I just finished watching the Cardinal game. Unbelievable! My heart is still pounding.
For anybody who needs a recap, I’d love to give you one.
His name is Gary Bennett. In over a decade of professional ball, he has played for 7 different clubs and is in his first year as a Cardinal. He’s the backup catcher to one of the best defensive catchers in the game, Yadier Molina. Before this year, he had a total of 15 home runs, the most being 4 in one year back in 2002, when he was with the Rockies. Big surprise there……Coors field.
This year he was homer-less until August 18th, when he belted a rather meaningless home run against Chicago Cub hurler Roberto Novoa in the Cardinal’s 11-3 rout of the Cubs. To me, it was just proof of how bad the Cubs were playing. You know, the "even Bennett hit one out" argument. Little did I (or probably the rest of Cardinal nation) know that this was the beginning of one very very hot streak. In the 10 days since that game, Molina has been sidelined with an injury and Bennet has now caught 5 games in that timespan.
In those five games, he has hit .692 and is slugging 1.286. In those same five games, he has hit 3 more home runs and has been the walk-off hero twice. If that’s not a ‘hot streak,’ I don’t know what is.
I thought it couldn’t get any better than beating the Cubs on Saturday walk-off style in the 9th. And then there was Sunday. Bases loaded, bottom of the 9th, one out. Miles grounds into the fielder’s choice at home and just barely beats out catcher Michael Barrett’s attempt to turn two at first. So, now you have the bases loaded with 2 out. And, as hot as he’s been going, there is no Cardinal I’d rather see stride to the plate than Gary Bennett. But, still you think….he wouldn’t dare do it again, would he? And, then he did. His first ever big league grand slam. And the celebration happened all over again.
Bennett has the Cardinals 3 games up in the standings and riding high. If the team wanted to feel motivated, I can’t think of anything that would do it better than someone hitting a grand slam in the bottom of the 9th to beat the Cubs. And, someone other than Albert. Don’t get me wrong. I love Albert. We’d be nowhere this high in the standings without him. But, I think that had he led off the inning with a homer, it would be easy to think, "Well, that’s Albert. That’s what he does." Instead, it was a team effort: moving runners up, hustling out throws. When you have a true championship-caliber team, everyone pitches in. One game it’s your big 3-4-5 knocking the stuffing out of the ball and other games it’s someone winning it was a squeeze or a tremendous pitching peformance. And many many times, someone unexpected comes through when nobody else could.
One more thing and I’m done. Scott Rolen is my favorite player for a lot of reasons, but tonight he was exceptional. (And that’s saying a lot for the human vacumn cleaner over at 3rd.) One of the best plays of the game was his single into right in the first. Jaque Jones misplayed the ball and Rolen, hustling all the way, turned an already RBI single into a run that tied the game up. If that had been anybody else, they would have trotted to first, then seeing that the ball had gotten past PIerre gone to 2nd and MAYBE third. But, because Rolen hustles everything (even his home run trot), he scores on that play. Eckstein is the only other guy I see scoring in a similar situation.
In the 2nd, he made a great diving catch for the third out in the inning. He doesn’t make that play, it’s a fair ball that results in at least one run and maybe 2 and keeps the inning alive.
Rolen wasn’t the only one who played well. Belliard had a very nice play up the middle and other guys as well. But, Rolen really stands out because of his hustle and his drive. You don’t have him being that consistent and Bennett never gets the chance to play the hero.
What a game, what a series. A friend I played softball with back in school and I were talking today about what it’s like to be in that situation. Bottom 9 and your team has the chance to win a big game. The sick sinking feeling of every pitch as you watch it play out or even more gut wrenching, if you’re in the batter’s box. And then the absolute thrill of victory. And, I’m talking mere high school/college ball. I can’t imagine the feeling these guys must have on the MLB level, how Gary Bennett must be feeling right now.
He and his teammates have one day off to enjoy it before coming back, tackling the Marlins and hopefully adding something to their lead in the NL Central.
I don’t know about you guys, but it’s starting to feel like October.
Feeling the October magic,