I run into a lot of Braves fans down here in Oklahoma. Much of that is owed to fact that the Braves used to be on cable TV all the time. My grandpa watched them every night while listening to whatever other game he could get on the radio. I was looking forward to seeing the great Chipper Jones, although we were probably better off with him on the DL. I hadn’t heard the good ol’ “tomahawk chop” in years. I still think it’s one of the best battle cries ever.
With Chipper on the DL, the All-Star catcher McCann’s head still spinning from a collision on Sunday, big hitter Teixeira traded to the Angels after the first game and the long awaited return of Cardinal ace, Chris Carpenter, this was a series with a lot of potential.
7/28/08 Cardinals 12, Braves 3
There’s nothing like winning the hard fought close game. Unless of course you’re coming off a string of hard fought close games coupled with some disappointing loses. Then, a blow out is a welcome relief for both the players and the fans.
Yadier Molina and Joe Mather teamed up for a single and a homer to get 2 runs in the second. The rookie, Joe Mather, had a big league night where he was one-oh-so-elusive-triple short of the cycle.
In the third, Troy Glaus knocked in Skip Schumaker who had walked (always bad news to walk the lead off guy). Then with Pujols on with a walk and Glaus on with a force out, Molina hit an in-the-park 3-run homer. OK, fine. It was technically a 2 RBI double, with Molina scoring on a throwing error, but the effect was the same and it was just as exciting. All those runs were two out RBIs. Very clutch.
It was great to see Izturis reach on a walk, 1B and 2B, picking up an RBI. Pujols picked up 3 RBIs. Miles got on and scored twice. Ludwick went 3 for 5 with an RBI. Wveryone was having a good night.
Looper put in one of the best starts we’ve seen in a while. Seven innings, 2 runs. With no walks and only 3 strikeouts, he had help from a solid Cardinals defense. Ron Villone got two outs, got in trouble, gave up a run, but was relieved by Russ Springer who with the help of centerfielder Skip Schumaker, pitched a perfect 1/3 of an inning. Flores faced three batters in the ninth giving up a hit, but getting his third batter to ground into a good old 6-4-3.
7/29/08 Cardinals 8, Braves 3
There’s nothing like winning the hard fought close game. Well, it was a hard fought close game until the Cardinals put up 5 runs of insurance in the ninth.
It was a game with a little bit of everything. Good pitching. Good hitting. Good plays. Bad plays (2 errors a piece). For Wellemeyer’s second time out he’s proved that if you just hang with him and have a little faith, he’ll finish stronger than he started and keep his team in the game.
Favorite play of the game: With Brave runners at 1st and 3rd, Wellemeyer throws a K for out number two. Yadier Molina fakes a throw to 2nd and gets the runner at 3rd to bite. Then, he throws to 3rd and the Cardinals get Kotsay in the run down. It was a HUGE play to end the inning in a 2-2 game with two runners on.
Second favorite play of the game: Albert Pujols hits a big lead off double at the top of the 8th. Then he steals third base and scores when the Braves catcher’s throw went to left field. In the 6th, Pujols led off with a solo home run. Pujols is a great player, but geez does he have to do it all himself?
Both of those plays are the epitome of why I think having a great defensive catcher is so important. We are so fortunate to have Yadier Molina, and Jason LaRue for that matter.
7/30/08 Cardinals 8, Braves 2
Just like old times. Carpenter on the mound. A Cardinal win. Life is good.
Since April, 2007, most conversations about the Cardinals that go beyond the depth of “how ’bout them Cards’ have included phrases like, “when Carpenter comes back” or “if we could just get Carpenter back” or “have you heard how Carpenter’s doing?”. To say his return was much anticipated would be an understatement.
Everyone in Cardinal’s country from the front office to the coaches to the players to the fans to Carpenter himself was filled with excitement and anticipation as he took the mound. We all wanted him to succeed so badly because he’s worked so hard to get there, and we need his ace arm and his leadership.
There were no disappointments. Other than maybe Carpenter’s that he wasn’t allowed to pitch longer, but he knows realistically that he shouldn’t push it. It was a fine outing, giving up only 1 run, getting out of tight innings and the most important thing: giving the Cardinals a good chance to win. Is Carpenter the best he can be? No. But, he’s still one of the best out there, and he’ll be even better next time.
