In 2000, the Cardinals won the Central Division and was paired against the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS. Cardinals manger, Tony LaRussa made a surprising move, opting to start rookie pitching sensation, Rick Ankiel in Game 1 of that series, rather than established starter Daryl Kile. In the 3rd inning, millions of Cardinal fans watched Ankiel implode on the mound. Ball after ball sailed over the catcher to the backstop as suddenly Rick Ankiel could no longer find the strikezone. He ended up walking 4 guys, throwing several wild pitches, allowing 4 runs to score.
Ankiel and Cardinal fans alike called it a fluke. And because the Redbirds advanced to the NLCS, it seemed like nothing more than an answer to future trivia questions. But in the NLCS, Ankiel again could not find the strikezone against the New York Mets. He was booted after only 20 pitches when 20% of his pitches again found their way to the backstop.
This time the Cardinals would not advance, as the Mets went on to take the series and advance to the World Series.
Flash forward to 2010.
This time Ankiel is a name known to all baseball fans. But he’s no longer known as a hard throwing kid in his rookie season, sporting highlighted blonde hair. He’s a griseled veteran, who has transformed himself into an outfielder with an elite arm. He worked himself back to the Majors, as a potential offensive threat as well. He did well with the Cardinals until there was no room for him any longer. He spent some of the season, playing with the going-nowhere Kansas City Royals before being traded to Atlanta.
How interesting it is that Rick is back in the postseason, playing for the very team that he first fell apart against. But this time he has stepped up to the challenge. Not only has he been successful, he has been the hero. In game 2, Ankiel hit the game-winning home run in the 11th inning.
How do you follow what Chris Carpenter did on Saturday night? Rookie of the Year candidate Jaime Garcia only needed 89 pitches to show you exactly how.
Sunday afternoon’s game promised to be a matchup of two southpaws who both at times have been very dominant. But in the rubber match game vs. the Giants, Jaime Garcia looked like the veteran against the floundering Barry Zito. It’s hard to believe how far Zito has fallen. He was once as good as anybody in the league when back when he pitched for the A’s and before he landed one of the biggest contracts ever forked over for a pitcher. (Lesson learned: big name pitchers earning big money usually disappoint, even if they are lefties….ahem, Mark Mulder.)
On the other side, Jaime Garcia is a rookie still carving out a name for himself. But after today, I don’t think many Giants players will forget him. After 8 2/3 innings, he had only faced the minimum, thanks to two double plays by his defense. That was spoiled one at-bat later thanks to a single by Nate Schierholtz. But Garcia composed himself and got leadoff man, Aaron Rowand, to end the game on a groundball to shortstop, Brendan Ryan. That groundball was his bread and butter, as the Giants pounded that ball at him, Ryan and newcomer Pedro Feliz. But the defense looked good backing up Garcia’s dominant performance. In the end, he 3 hit the Giants, for his first career complete game and his first career shutout. In the process, he walked none, while striking out 6.
The last time Garcia looked this good was vs. the Mets, where he didn’t get the win because he was let down by his offense. That game, you might remember, ended up going an incredible 20 innings before the Cardinals lost 2-1. This time around, the bats would not falter. They hit Zito hard and they hit him early, chasing him after only 3 2/3 inning of work. It was nice to see the offense participating up and down the lineup. The hits, runs and RBI were contributed in some way by all of the starters. And that’s exactly what the Cardinal lineup is capable of when they’re in their groove. And we should be seeing that kind of production on a regular basis. My ONLY complaint today was Matt Holiday. Yes, he did get a hit and drive in one run, but they walked Albert in front of him twice and one of those was intentional. Both times he failed to come through. If we’re going to do anything in the playoffs, Holliday has to make teams pay or else Albert will be walked every at-bat. It wasn’t a big deal in a game like this, but in tight playoff games, every run counts and we need him to produce in those clutch situations.
Other than that, a good day for the Redbirds! it’s just too bad that LA couldn’t take down the Reds. For us, we move on to Pittsburgh. Kyle Loshe is the last man I want on the mound, but if I had to pick a team for him to pitch against, I guess it would be the Pirates.
Thinking someone bought Garcia dinner tonight,
So that’s it. Swept. BY THE PIRATES. I cannot even begin to explain
to you how much that disgusts me. The Pirates! The last place Pirates
who have won a grand total of…..drumroll please…..63 games all
year. Talk about playing the roll of spoiler.
