Wednesday, August 6, 2008

gotta have faith

It's getting harder and harder to envision the Cards in playoff contention. I still believe they can do it, though... I refuse to give up. After all, lately the Brewers have shown how little cohesion they have as a team, and without them in the way, the Redbirds have a wide open door to the Wild Card. 

Last night basically summed up the season for the Redbirds... at least I hope it did. (See the end of the post for an explanation.) 

Yes, the bullpen (specifically Izzy, but I'll get into that later) gave back every hard-fought run, but in the end, after much chagrin, the offense was able to deliver a win. (Did that rhyme? Sorry.) 

To the casual observer, this game may have seemed tense, messy, even ugly. And it was. But you have to look beyond the ninth inning meltdown to find the true spirit of the game and this team. 

pre-game: Chris Carpenter was sidelined with injury for well over a year, and now that he's back, he operates under pitch-count limitations. Going into the game he was already predestined to leave after 80-85 pitches. He's the ace, and Tony will take no chances with his arm. 

innings 1-5: Carp got through the first five only allowing three hits, and finished having only thrown 51 pitches. If the damn rain hadn't come in (or should I say, if the damn umps hadn't called for the tarp with a slight mist coming down) who knows how much farther into the game he'd have gone. It's best not to speculate, I suppose. 

bottom of the first: Albert ended a too-long Oh-fer streak with a single up the left side and then stole second (with a little help from the LA catcher who couldn't handle the ball), but nothing came of it. 

bottom of the fifth: The Cards opened up the scoring when Kennedy drove in Izturis. Kennedy doesn't play much, and when he does he usually seems a little rusty (as should be expected). Last night, however, when we needed him to, he made it work. Adam went 3 for 6 in the game, a sight above his season average of .260 or so. Kennedy has really improved his game since last year when many were questioning his abilities both at the plate and in the field. 

bottom of the sixth: This was a disappointment. The bases were loaded and the only RBI we came out of it with was thanks to Rick Ankiel getting hit by a pitch. 

bottom of the seventh: Kennedy singled (for the second time) ahead of Albert, and then Albert reminded us why he's the best in the game. A two-run shot put the 'Birds up four to nothing. 

the bullpen: Brad Thompson was on. Three batters, three ground-outs, 1-2-3. 

Kyle McClellan needed a few more pitches than I would have liked, but after giving up the only hit he would allow, he got a double play to end the seventh inning, and then another to end the eighth after a one-out walk. 

Ron Villone came in for the ninth because with a four-run lead, there was no save situation and therefore no closer. Unfortunately, the lefty he was brought in to face was Andruw Jones, the switch hitter, and he opted to bat right-handed. Even worse, he opted to turn it on for this game and hit his third home run of the season. (Yes, Andruw Jones. I'm not sure if it's more surprising that he hit a home run or that he only has three this season. I guess that depends on how closely you follow the Dodgers.) And that's where things went terribly, horribly wrong. 

Jason Isringhausen, who may not be a professional baseball player much longer, was completely ineffective and maybe even a little sloppy. 

Two more runs would score for LA before Tony finally pulled his closer, and then Ryan Franklin came in to clean things up and allowed another of Izzy's baserunners to score. He was able to get the final two outs of the inning, though, possibly thanks to the squirrel. That left us tied at four going into the bottom of the ninth. 

Franklin pitched again in the tenth and gave up two hits but got out of a bases-loaded jam without giving up any more runs. 

Jaime García came in for the eleventh and was very good. He walked one, but didn't allow any hits or runs, and kept the tie intact for one more inning. 

bottom of the ninth: A single and a walk were followed by a fielder's choice and and a high fly to left that ended that particular threat. 

bottom of the tenth: With two out, Miles and Izturis each singled, but Schu couldn't get the ball past the second baseman and that was the end of that. 

bottom of the eleventh: Kennedy singled again in a clutch spot (good for you, Adam), Albert slapped at one that was waaaay out of the zone and popped it up for the first out, and then...

Ryan Ludwick sauntered to the plate. 

He owned four homers over the weekend. 

He hit one deep to left center, and that was the game. 

So here's how it breaks down: 
►The Cardinals' starter was sharp, but only pitched five innings. 
►The Cardinals scored early, but were unable to add on late in the game. 
►The bullpen leaked and gave up the tying run, denying the starter a "W". 
►Instead of playing small ball, the Cardinals offense depended mostly on the long ball to score. 
►The 'Birds stranded almost as many runners as they had hits. 
►Rain delays interrupted the game. 
►The Redbirds did not play spectacularly well at home. 
►The 'Birds were 1 for 2 in stolen bases. 
►The first and second spots in the lineup combined to hit over .400. 
►Pujols hit .400. 
►Glaus hit a double. 
►Ludwick had an extended hitless streak (0-5), then came through in the clutch. 
►The defense was sharp; they did not commit an error, and they turned three double plays. 

With a few tweaks, this breakdown could be applied to any one game or the entire season. Go ahead, try it. 

I was tempted (more than once) to go to bed and let them sort it out by themselves, but I stuck it out and stayed up. I am glad I did. 

In other news: Wainwright is getting closer to returning. After his latest test (throwing pitches to some of the Cardinals' hitters) he said, "My arm felt good and my finger felt great." He's supposed to start in Memphis on Saturday. 

The 'Birds signed recently released SS/2B Felipe López and sent Brendan Ryan down to Memphis. We'll see how this works out. Sometimes you find gold, and sometimes it's just a shiny rock. 

Someday Rick Ankiel will be back in the lineup, and I'm waiting none-too-patiently.