Carpenter seemed to be fuel for the fire that has been building in the Cardinals. Everyone seemed to up their game last night. Great hitting, great defensive plays and a bullpen that delivered. And, now we’re looking forward to seeing him again in just a few days against the Dodgers.
Two nights ago, I loved the lineup with Mather behind Molina. I was excited to see it again tonight. Often, Molina often gets on base without a power hitter behind him to knock him in. On Monday, Molina and Mather tag-teamed with a Molina single and a Mather home run. They did it again tonight. If a LaRussa line up basically has two leadoff hitters, it seems like it should have two cleanup hitters, too.
7/31/08 Cardinals 4, Braves 9
Trade deadline day. I wonder if Griffey will get a world series shot with the White Sox. I wonder if California is big enough for Manny’s ego. I wonder how many catchers the Yankees need. But, I know I was happy to see the trade deadline come and go without the Cardinals making a major league move. In my humble opinion, I believe with everyone healthy, we have all we need to make an October run, although it may not have looked like it tonight.
The last three games were those magical nights when everything comes together: hitting, starter pitching and relief pitching. Tonight was one of those nights that it magically comes together for the other team.
Yes, we gave up way too many runs, but with Schumaker, Ankiel, Glaus and Molina not in the starting lineup? Well, that’s a lot of bat left on the bench. Even so, the Cardinals got the four runs that would have won any other game in this series.
Cesar Izturis deserves a big hand. He did a great job of holding down the lead off spot tonight going 3 for 6. It’s so great to see him getting hot.
A Cardinals fan and good friend of mine always refers to the New York Mets as “pond scum”. I’ve never been able to nail him down on whether or not “pond scum” is the generally accepted name of the Mets in Cardinal country or something he came up with on his on. He says the name is a throw back to when we were division rivals. I’ve also not been able to determine where there name comes from, but I’m suspecting it might have something to do with the unfortunate team colors of blue and orange–not pretty.
The series wasn’t pretty either. The three game series seemed like a four game series with the middle game going 14 innings, which was the only game we won. Seems like maybe that should count for two. Here are just some of my thoughts from the series.
What I hated about playing the Mets…
- Ending a one game winning streak.
- Losing the series
- Mets announcers who get their facts wrong. I don’t know the guy’s name, and I don’t really care, but here is an example of his incompetence. He was second-guessing LaRussa decision to let Izzy hit rather than send in a pinch hitter. That would have been a reasonable criticism, except the pinch hitter he suggested was So Taguchi. So Taguchi would be an excellent pinch hitting choice, except for the fact that he plays for the Phillies.
What I liked about playing the Mets…
- Early start times. Although Saturday’s game could not have started early enough to get anyone to bed on time.
- Snapping a 5 game losing streak. “Snapping” might not quite be the word. “Hacking at it for 14 innings until it finally broke” might be more accurate.
- Albert Pujols finding his long ball twice. I know he says he doesn’t care about home runs. He cares about making contact and getting on base. I know he’s right, BUT we all love to see Albert go long.
- Skip Schumaker did something no Cardinal has done in over 70 years. He got six hits in one game. He also had a sac fly and a K. Yep, even with eight at bats that’s a feat. The last Cardinal was outfielder, Terry Moore from the Gashouse Gang era. If you’re Skip, it must be a cool feeling to know that no matter if it takes 70 years for another Cardinal to do it, when it finally happens everybody will be saying, “the last Cardinal to get six hits in a game was Skip Schumaker in 2008.”
- In related note, Pujols had 5 hits in that game as well. Pujols and Schumaker were the first two Cardinals to both have 5+ hits in a game since the 1930′s.
- Mets fans booing Yadier Molina every time he stepped to the plate. I’m not a big fan of booing, but in this case Molina can only take it as a compliment. The Mets fans remember he was the guy that hit the homer that kept them out of the World Series in 2006.
In the NL Central, while the Cardinals have been chasing the Cubs, they have heard the footsteps of the Milwaukee Brewers gaining on them. The Cardinals got off to a great start this year, while the Brewers didn’t. While the Cardinals have leveled off, the Brewers have been gathering steam. This week in St. Louis, the Brewers made it clear that they are a force to be reckoned with.
I did not believe that the newly acquired Brewer, C C Sabathia, could be all he was cracked up to be, but I was wrong. I bow to the giant Sabathia. He was effective and efficient, pitching a winning nine innings with just over a hundred pitches. And, just having the ace in their dugout seems to have upped every Brewers game.