So that’s it. As
I said, it wasn’t enough to win 1….we needed to take 2 to stay in the
October hunt. And instead, we have been swept by the third worst team
in the National League. In my mind, it’s over. Not because it’s
impossible to win. 4 1/2 back isn’t impossible. In fact, quite the
opposite. It would be quite possible to gain 4 1/2 games, especially
with the remaining schedule that some of those teams have. No, I think
it’s over because the Cardinals don’t seem to have that will to win.
In 2006, I believed that the Cardinals were going to win their
Even when it looked bleak, I believed they were
going to do it. And I believed that they were going to beat the
Padres, the Mets and even the Tigers. Because they played the whole
year like they were going to do it. They would be down by 8 runs and
you believed that they could come back because they often did. They’d
be losing by a run in the 9th with 2 outs and you believed that any one
of those guys would get a rally going for them to win because often it
I don’t feel like that this year. This year it feels
like when they’re up 4, 5, 6….even 10 runs, that they will probably
blow the lead because most of the time they do. And it’s not just a
feeling. Stats show that the Cardinals lead the league in blown
saves. I don’t know what the number is anymore. I stopped counting
after 30. It’s too depressing.
The Cubs worry me though because
until September came they reminded me a lot of the 2006 Cardinals.
Always getting a key hit at the right time. Just a few short weeks ago
I watched Aramis Ramirez jack a grand slam over the wall to get his
team ahead by a run and an eventual win. Luckily, in September they
have started falling apart. Even though their collapse more than
likely won’t be enough to keep them out of the playoffs, it will
hopefully be enough to get them booted in the first round.
Tonight we start a series against the Reds. So we’ll see what happens.
Also, congrats to Anaheim for being the first team this season to clinch their division.
1 spot down, 7 more to go,
It’s coming down to the wire. A little over a month of baseball left with no off days. The Cardinals are in third place, 1/2 game behind the Brewers and 2 games behind the Cubs. The performance of all three fo these teams over the next moth will determine who the division champ is, as this is clearly still up for grabs.
And the Cardinals are not the only ones feeling the excitement of catching up. New York has now taken 2 straight from Boston to pull them back within 6 games behind the Sox and are currently leading 2-0 in today’s game. The Phils have taken 3 straight from the Mets and now only sit 3 games behind them and are also winning 5-3. Also, the Padres have won their last 3 games from the D-backs and are now tied atop the NL West (or are in first if you go by their percentage).
This is by far, one of the most exciting years of playoff races that I can remember. Almost every day I have several games I would love to watch, but instead have to settle for box scores. This is definitely what September should be all about.
Tonight the Cardinals take on Houston for the rubber match in this 3 game set. Getting out of tonight with a win and therefore going 2-1 in this series would be huge. I can’t state enough how important it is for the Cardinals to simply just to win each series as it comes. Sweeping a team would be a bonus, but just winning each series should be more than enough to propel us to first in this division of .500 ball teams.
Of course I always love for the Cubs to lose regardless, but if you look at the standings, the ideal was probably for the Brewers to win 2 of 3 games. If that happens and the Cardinals win tonight, then that means we would remain 1/2 behind the Brewers and be just 1 game back of the Cubs. Either of those teams sweeping would not have been as good for us in the standings.
The Cardinals are currently all tied up 1-1 with the ‘Stros and as I watch them, I’ll continue to keep one eye on the other games to see who just might be our competition in the postseason. That’s right….our competition. I still feel this division is ours for the taking and will continue to feel that way until one of the other teams wants to prove me otherwise.
Wanting a Brew Crew win,
….because it sure feels that way.
Adam Wainwright got out of a huge jam in the 3rd inning by freezing the Brewers hottest hitter, Ryan Braun (a la Carlos Beltran) with his signature curve. Plus, Yadi hits a homer in what might possibly be the game winner. So…..even though this win won´t directly send us to the World Series, I´m going to take all of this NLCS dejá vu as a good sign.
The only difference so far is that in this game Yadi didn´t just settle for one homer. Instead, he´s gone deep twice. That means he´s homered more times in this game alone, then he has all season.
I also have to mention Scott Rolen´s play so far. As most of you probably have read, he´s my favorite player. Maybe that´s because defense is my favorite part of the game. Now, of course, I love to watch Pujols crush the ball into oblivion (much like his homer yesterday), Wainwright throw a big sweeping curve for strike 3 or Izzy to end the game on one of his cutters. But nothing is more fun than watching defense.
