Sometimes it’s easy for baseball teams to fold and call it a season. After 110 games and the grueling pace, a team can show signs of wear and tear. The genuine thrill of baseball is keeping a consistent positive vibe for 6 months and 162 games. Day in and day out, you must compete. There is barely a break in the season. No 6 day wait or 48 hour grace period. If you lose bad one night, there’s a good chance the sun will rise the next morning and you will have a chance to redeem yourself. Baseball is a romantic and bittersweet sport to follow. It begins in the spring, when everything is growing and blossoming. It ends at the dawn of winter, when everything starts to die and get cold. We are in the middle of August, and if one thing is for certain, the 2013 Cardinals aren’t dying anytime soon. They are simply surviving and waiting for their chance to dominate. They won a 14 inning battle with their new rival, the Pittsburgh Pirates, last night. Several teams win extra inning battles. Some do it twice a week. The Cards don’t win a lot of extra inning games nor have they walked off much this year. They don’t come back after the 8th inning. Last night was the first win the Cards had after trailing going into the ninth since last October’s Game 5 electrifying comeback against the Washington Nationals. You can say they were due.
How did they do it? Well it wasn’t easy and involved more peculiar managerial tactics and moves and gave any fan the resignation that this game was going to end up a loss. The Cards were down 3-0 early, before the stadium of Busch could fill up. Adam Wainwright gives up his runs early and settled down. He threw 126 pitches and finished 7 innings, which seemed like overzealous performance until you realized the game was going to last 7 more additional innings. Waino was tough and a general as usual. He didn’t let up and welt in the summer sun like Jake Westbrook can do on occasion after an early assault. Waino gave his team a chance to win. Several times this season, Waino has pitched well and deserved better. You don’t have 13 wins with a 2.71 ERA for no reason.
The Cards got back into the game with a 2 run 6th inning. After loading the bases, David Freese grounded into what seemed like his 40th double play. While it scored 1 run, Freese didn’t register any lower on my “Get your shit together” scale. He has had a troubling season plagued by inconsistency unseen beforehand. Jon Jay got the big hits tonight, and stroked a run scoring single to make the score 3-2. Jay, the past 10 days, has been a breath of fresh air since his switch back to the more comfortable 6th or 7th spot in the order. While this season has seen his batting average hit as low as .251, Jay has become an unlikely RBI man in the order. Sure, he won’t throw anybody out at home plate, but he makes fine catches in centerfield and plays the game fundamentally sound. He has made the CF question for 2014 a bit more interesting. He played a part in the 14th inning rally as well.
Always lost in a big Cards win is the performance of the bullpen. It wasn’t majorly discussed after the game that they threw 7 shutout innings and gave the sputtering offense extra chances to win the game. Trevor Rosenthal, Edward Mujica, Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist and Sam Freeman combined to hold the Pirates at bay and turn the Pittsburgh lineup into cold brittle wood shavings for the last half of the game. The Pirates only managed 4 hits after the 2nd inning. The MVP of the night was easily the Cards bullpen, an underrated facet to the 2013 surge.
Yes, the night will go down as the event where left fielder Starlin Marte dropped a routine fly ball in the 9th and allowed the Cards to keep playing, giving way to the Wrench, Allen Craig, having the chance to tie the game with an RBI single. For all the people yelling at Carlos Beltran for running into an out, I think he was doing that to ensure that the tying run scored. Only reason I can see for that. Yes, he did that on his own.
Yes, Mike Matheny loves his bunts. He felt the need to make Jon Jay bunt in the bottom of the 10th after the first two reached and a pinch runner took over for Matt Holliday, whose ankle twisted returning to first on a pickoff attempt. Why bunt there? Jay had 3 hits already and has handled the bat very well on the homestand. This is where I don’t see eye to eye or even chin to chin with Matheny. He has one of the hottest hitters in the lineup give an out to the other team. If you bring in a pinch runner for Holliday at second base, let him stay there and see if Jay can stroke another single and win the game. Instead Jon Jay bunts, they walk pinchhitter Adron Chambers(the eventual hero), get Kozma to strike out and Daniel Descalso flies out. Threat over.
When Holliday left, that was a big bat leaving the lineup. and you saw the effect of that move in the later innings. Nobody envisioned Seth Maness with two chances to win the game, but when David Freese(double switch) and Holliday leave the game before everyone else, your lineup gets weaker. Holliday had a mild ankle sprain and the x-rays didn’t reveal a break, so there was reason for his departure. Freese isn’t a hot hitter, but not sure I’d take him out so soon. Tony La Russa did this too. Took the big bullets out of his lineup like he knew the game wouldn’t go 14 innings. Extra innings are special because pitchers don’t just pitch and position players do all sorts of things and heroics.
The Cards have tasted the bitter tinge of bad luck in their month long struggles. Line drives being caught. Defensive shifts hurting them. None hurt more than when Matt Adams came up in the 8th inning last night with a chance to tie the game and lined a sure single towards right field. 10-15 feet into the outfield, Neil Walker made a leaping catch. That is the way it goes when your team is struggling. You don’t get the breaks, bounces or easy routes. You fight for everything and earn it all.
So when Jon Jay slapped a single off the glove of the shortstop to start the 14th inning, stole second, and eventually scored on Chambers’ base hit to left field that saw Jay barely miss the tag of Russell Martin at home plate, I didn’t feel the need to apologize to the baseball gods. The Cards have endured a lot of bumps and bruises along the way this season and have earned the right to get a little lucky the next 2-3 weeks. Look at Seth Maness inducing his 14th double play in the 13th inning after Andrew McCutchen stood at third base with nobody out. Look at Marte’s drop. All this points to maybe the Cards starting to get the breaks.
On Thursday, they get the biggest break when Yadi Molina returns from the disabled list, right knee ready to go. Without Yadi, the team has been in pure survival mode. Yadi means so much to the confidence of this team, the pitching staff, the shutdown of the running game and the overall mindset of this team. He can also hit .330 and drive in runs. Without him in the lineup, our group looks a little exposed towards the bottom of the order. Having Yadi back will help a ton. Getting our navigator leadoff man Matt Carpenter back on track will help the run scoring flow again.
Tonight, we get a tough lefthander in Francisco Liriano. He beat us up in Pittsburgh two weeks ago which means there is a score to settle. It would be stupid to think the lasting effects of the loss won’t have an effect on the Pirates going forward. They may not fall off the map but their team and bullpen were drained last night. They had a chance to put us down 4 games. Instead, the Cards are back 2 with a chance to get more and look hungry. That is why it is hard to count out the Redbirds. Too many head to head matchups with the Pirates and the lacking presence of Yadi on the field. Like I said, this team is in survival mode. When Yadi gets back, it may be on to domination mode. One thing is always for certain with this team. We are always up for a fight.
Until next time,