The Brewers would not die. In three of the four games, the Cardinals had their foot on the Brewers’ throat, but they battled back to win. In the third game of the series the Brewers dominated with Sabathia on the mound.
Winning in the 9th is exhilarating. Losing in the 9th is disheartening. So, it’s not surprising that there has been a great deal of grumbling in Cardinal Country. Some blame the bullpen. Some blame the cool bats.
I will say this. Saying, “we were swept by the Brewers” makes it sound worse than it actually was. All the games were close, within reach. They were not blow outs. The Cardinals were on the cusp: one more hit or one more out in each game, and the Cardinals would have won the series. And, the story in Brewer Country would have been the plethora of Brewers were left on base
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know we need those clutch hits and outs if we are going to play in October. So does every body in Cardinal’s dugout that actually gets paid to worry about such things. So, they live, they learn and they play better another day.
I admit that I whined more than just a little bit about the proliferation of Cubs on the All-Star team. In particular, I could make cases why Yadier Molina, Rick Ankiel and Kyle Lohse were as deserving if not more deserving of the All-Star nod than some of the Cubs that got to make the trip.
I had almost gotten over it when the American League proceeded to steal 6 out of 7 bases. I just could help but know if there had been a Molina behind the plate (any NL Molina–Yadier or Bengie), that the AL would not be so bold or successful. It was embarrassing.
I consoled myself thinking, “Fine, you bunch of Cubs all go party in NYC and wear yourselves out. We’ll stay home, rest and be ready for the second half. Enjoy your All-Star honors. We’re going to be ready to go all the way.”
So, far…the second half could not have started off any better. The possibly hung-over Cubs got beat up by the Astros, and the fresh Cardinals swept the Padres.
7/17/08 – Cardinals 4, Padres 3
This was the game of the long ball. Four solo home runs and Lohse’s magical pitching got the job done. Glaus got 2 dingers in a row. Ankiel went back-to-back with Glaus. Then rookie, Joe Mather, added the final run, which at the time was gravy, but ended up being the game winner.
7/18/08 – Cardinals 11, Padres 7
Tonight the Cards put together runs the old fashioned way. Sure, Ankiel and Ludwig both homered, but most of the runs were scored by stringing together singles and doubles. The 8th inning was huge with Yadier Molina hitting a 2 RBI single to put them over the top. Molina gets a lot of hits without a lot of glory. I loved seeing him get the big hit that makes you the KTRS Star of the Game
7/19/08 – Cardinals 6, Padres 5
A rough start with a happy ending. After pitching two innings and giving up 5 runs, it looked like Wellemeyer had dug a hole that the Cardinals would have a hard time crawling out of. The bullpen had put in more than their fair share of innings the night before and with the Brewers coming to town, they couldn’t afford to do it again. So, Wellemeyer went back to the mound, found his grove and didn’t give up another run. It was one more example of a Cardinal just gutting it out and finding success.
His effort was rewarded when Pujols bailed him out. It seemed like it had been a while since Albert Pujols had a big day. Today was a very big day for Pujols. On a single and a double, he picked up 4 of the 6 RBI’s of the day. Of course, to do that you got to have the batters ahead of you get on, and they did that. Not to leave them out, (we did need 6 after all) Schumaker and Ankiel picked up the other RBIs.
7/20/08 – Cardinals 9, Padres 5
Another hard fought battle. I was driving to the Memphis Redbirds game, listening to the Cardinals game on the radio. Tied 5-5 in the 9th, 1 out, with Pujols at third on a throwing error. The Padres inentionally walk pinch hitter, Molina and Schumaker to load the bases. When Miles stepped up to the plate, I knew the game was won. He would get something out of the infield to score: a sac fly, a flare, a blooper, just something. However, I was not thinking Grand Slam, but that’s what he got
If there’s anything I love almost as much as good catching (and I love my catching), it’s a utility player, and Aaron Miles is a good one. He impresses me all the time with his glove, his switch-hitting bat, his speed and his versatility. He says he’s never had a walk-off anything. Seeing him get that big walk-off Grand Slam was just icing on a great series against the Padres. Hopefully, the momentum will carry us into the series with the Brewers.
I spent the weekend checking on the boys down in Memphis. Fortunately, I didn’t have to drive to Memphis to do it. The Memphis Redbirds were in my state taking on the Oklahoma City Redhawks.