Watching Edmonds do his thing in center is a thing of beauty. And I absolutely love it when Yadi picks guys off at first like it´s nothing. And Rolen also fits very much into the good defense category. Tonight he showed exactly why he´s got so many of those gold gloves. He has made two incredible plays so far tonight. The best of the two was the first. He dove towards foul territory, came up with the ball and still threw the guy out FROM HIS BACKSIDE. He has one of the best arms of anybody in the game and is really amazing to watch.
Keep thinking sweeeeep,
15-1. Just awful. At least the Brewers lost as well. Though worse than us losing was the Cubs winning. Now they are tied for first and Cubs fans everywhere are rejoicing. The only thing I can hope is that the Cubs will continue to be the Cubs and at some point the bottom will drop out. Add that to another tough loss today and it’s so frustrating. To take 3 of 4 from the Brewers and now to drop two straight to the Pirates. Cardinals, what are you doing to me?? The Brewers lost again tonight to the Mets and the Cubs are trailing in the 9th inning. What a great spot this would have been to gain some ground.
So two losses are clearly not really something I want to spend a lot of time blogging about. Instead, I will talk about something much more pleasant. And that is the induction of two of the nicest guys ever to play the game into the Baseball Hall of the Fame. Guys with enormous talent and enormous hearts. I never got to see Tony Gwynn play live, which is strange because I rooted for a NL team, but I did get to see Cal Ripken Jr. play.
I went to college in Minnesota and so I adopted the Twins as my favorite AL team and went to a ton of games at the Dome. One evening in April, a friend suggested we all go to the game because the Orioles were coming to town. I was all in favor of that because I’ve always been a fan of Cal, Jr., especially after I watched him break one of the toughest and most impressive streaks in all of baseball; consecutive games played. However, I was skeptical that we’d see any magic that night. He was 3 hits away from the big mark of 3,000 lifetime hits. "Maybe tomorrow night, he’ll do it," I said, but nevertheless, I was pumped to go to the game. Three friends and myself took off for the dome, along with thousands of other fans.
Everyone cheered when Cal stepped up to plate and proceeded to cheer Cal, even as he made an out. He then got a couple of hits and I started thinking, just maybe this would be the night. Only one of those two really stands out to me. It was a high bouncer to the left side of the infield, but they couldn’t make a play on him. Then in the 7th inning, it happened. After a pitching change, Ripken lined the ball up the middle for hit #3000. And the crowd went absolutely crazy. We high fived strangers, yelled until our throats were sore and gave him a standing ovation. It was by far the most exciting non-Cardinal baseball moment that I have ever witnessed in person. And I just happened to be the in the right place at the right time. Had he done it a year earlier when he should have, I would not have seen the feat.
We were all presented certificates when we left that said, "I was there" with a spot to put your ticket stub from the game. It remains a piece of my personal baseball collection.
But the best part came the next time. It was a Sunday and we figured the crowd would be lighter because the heroics had already happened. The Twins were pretty bad back then and could barely muster a crowd. In fact, having 20,000 or so at Cal’s 3,000 hit was a pretty big deal. This was strange for a Cardinal fan that is used to seeing 40,000 on a Wednesday at Busch.
Nevertheless, this day it was quite good for us. We got there early and easily walked down the front row of the dome. They gave Cal the day off and you know what he did with it? He walked over and started signing autographs. My friends and I had brought our ticket stubs from the day before, hoping to get them signed. We waited patiently as Cal made his way from the visiting dugout all the way down to us (about halfway down) and eventually all the way to the foul pole. He got all of our tickets signed, except for one of my friends, so we waited to see if she could still get his autograph. After reaching the foul pole, he proceeded back down the wall and continued signing autographs. He reached us again and this time she got her ticket signed. And since he was there, I figured, what the heck, and gave him my ticket stub for that day as well. Saturday’s ticket was put on my certificate and I gave Sunday’s autographed stub to my mom.
I don’t think a person left the Metrodome that day wanting a Ripken autograph and failing to get one. I remember being completely blown away that this guy would take his day off and use it to make a bunch of strangers in an opposing stadium happy. It’s one thing to do this in Baltimore and an entirely different thing to do this for a bunch of people wearing Twins gear that will likely sell your autograph for profit the first they get the chance. But, that’s just one story of the kind of guy he was.
You saw it in the way he played the game. You learned about it in the way teammates talked about it. And you heard it in his HOF speech. This guy, along with Gwynn are two of the best Cooperstown could hope to have. And I am proud to say I saw him play and reach an important milestone. It’s a game I will certainly never forget.
