Amazing how quickly things can go from great to iffy, huh?
Before Game 4, all the momentum was in the Cardinals' direction. They'd pounded the Nationals in the last two games and looked to wrap this thing up quickly. Instead, as we've frustratingly seen so often this year, the offense didn't support Kyle Lohse and we get a Game 5 today.
Lohse did an outstanding job, only giving up a home run to Adam LaRoche in the second inning (which has been the Cardinals' bugaboo--save for Game 3 they've given up a run in the second every game). He never really had much of a challenge either, allowing just two hits and a walk in his seven innings of work. Mitchell Boggs threw a scoreless inning before Mike Matheny turned to Lance Lynn.
It's tough to blame Lynn for this loss. Anytime you get late in a tie game on the road, one mistake can be the difference in the ballgame. Jayson Werth battled up there to lead off the ninth, going 13 pitches before finally getting the one he wanted and launching it out of the ballpark. There are times you just have to tip your cap to the other team and I think yesterday's game is one of those times.
Granted, having a little more consistency from the strike zone would have been a nice thing. Matt Holliday was rung up late in the game on three straight pitches that he looked at, none of which actually touched the zone according to GameDay. Yadier Molina came up next and wound up striking out on an outside pitch he normally wouldn't have swung at, but he was afraid it'd been called a strike anyway.
I thought that when the game went to the bullpens the Cardinals might have the edge, but Washington's pen was outstanding, striking out eight of the nine outs they recorded and not allowing but a couple of runners, if that. I feel like the Cards were in good shape if they had gotten to the 10th, what with the top of the lineup up, but unfortunately the Nationals had their top of the lineup due in the ninth, and, well......
You know, I hate to say it but this series is looking dangerously like the regular season. The Cards have outscored the Nats 23-9, yet are in danger of losing the series. St. Louis was able to put up a large run differential in the regular season, only to not be able to get their record close to what the Pythagorean record indicated.
The Cardinals are now where they didn't want to be. They wanted to use Adam Wainwright in Game 1 of the NLCS, not to finish off the NLDS. They wanted Gio Gonzalez to be headed home, not headed to the mound. They wanted to be flying to San Francisco, not bussing to the ballpark.
Now this isn't the toughest spot most of the players have seen. Last year, the Cards went to Game 5 of the NLDS in a hostile environment against one of the best pitchers of our generation and played a classic. You hate to rely too much on last year, though, because last year just gives the story an ironic twist. You could see a story starting, "Just like last year, the Cardinals refuse to die," or you could see "Gio Gonzalez did what Roy Halladay didn't do." The narrative works either way. Experience is a factor, but history is history.
Let's be honest, this is going to be a tough one for the Cards. Assuming that Gonzalez has worked through his wildness, which he seemed to do as the game went along in Game 1 and would be the safest way to bet, St. Louis is going to have a tall order here. In 14 innings against him this year, the Redbirds have mustered six hits and two runs. The only time he faced them at home, he shut them out over nine. The Cards will have a little more familiarity with him now, but that only goes so far.
Thankfully Wainwright is going up against him. There's no doubt that Waino would like to emulate Chris Carpenter in this one, putting his team on his back and taking them into the next series. He sure looked capable of that last time, striking out 10 and allowing just one run. If we get six innings of great ball out of him, I feel pretty confident about turning it over to the pen. (Though seven would be even better!)
Remember, momentum is tomorrow's starting pitcher. The Yankees had all the momentum in the world after Raul Ibanez's performance two nights ago, plus were the favored team at home. Instead, they'll play again today as the Orioles were able to hold them off. This momentum arrow can swing around again.
I hate to sound like a downer and I'm not really. I think the Cards have an excellent chance to win today and move on. I surely hope they do that, because #12in12 would be amazing. It's just going to be a much tougher road than I'd like to see. I think the Cards need to get ahead early--the longer the game goes tied or with a Nationals lead, the stronger Washington's pitching will be and the louder the crowd will be. As Tony La Russa used to say, wish for "a five-spot in the first." It'd definitely help a lot of the anxious stomachs in Cardinal Nation.
Cards actually get to play a night game for the first time in this postseason. Hopefully the can adjust to those things they call lights. The season all comes down to this--let's hope there's more of it to come. Let's go Cardinals!
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