[STAGE bare; hushed VOICES heard from behind curtain]
VOICE 1: I can't say it.
VOICE 2: You have to.
V1: I can't.
V2: Why not?
V1: I'm afraid it'll -- you know.
V2: Conjure forth?
V2: Uh huh. Since when have you believed in witchcraft?
V1: I'm not sure . . . . since the Denkinger call, I think.
V2: Oh, for -- buck up, man. Come on. Don't censor yourself.
V1: I just don't think I should. It could really poison the atmosphere.
V2: The atmosphere is big. The atmosphere will dilute the poison.
V1: [thinks] . . . . I suppose that could happen.
V2: Have some faith.
V1: Well . . . . . . . alright. I guess.
BLOGGER steps through curtain, STAGE RIGHT; single spot.
BLOGGER: [clears throat] So -- been a while since they had one o' them there 8-game losing streaks, eh?
END ACT I
ha ha ha; i kid. . . . . mostly, i kid. i mean, they could lose 8 in a row, right? with this pitching staff, anything's possible. the team is not hitting, the bullpen's in flux, they don't play well on the road . . . . but no, i don't think they're going to choke a 7-game advantage away. even after all the late leads they've blown this year, i don't think they're going to blow this one.
something tells me, though, that the way st louis lost last night -- ie, on a big blow in the other team's last at-bat -- is the way they'll ultimately get knocked out of the playoffs. that has been a running theme since the first weekend of the 2006 season; they just haven't put games away. i hope i'm wrong of course, but any time a late-inning threat should arise in a playoff game we, as fans, are going to anticipate failure. we'll be trembling; we'll know it's coming. there has to be a sense in which the players will share that sense of impending defeat. they'll fight against it; maybe they'll overcome it and hang on to win the close ones. but it's just one more obstacle confronting the 06 redbirds.
as the 8th inning unfolded last night, numerous commenters in the game thread were calling for the IBB to berkman, so they have every right to question the decision to pitch to him -- they called it in advance and are not just 2d-guessing. in my mind, it was a very tough call. obvious argument for pitching around him -- he's the astros' best hitter by a longshot, particularly in that building, so why give him a chance to beat you? berkman's their version of pujols -- and we'd question the sanity / competence of any manager who pitched to pujols in that situation. very persuasive argument. on the other side, there's the ageless baseball rule that you never, ever deliberately put the winning run on base; make them earn every baserunner. the argument's summed up well by joker24 in this exchange from the postgame thread: berkman needed a homer to beat st louis, whereas luke scott -- who would have batted with two men on base after an IBB to berkman -- would merely have needed an extra-base hit. scott gets an extra-base hit about twice as often as berkman hits a homer, so pitching to berkman with one fewer man on base was the safer play. for that matter, the odds of scott and the next hitter both getting singles also were vastly higher than the odds that berkman would jack one in that situation. a walk there would have opened the door to all sorts of trouble. as joker24 points out, all the win-probability evidence strongly supports the decision la russa made: pitch to him.
the decision was surprisingly, and pleasingly, out of character for tony; he usually ducks confrontations like that one, and it always irks me when he does. i don't want my ace pitcher backing down from anybody; i don't want the manager managing out of fear; and i don't want decisions to be governed by the assumption that my team's best players aren't good enough to beat the other team's best players. well, let me qualify that: if my "best" is greg mathews, then maybe discretion is in order; but not when my best is chris carpenter. la russa challenged berkman, but more important he challenged his own player to rise to a big occasion. i think that's an essential part of how you win championships. carpenter may very well face just such an at-bat in the playoffs, ie the other team's stud hitter in the box with men on base in a tight late-inning spot. and it might be a situation where the IBB is not an option; might be you have no choice but to pitch to the guy. i don't want carpenter looking for a safety net in that situation; i want him to know how it feels to step onto the tightrope unsecured -- and feel steady in himself. he made some good pitches to berkman, but the one false step cost him a lot -- the game, and maybe the cy young award. hopefully he learns from the mistake and pitches the next guy a little tougher, a little more self-assuredly.
as for the cy young: webb also took a loss but pitched a better game than carp, yielding 3 runs in 7 innings. john brittain of the hardball times thinks webb should get the award -- and that was before last night's results. he doesn't have a vote, though . . . .
changing gears: the mets are facing the same playoff-rotation question that vexes the cardinals, pitting an "established" veteran pitcher with a high win total but no other redeeming statistics -- steve trachsel -- vs a rookie pitcher who is demonstrably better but "unproven" and hence "riskier" -- john maine. trachsel (15-7, 4.96) is cast in the jason marquis role; he's actually better than marquis, but just go with it. and maine (5-5, 3.42) is the mets' answer to anthony reyes (5-7, 4.92); he, too, is better than his stl counterpart. anyway, the Baseball Crank gives a very cogent take on the situation; different team, different fans, same basic sentiments. be interesting to see if randolph and la russa come down on the same side. . . . .