It was great to see all the guys that have been up to St. Louis this year: Parisi, Perez, Worrell, Stavinoha and Mather. They are playing hard, getting better and waiting for their next shot.
I must admit my heart went out to Joe Mather when I heard the announcer call his name in the lineup on Friday. On Thursday, Mather hit a home run that ended up being the winning run. Heck, he was the KTRS Star of the Game, and then the next night he’s back in Triple-A ball, sacrificed for lefty reliever, Flores. But, that’s baseball.
Joe Mather at the plate for Memphis in OKC
Seeing all those Redbirds that, at one time or another this year, had put on a St. Louis uniform made me think that sometimes blessings come in disguise. One of the most frustrating parts of the 2008 Cardinals has been the plague of injuries. The upside of that is so many guys have made their major league debut and had the chance to work out the butterflies and get it over with. It’s so much better for them to get that out of their system in June, than in September when we’ll be securing our playoff spot.
I got to see USA Olympic team members, Colby Rasmus (CF) and Brian Barden (SS). There’s been a lot of talk about Rasmus and when he’ll get called up. However, I didn’t see anything that would put him in the league of Rick Ankiel, but I’m no expert.
Over the course of the weekend, Joe Mather (RF) connected with Catcher Bryan Anderson to make two spectacular outs at the plate. Spectacular by both the strength of the throw and the ability of the catcher to hang on. The first of which stalled a Redhawk rally and ended the game on Friday. On the second play, a Redhawk fan turned to me and said “Never test a Cardinals outfielder.” I added, “Or, their catchers.”
I love good catching, so I always give catchers a good look. Bryan Anderson is doing a good job of blocking balls and plays at the plate. He is an odd combination of a player who bats left and throws right. However, if he’s missing anything, it’s the throw to second. Although pretty accurate, the velocity is just not there. Of course, my expectations are pretty high in that regard–I’m used to watching Yadier Molina.
The Redbirds put in a solid performance splitting the four game series. Just a note on one of the OKC Redhawks–a 28-year-old from the Dominican that’s hitting about .350 with a stack of RBI’s and home runs. Sound like anyone we know? He hit 3 homers on Saturday’s game including one shot that left the park and a 3-run blast. Look for Nelson Cruz someday soon at a Texas Rangers game near you.
The OKC Redhawks have a great home in the AT&T Bricktown ballpark. I enjoyed the monuments erected in homage to great Oklahoma born players: Mickey Mantle, Johnny Bench, Wilber Rogan, the Waner brothers (Lloyd and Paul), Carl Hubbell, Bobby Mercer (his was decorated with flowers in honor of his passing), Allie Reynolds and Gashouse Gang Cardinal–Pepper Martin.
Everyone I know thought I was a little crazy to make the 3 hour plus round-trip to OKC three times this weekend. But, I can’t think of a better way to spend the weekend than at the ballpark.
In no particular order, here’s my take on the guys that call themselves the St. Louis Cardinals.
In Scotland, the head of say the MacGregor clan might be known as “The MacGregor”. In Cardinal baseball, the head of the clan is Albert Pujols or “The Cardinal”. He is a leader both on and off the field. Beloved by his city and his team. Feared by every pitcher with the misfortune to face him. The Cardinal puts up big numbers: AVG, SLG, OBP, RBI’s and HRs. But, what he means to this team cannot be quantified by any stat. At the young age of 28, he had the presence of a wise old general. He takes command of the batter’s box like it is his own personal control center, and sends the other team into DEFCON-1. I watched the day they honored Stan the Man. I hope I’m still around to see the day they honor The Cardinal.
Who doesn’t love Yadier Molina? I mean, besides base stealing thieves. There’s just a lot to love. The steel trap that is his glove hand. The cannon that it is throwing arm. The quick thinking to read situations, call pitches and handle pitchers. The bat that has come alive. And, the heart of a champion. Watching him work, it’s hard to remember that he’s still one of the youngest Cardinals out there. He takes care of business with the confidence and seriousness of seasoned veteran. But, when things go right…as they often do when he is in the mix…no one smiles bigger, jumps higher or cheers louder. Cardinal management was wise lock him in before free agency might steal him away, because for years to come we all want to be watching him pick off base runners like flies.
