Garcia would go in 6 to give the best chance.
Is it easy? Heck no. Is it doable? Very. And this team has a habit of doing the difficult. As Mal says, "We have done the impossible and that makes us mighty."
I don't often deviate from writing about the Cardinals in this space. Recaps, analysis, predictions, all that sort of stuff. However, I am right now. If you aren't a religious person, you may want to skip this one. I don't think it's overtly offensive to those that aren't Christian, but your tolerance level may be at a different place than mine is. No hard feelings if you skip this one, as long as you come back for more Cardinal talk later. (And, really, even if you don't return, there's still no hard feelings on this end.)
Anyway, when I was looking over the Google analytics for the blog earlier this week, I noticed a lot of people were reaching this blog by looking for "the meaning of happy flight". For some reason, that struck me not just as a Cardinal fan, but as a Christian.
If, for some reason, you are coming to this post not as a Cardinal fan, but one that is curious about the "happy flight" phrase, let me first give you what you are looking for. Back in August, the team--I believe it started with Rafael Furcal, actually--started using that label as a goal. If the Cardinals could win the game before they left town, the flight to their next location (home or away) would be a happy one. The Cards kept winning those games (and others as well) and made a miraculous push to the playoffs. The phrase "happy flight" now resounds as a catchphrase on those days, as evidenced by the team chanting it on the field in Milwaukee after they had won the National League Championship Series and punched their ticket for the Fall Classic.
The baseball reasoning behind the term is a fun story, one that will always be associated with the 2011 Cardinals. However, you could put some religious meaning behind it as well.
As a Christian, I believe in the ultimate flight, that at some point all will ascend to heaven for judgement, whether when we pass away or on the actual Judgement Day. That will happen. The question is, will it be a happy flight? Will the results be what we want?
The Cardinals are always going to take a flight when they have to change cities, just like we will take that eventual ultimate flight. However, they have to put in the time, put in the work, play the game the right way to have a "happy flight."
We as Christians have to do the same. We have to live our lives as if the flight is tomorrow. That means making sure we have a good relationship with God and that we love our neighbor as ourselves. There's no time for pettiness or selfishness. We're working for that happy flight, and the toil and sweat of this earth, just like any blemishes in a winning game, will be quickly forgotten as we chant "happy flight."
Anyway, I hope that those that aren't Christian aren't offended by this, but it came to me and, as this is a baseball blog, it seemed appropriate. (It's also my baseball blog, which seems somewhat relevant!) I have another baseball-Christianity connections, such as the stitching on the baseball and the connection between Lent and spring training, but I'll spare you those unless the response to this demands that.
Of course, if you are interested in the intersection of baseball and Christianity, at least in the aspect of ballplayers writing about their faith, be sure to check out the E-Fellowship blog that players such as Adam Wainwright, Blake Hawksworth, and others contribute to.
Here's hoping the Cardinals have a baseball happy flight tonight!
After a series where the starters had nothing and the bullpen reigned supreme, a little more baseball order was restored on a very cold night in St. Louis. The temperatures and the moisture in the air might have helped keep balls in the ball park, but there's no doubt that Carpenter had the stuff you expect out of your ace. He made one mistake, a ball that got up to Mike Napoli, who turned on it and roped it down the line for a two-run home run. Other than that, he kept the fearsome Texas offense in check, getting numerous groundballs and never letting Texas really threaten a big inning.
Then, just like in the NLCS, Tony La Russa made exactly the right moves. He pulled Carpenter in the top of the seventh and sent Allen Craig up with two on and two out. All Craig did was plate the winning run and, if the ball hadn't bounced just the right way on Nelson Cruz, could have added a run or two of insurance as well. The bullpen was lights out again, with only Fernando Salas stumbling a bit (allowing a walk and a hit), but Marc Rzepczynski struck out both batters he faced with two on and one out in the seventh to keep the score at 3-2.
There were a lot of positive signs coming out of this game. There were still the good at-bats that we've seen most of the last two months. The Cardinals hit the ball hard at times off of C.J. Wilson and the Texas bullpen, even if they didn't always have something to show for it. For example, David Freese roped one to center that looked like it'd have gone out of the ballpark if the temperature had been about 65 instead of 45. Late in the game Rafael Furcal hit one that got the crowd excited as well before Cruz ran it down right at the warning track.
However, Cardinal fans can't start planning parade routes just yet. The Cardinals really had to win this game and they did. Texas probably didn't have to win it to get a title. There is still some significant work to be done and hopefully Jaime Garcia is up to the task.
Plus, how will the Cardinals react to actually having a lead after the first game of a series? The stats show that the team that wins Game 1 wins the Series 19 of the last 23 times. Since 1993, the home team winning Game 1 and the World Series winner have been one and the same. However, there were similar stats for the NLDS and the NLCS and the Cards bucked them. There's no reason why Texas can't buck them in this Series.
Granted, I like where the Cardinals are sitting now, I liked how they played last night, and I'd much rather be up one game than down one game. I just don't think we can get all that comfortable yet, even if they are sticking to the plan. A Game 2 victory would help me feel much more secure.
What are the odds of that? Well, it is Jaime Garcia at home and we know how effective he's been there. Looking at the Rangers' overall stats, it doesn't look like there is much difference between how Texas hits lefthanders vs. how they hit righthanders. However, they are a significantly less powerful team on the road, so the Cards have that going for them.
We'll probably hear a lot about how the Rangers' Game 2 pitcher, Colby Lewis, is the inverse of Garcia, how he's much better on the road than at home. It's a true statement--teams slug 100 points less against him when he's not in Arlington. That's probably because he's a pretty extreme fly ball pitcher (GB/FB 0.70). Those balls are not likely to carry in a cold Busch Stadium either, so the Cards are going to have to hit line drives and grounders through the infield to win this one. (Lewis does have a really cool birthday, something I'm pretty sure Christine Coleman will agree with me on.)
I like the Cards' chances in this one and would really like to go to Texas up 2-0. Let's make that happen, Redbirds.
Couple of quick notes before I wrap this up. First off, you can see my response to KMOV's inquiry about what the Cards have to do to win the Series over here. Secondly, I do want to note that I have a short baseball/religious metaphor coming this afternoon. If you are not a Christian and don't care to read about things like that, you may want to skip it. It's not deep and it's not preachy, but just wanted to give fair warning.
Game time is 7:05 tonight. Let's hope for the same results as last night!