Okay, so it wasn't quite the start the Cardinals were hoping for.
Okay, so maybe that isn't quite strong enough.
Going into last night's game, the Cardinals should have been confident. Hell, even I was confident, and I am never, ever, ever confident when it comes to October baseball. The 'Birds were facing a team they had beaten like a rented drum all season long, with their ace on the mound squaring off against a very nice, but also very beatable journeyman hurler in Randy Wolf.
So how is it the Cards today now find themselves down one games to none, and in a must-win situation heading into today's afternoon contest in LA? To be honest, it's a little tough to imagine. After all, even the guys in Dodgertown fully expected to get smacked around
by the Cardinals and Chris Carpenter's T-1000 act. Sadly, that isn't what happened.
Two words happened, and I'll tell you what they are.
I'll bet you thought I was going to say Chris Carpenter
, didn't you? You thought I was going to go after Carp for his substandard performance on the biggest stage of all, when the team needed him most. Well, I could do that, but it wouldn't really be true. Sure, Carpenter looked at times last night like a man trying to play pin the tail on the donkey with a Kalashnikov. But no, Chris Carpenter did the very best job he possibly could with what he had last night. Even God took one day off.
No, the two words that fucked the Cardinals are the same two words that have been fucking them, at least off and on, for most of the season. The offense.
The problem wasn't Carpenter struggling to find the strike zone. It didn't help, but it wasn't the problem. It wasn't even Matt Kemp
(I told you he was dangerous
), depositing a Carpenter offering in the bleachers to take an early lead and give his own pitcher the lead. The problem was having the bases loaded in the first inning off a Dodger pitcher who was clearly laboring with nobody out and getting one lousy, stinking run out of it. The problem was letting Randy Wolf
off the hook time and time again when the Cards put men on early in an inning, then failed to capitalise and bring those all-important runs home.
-- I don't ever, ever, ever, ever, ever want to see Rick Ankiel at the bat with the game on the line again. I've seen some truly atrocious ABs in my life, but the one he took last night to end the game was a true masterpiece of suck. Two of the fattest, hangingest sliders you've ever seen in your life, fouled off, then a fastball right down the middle, and Dick lets it go without so much as a courtesy wave. Of all the pitches he actually swings at, that's the one he lets go?! I've seen Rick Ankiel strike out swinging on two pitches before. I've seen him swing at a changeup and corkscrew himself into the ground like in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. I've seen him swing and miss during an intentional walk. I've seen him foul tip a pickoff throw. To second base. But that fastball down the middle, that's the one he just watches as it goes by? Jonathan Broxton threw three very hittable pitches during that last at-bat, and once again, the Cardinal hitter -- Ankiel, in this case -- let the pitcher off the hook. (And yes, I'm fully aware the fastball in question was clocked at 100 mph, and I admit that's probably very tough to catch up to. It was still one of the most hittable fastballs Broxton threw to anyone.)
-- I actually didn't have a problem with Tony La Russa pinch-hitting for Colby Rasmus against Hong Chih Kuo. Normally that's just the sort of move I would be livid about, downgrading multiple positions on the field, but in this case I thought it was defensible. Kuo is damned near untouchable against left-handed hitters, and while Rasmus certainly did a nice job against Randy Wolf (yay Colby!), the situation was such I could actually understand the move. I hated to see Rasmus out of the game, because I think the team is significantly better with him on the team, but I also wasn't screaming at the television and frothing at the mouth.