The Jack of All Trades
For the 2008 Cardinals, versatility has been the key to working around the plague of injuries. If any Cardinal has been the epitome of versatility it’s been Aaron Miles. Is there anything he can’t do? He can smack the ball from either side of the plate. He gets clutch hits. He’s played nearly every slot on the infield, including a shutout inning from the mound. And, with Pujols and Molina hurt he was probably about thisclose to spending time at 1st or behind the plate. And, although it wouldn’t be the highest and best use of his talent, I’m sure he could hold his own in the outfield. His profile says his position is “2B”. On the roster, he’s referred to as an “infielder”. But, I say he’s a ballplayer in the truest sense of the word. Play him anywhere–just make sure his hot bat is in the lineup.
I suspect that if Brendan Ryan is still playing when he’s 40 that he won’t look much different than today. Same baby face. Same boundless energy. I just can’t picture him any other way, and that’s not a criticism at all. He plays with the joy and enthusiasm of, well, a kid. Something that is often sadly lacking in the great game of big league baseball. But, it’s not all fun and games. He plays with passion and his eyes burn with a hunger for success. And in the clubhouse, that can’t be anything but contagious.
If the heights and weights on the roster are to be believed, Troy Glaus is a giant among Cardinals. But, the size of his stature is not the reason I think he is The Giant. It’s the size of his plays. He’s made GIANT plays at third. He’s smacked GIANT hits. And, he’s smashed GIANT home runs….not just in terms of how far the ball carried but how crucial they were to a Cardinals victory. Case in point…the 7/2 game against the Mets. The Giant hit a 3 run homer in the 1st to give the Cards a big lead. When the big lead waned to a tie, he hit a walk-off homer to end the game. It doesn’t get much bigger than that!
The Golden Boy
How many teams currently have a Gold Glove shortstop? I did research and found Six–White Sox, Yankees (technically they have two), Giants (theirs has hogged 11 or there might be more), Phillies, Detroit and the Cardinals. They only one I’m going to name is the one that wears the birds on the bat: Cesar Izturis. He’s worn a lot of other uniforms: Blue Jays, Dodgers, Cubs (that uniform had to chaff) and Pirates. But, nothing goes better with gold than Cardinal red. His blingy glove is all it’s cracked up to be, and his bat has the potential to blossom in the second half.
You know that guy that shows up to work everyday, goes about his business, but nobody really knows what he does. He’s always there on time. Never takes a sick day. He does everything he’s supposed to, but for whatever reason is never named “Employee of the Month”. And, when he has a big day, it’s usually overshadowed by someone’s even bigger day. Adam Kennedy is that guy. He’s a decent hitter and an unyielding defender. He just shows up and does his job. He’s not flashy, but he’s solid. Everybody needs somebody like that.
If you live in Texas, have side-burns, somewhat of a mullet and facial hair that would look appropriate on a civil war general, then you just might be a redneck. Or, simply backup catcher Jason LaRue. Rednecks were once so named because they got their necks burned while working outside in the sun (maybe that’s why the mullet was invented). So, I mean no disrespect by calling the hard-working Jason LaRue a redneck. He’s done a great job this year and filled his role perfectly. LaRussa has made it pretty clear that wants a catcher that can catch, and anything they do offensively is gravy–something I completely agree with. So, it’s no surprise that LaRue is solid behind the plate, but I know he’s enjoying his recent success at bat. My only fear is that some other team is going to steal him for their number one catcher spot.
I have long been impressed by people who can re-invent themselves. Rick Ankiel tops my list of people who have “improvised, overcame and adapted”. With his pitching career in ashes, he rose from the grave to shine as centerfielder/power-hitter. He makes it look easy, but onlyThe Phoenix can really know the hard work, determination and hunger it took to claw his way back to the top. It’s those characteristics that define both Ankiel and the 2008 Cardinals. I swear, I have never seen a hungrier bunch of professional athletes in my life.
The Late Bloomer
His career has been plagued with injury and darn bad luck. That all started to change at the end of last season. After trying to grow in the aridness of Texas and the chill of Cleveland, Ryan Ludwick finally was planted in good rich Missouri river-bottom soil, and he has bloomed. It’s a sweet thing to see a hard-working guy come into his own, especially when he’s playing for your favorite team. This week he is basking in the All-Star Game experience, a sweet reward that’s been a long time in coming.
The Leading Man
I like seeing Skip Schumaker’s name at the top of the line up almost as much as I like seeing Tom Hanks name in the opening credits of a movie. I just know that I’m going to see something good. A good leading man sets the tone and moves the action forward. In this role and in the outfield, Schumaker has turned in a solid performance.