Congratulations as well to Rick Hummell, long-time Cardinal writer who was also inducted. What a great honor for him. He is a graduate from the same high school I am.
Before I get into Cardinal baseball, how about that Yankee game? 8 home runs by 7 different players? And not of them is A-Rod? Are you kidding me? You figure there are a lot of balls getting hung over the plate that game to have that kind of a homer happy night. So I’m surprised that Alex didn’t get in on the action, much less to go 0-5. It also shows you how much under ability these guys have been playing all year. This is what the Yanks are capable of doing when they’re running on all cylinders. Every guy down the lineup 1-9 has the ability to put the ball in the stands. Half of their lineup could be cleanup on almost any other team in the league.
Ok, on to the NL Central. What a bittesweet day of baseball. The Cardinals played a hard fought game against Pittsburgh and actually came up on the winning end to stretch their streak to…….4 games. I can barely believe it. The sad news? The Brewers fought back Glavine and his quest for 300 in their win over the Mets and the Cubs won as well. So, the Cardinals still sit at 6 games back of first place and gain nothing on Chicago.
I’m happy for the win though. This kind of back and forth game is the kind of game that Cardinals would win last year and have been losing this year. And even though it seemed back and forth, they never really let the Pirates fully get their foot back in the door and pretty much stayed in control the whole game. Still, I wish the Redbirds would have been able to put them away sooner. You just can’t get in the habit of letting teams hang around in games, especially when we go back to playing higher caliber teams. Both runs that were scored off of starter Adam Wainwright were runs scored with two outs. A sac fly or something may happen when you have 0 or 1 outs, but once you have 2 outs, you have to do everything possible to shut that door.
That said, I felt the Cardinals played hard. Ryan Ludwick laid our for a terriffic play in left field. And Scott Rolen came in hard to homeplate on a play that he should have been out on by a mile. But the catcher couldn’t come up with the ball and Rolen was safe. Great baseball. Though, the Pirates may want to invest in a new catcher. He made two mistakes today that cost his team and earlier this season he did the same against the Cardinals. I can’t remember what game, but I remember another similiar play when he couldn’t handle a simple relay throw for the out.
These next games against the Pirates are getting to be pretty much must-wins for the Redbirds. Sweeping or taking 2 of 3 from the lower teams in the division are a necessity if the Cardinals expect to cotinue competing for the division. That said I think I should explain the following.
I’m not naive when it comes to this team. I know that they have played horrible ball this year. I know that they barely held onto the NL Central title last year when they were AHEAD for most of the year, let alone trying to climb back into contention. And I’m painfully aware that even if this team somehow makes it into the postseason that they’re chances are almost nil. Anybody else remember the 2004 World Series when we didn’t have Carpenter? Yeah, their are other pitchers and other games, but don’t think that the 2004 loss and the 2006 win don’t have anything to do with Carpenter. There is something about going out there with your dominant ace against the other team’s dominant ace that boosts your team’s self esteem, not to mention pushing everyone else on your staff back and deeping your rotation. Losing Carp has been the biggest blow of the season thus far.
Nevertheless, I have faith. Blind faith, maybe. But faith none the less. I believe my team can do it. Or maybe more accurately, I WANT to believe my team can do it. But this is what baseball is all about, right? Every team’s fan has that sort of faith on Opening Day. They all say, “We signed free agents!” “We called up our top prospect from our farm system!” “It’s a new year!” Now, it’s the All-Star break and fans of some teams like the Royals and the Devil Rays have resigned themselves to another season of under 500, poorly executed baseball.
But the rest of us still have hope. Not all of the teams will be rewarded. The Mets, Phillies, Braves, Brewers, Cubs, Cardinals, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Padres and Rockies will not all make the posteason. In fact, only half of them will. Yet all of those teams are only 6 games or less back and it is ‘possible’ for any of them to do it. So I hold onto the hope. It’s certainly better than giving up on a season. How many people gave up on the Redbirds last year? Like they say, in baseball, anything is possible.
I’d like to hear from anyone else on this topic. When do you say enough is enough when it comes to your team? Do you hold onto hope until the bitter end, until that magic number for the first place club finally reaches 0? Or is that just asking for disappointment such as was the case for Houston fans last year? Is there a point in the season where you finally admit your team is too far gone, even if they have not ‘technically’ been eliminated? I’m really interested in thoughts about this. Obviously baseball is a good starting point, but if you have another sport you’d like to bring up on this topic, I’m open to that too.
Alright boys, time to get busy tonight, taking another one away from the Pirates.