And to think, we almost made it through the season without an Incident.
You know, one of those moments where the national press and those that think the worst of the Cardinals get a chance to moralize or condemn the squad as "whiners". Without Tony La Russa, we'd been relatively free of the drama that had surrounded this team in the last few years.
This time, though, we aren't talking about lights on the field or a blowup with a reporter. We're talking the health and continued playability of Yadier Molina, something much more important (and much less deserving of the crybaby label that some love to put on this team).
You know by now that Josh Harrisonplowed into Molina at the plate last night, throwing a forearm shiver at his head instead of trying for the hook slide or at least crashing into the body. If you for some reason haven't seen it or want to refer to it, this is what it looked like.
Looking at the responses on Twitter, even Pirate fans were not pleased with what Harrison did. As they pointed out, if he tries to hook slide, he's probably safe and the game goes on. Instead, he wanted to be the football player and tried to take out Molina, which you have to know isn't happening. I heard that in some versions, they replaced Gandalf with Molina for the famous "You shall not pass" scene because it made it more believable.
Folks, you know it's serious when Molina has to be helped off the field. Molina is a rock in this lineup, already playing on a bad ankle because he wants to help the team. To see him roll around on the field and have to leave the game, well, it's not surprising that it stirred up some passions in the clubhouse.
When you have a former catcher whose career ended due to concussions and a TLR-trained team that (for whatever your opinion of it) feel like they've been trained to play the game the "right way", a dirty play like that is not going to go unanswered. (To be fair, I don't think Harrison intended to harm Molina, but ignorance isn't necessarily a defense.) Sadly, one of the highlights of Jake Westbrook's night was his plunking of Harrison later on, to send a message that his sort of play wasn't tolerated.
Both sides were warned after that, of course, but Clint Hurdle came out to argue that ruling. Apparently, that didn't set well with the keeper of the flame. The Warrior was with the team in Pittsburgh and in fine form as well. We heard earlier in the day that Chris Carpenter had thrown a bullpen session (more on that in a bit), but I'm pretty sure he was wanting to fire one past Hurdle right then. If nothing else, sitting on the bench hasn't diluted Carp's fiery competitiveness. I know I would never want to be on his bad side!
Thankfully, there doesn't seem to be any lasting injuries with Molina, who was diagnosed with multiple strains but no concussion or anything of the sort. Molina is the player this team can probably least afford to lose for an extended period of time. The Cardinals are covering just in case, sending down Brandon Dickson (who wouldn't be able to help more this week anyway and will possibly return when the rosters expand) and Ryan Jackson (who barely has gotten to play in his time in the bigs) so as to recall Trevor Rosenthal and Bryan Anderson. If it's like the last time Anderson came up, he'll never get into a game, but it's good to have that insurance behind Tony Cruz.
At the time of the Incident, it was 1-0. Sadly, it didn't stay that way but even if it had, it likely would have just added to the pile of one-run losses that the Cards have endured. James McDonald has been able to get no one out since the All-Star Break except those wearing the birds on the bat. McDonald now has a string of 14 scoreless innings against the club in the last two weeks, allowing only two hits over that span. Pedro Alvarez continues to destroy Cardinal pitching, launching two home runs and going 4-5. Nothing about last night went the Cardinals way. (Versus the Cards, Alvarez has four home runs in 49 at-bats and his hitting .347/.429/.633, well above his season totals of .240/.321/.462.)
Westbrook gets the Goat, throwing his second straight ugly start after signing the contract extension. It got away from him in the fifth, where trailing by 3-0 he let it run up to 7-0 before he got an out. Mike Matheny left him out there to save the pen, because it seemed unlikely the club was coming back anyway, and it gave him the chance to retaliate against Harrison. Dickson was able to absorb the rest of the game, allowing just one earned run (two total) in his three innings and looking much better than what we saw from him in Cincinnati.
Tough to give a Hero to a team that only got five hits, so let's give it to Molina. He had one of those and obviously gave his all for the team last night.
The better and more intriguing news of yesterday was the bullpen session of Carpenter and the resulting speculation that, just maybe, Carp's not done for 2012. The club isn't completely ruling out that Carpenter could be a bullpen option down the stretch, which would make for an exciting option in September. I don't expect it will happen, but those involved were being awfully noncommittal. You'd have expected a more definite "no, he should be ready for spring but not going to push him before that" if that wasn't at least on the minds of those making decisions. If nothing else, seeing Carpenter on a major league mound would put John Mozeliak's mind at ease when he goes into the offseason.
We've never seen Carp in the pen. Would he be able to get out of that starter mentality and go right at people? Uh, yeah, probably. The problem might be controlling that aggression! The bigger issue would be if he could go on shorter rest, if he could warm up quickly, those things that are different about a starter than a reliever. I'd definitely be willing to find out, though!
Big rubber game of the series tonight. Cards need it to keep any sort of momentum going, Pirates need it to stay relevant in the wild-card hunt. The Cardinals have to put last night behind them and, to their credit, we saw them do that in just the last series, getting blown out by Cincy and then coming back to take the last game. Need a little repeating history here.
Joe Kelly gets back into the rotation and goes today. He was solid against the Pirates in that extra-inning game, giving up one run in 5.2 innings. Obviously, Pittsburgh hasn't seen him much, but he's gotten them out when he has faced them.
He was able to handle Alvarez, which is huge. If he pitches like he has most of the year, the Cards should have a good chance to win.
Of course, they are going up against one of their nemeses in Wandy Rodriguez. Rodriguez often handled the Cardinals in Houston and pitched the last two innings of the extra-inning affair, getting the win.
Matt Holliday has done well against him and, if Carlos Beltran wasn't "lost" (his words), this might be a good matchup for him as well. The Cardinals are really going to have to battle tonight and show that they want this win. Here's hoping they get it!
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