The Bear in Hibernation
Yes, we all know that so far this has not been the year that Chris Duncan had planned. No one’s feeling that more than Duncan himself. Where has this ferocious hitter been this spring? I say, in hibernation. Healing, resting and gaining strength. In recent days, the big bear hitter that lives within Duncan has started to stir. Balls are finally finding the gaps, in particular the one just over the fence. The Bear is ready to shake away the last remnants of slumber and go on the attack.
The Rocket Scientist
I won’t lie. I like smart people. I like to talk to them because they know and understand things I don’t. They challenge me and make me smarter. So, if I could only pick one Cardinal to have a conversation with it would be Brian Barton. He’s well-traveled and majored in aerospace engineering. He knows a lot of interesting things I don’t. He hasn’t posted the stratospheric numbers I know he would like, and he’s not getting the regular at bats that would benefit him. But, he’s working hard, hanging tough and using that big brain to figure it all. I’m sure he could explain it better, but rockets that go the distance have several stages they burn through, each one giving a boost. I expect “stage two” to kick in soon.
In Joe Mather’s big league debut, he made a spectacular catch in right field, got one hit and one RBI. Short of homering the first pitch, it was a pretty sweet start. Just solid. He’s filled in. He’s contributed. And, I’m sure he’s doing everything he can to stay right where he is.
The Starting Pitchers
I was at a Springfield Cardinals game the night Kyle Lohse pitched in Boston, but I was following the STL game closely via my cell phone. More than once I would check on the game only to find multiple Red Sox runners on base. I would think “Lohse is in trouble”. The next time I would check I would find that the runners had mysteriously disappeared with little or no damage done. I thought, “He’s a Magician”. He works his magic with a quiet intensity. After not getting enough love from the Phillies, the Cards picked up Lohse on the twilight of Spring Training. At the time no one could have predicted what a key acquisition this was. No one except maybe Dave Duncan. Or, The Magician himself.
What’s more American than baseball, hotdogs, apple pie and Adam Wainwright? He just looks like that tall lanky kid that lived down the street. The one that mowed your grass in the summer. Or, took your sister to the prom. Or, snuck off with your brother to go fishing. Sure, he was a stand out high-school athlete, but you’ve seen those before. A flash in the pan. Then one day, you’re flipping through the channels, and holy cow, there’s the Wainwright kid pitching in the World Series. There’s something so right and so American about it. I’ve missed him while he’s been on the DL. I always feel safe when he’s on the mound. It’s like your big brother showing up to stop the bullies from stealing your lunch money. You just know everything is going to be OK.
The Ace in the Hole
No one’s calling him an ace, yet. That’s why I say he’s still in the hole. But, seriously, until he finally got a recent win, I was asking how much better does Joel Pineiro have to pitch to score a win? He has been plagued by the no-decision. His last win was on April 29th. Since then he’s given up 4 runs or less in 8 of his 9 starts (6 were 3 or less). Two of those games were even charged as losses. As a team, the Cards average about 4 1/2 runs a game, but it seems like when Pineiro pitches, the bats turn cold, the typically rock-sold defense breaks down or the bullpen doesn’t come through. Hang in there, Ace! Keep pitching your game. Numbers don’t lie….the wins are bound to come eventually.
Shoulders to Lean On
The shoulders wide enough to bear his name have worn a number of uniforms. Todd Wellemeyer has worn a Cubs uniform, but we all have things from our youth that we would like people to forget, so I don’t hold it against him. He’s worn a Royals jersey, which confirms my suspicions from my years of trying to be a Royals fan that they get rid of anyone good. I’m happy to now be on the receiving end of that bounty. Formerly a reliever, Wellemeyer has made the transition to starter with a great deal of success. The Cardinals have been able to lean on those wide shoulders and be successful
Down here in Oklahoma, we never forget the local boys and girls that make it big. I live in the same county as the town of Spaulding, where Dizzy Dean went to High School. They still has Dizzy Dean day each fall. I’ve seen the “Home of Mickey Mantle” sign in the tiny town of Commerce. Maybe, Braden Looper doesn’t hang his ball cap here regularly, but I can promise you, that we’ll always claim him as one of our own. Another reliever converted to starter, he’s pitched well this season, including a shutout back in June. I hope someday his hometown has a Braden Looper day.
I was going to talk about each of the Cardinals bullpen pitchers, but the ever changing face has made that difficult. So, let me summarize.
There have been injuries. There have been rookie debuts. There has been the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. The only sure thing is that there has been no sure thing. All that being said there has been some very good pitching come out of the bull pen. They’ve pitched in tough situations. They’ve put in innings. They’ve rehabbed. They’ve pitched when they weren’t “available”. There are grumblings about the bullpen, but there are always grumblings about the bullpen. There are some young hot arms and some experienced wise strategists. The talent, knowledge and strength is there. They just need to stay healthy and keep on keeping on.
Here’s my take on a coupe members of the coaching staff.
The Chess Master
Shrewd. Clever. Crafty. Always thinking. Always planning. A master strategist able to see the potential fallout from any move. I don’t know if Tony LaRussa actually plays chess, but I have no doubt he has the aptitude for it. I enjoy watching him move the chess pieces on the diamond shaped board, especially because he often surprises me, and when he does, he’s right. His game calling is impressive in and of itself, but what I respect most about him is how much he respects his players. Of course, I don’t know what he says to them in private, but he always goes to bat for them with the press or with the umps. He holds up for them, and anybody that’s ever worked for anybody understands how much it means for your boss to back you up.
You know Mr. Miyagi. “Lefta circle. Righta circle. Wax on. Wax off”. “Either do or do not. There is no try.” Oh wait, no, that’s Yoda. Anyway. -What Mr. Miyagi did for young Daniel, Dave Duncan does for pitchers–young and old. He brings out their full potential. You can name pitcher after pitcher who has struggled in other organizations only to hit their stride under pitching coach, Dave Duncan. There is no greater testament to a coach’s effectiveness than that.
I was going to wait until 2009 Spring Training to start a Cardinals Blog. That seemed like the thing to do–an entire season from start to finish. But, I can’t wait any longer. My friends and family are all sick of listening to me talk about the Cardinals, so since I can’t not talk about the 2008 Cardinals, I have no other recourse. Therefore, I blog.
Where I’m coming from…
I live in small-town Oklahoma. I’ve always liked baseball. I lived in KC for several years and tried to be a Royals fan, but it was hard. Just when I was really getting to know and like a player, they’d trade him.
So, most my life I’ve been a fan without a team, a citizen without a country. My Grandpa was a true lover of the game. I don’t remember him having a favorite team. I just remember he’d have one game on TV and another game on the radio every night in the summer. But, I needed more than just a casual relationship.
Finally, in 2006, I found my team. I happened to be in St. Louis on business when they won the pennant. I think the exact moment I lost my heart to the Cardinals was when Yadier Molina hit that dinger to get them in the World Series. I was hooked.
Finally, this year I figured out how I can live in Oklahoma and really be a citizens of Cardinal Nation. I discovered mlb.tv, streaming audio and Gameday mobile. One way or another, I don’t miss a game. Also, there’s lots of Cardinals baseball within easy reach of my house. The Cards play at KC and Houston . The minor league affiliates, Springfield and Memphis, play at Tulsa and OKC. And, I do have a pilgrimage planned to Mecca, I mean, Busch in September.
If you are looking for an objective take on the Cardinals or for a critique that picks players apart, you should probably read no further. After all, I am a fan, a girl who loves her team. However, if you are looking for a team to love, I can give you about a hundred reasons to pick the Cardinals.
The 2008 Cardinals–The First Half
In this supposed “building” year, the Cardinals have built a winning record. They have been tough, resilient and adaptable. I think a lot of credit is owed to the fact that they have a lot of young, hungry talent ready, willing and able to do whatever it takes. They don’t care where they are playing or when they are playing, just so long as they are playing.
There’s none of the lolly-gagging you sometimes see from established players with fat contracts. These guys hustle down the line, make diving plays and leave it all out on the field. They are giving their best, and win, lose or rainout, that’s all anyone can ask.
At times they seemed to have a whole lineup sitting on the DL. But, to paraphrase LaRussa, they’ve played with what they had available instead of thinking about what they didn’t. For the most part, this has worked out very well. As one bat cools, another gets hot. There have been leaders and stars, but mostly it’s been a team effort all the way around.
Nobody expected them to be in playoff contention, yet they are. Will they need to play more consistently and effectively to make it through the playoffs? Yes. You know it. I know it. And you can bet, they know it. But, for now, at the All-Star break, isn’t it great to not just be running the race, but to be in it? I know I’m enjoying it, and I can’t wait to see the second half.