First, let me point out a couple of positive things that we can take from last nights disaster:
- Jim Edmonds is back: His 2/5, 2 RBI performance last night indicates that perhaps his homerun two nights ago wasn't a fluke, and that good ol' Jimmy E might have some baseball left in him after all. If this funk is going to end, we're going to need Hollywood Jim at full force. In the fifth inning, I was mentally writing a long post about what the return of Edmonds meant for this team. Regardless, I think he should probably be plugged into the cleanup spot for a few games, at least until Rolen slips out of his funk. Whatever horrible disaster ensued, it was good to see him (and the real, non-crippled him) back, especially if this is his last week wearing the birds on the bat.
- Belliard hit two home runs: at the time, I though that this was the type of performance from a role player that should allow a team to overperform and scrap out a few wins. It made me feel slightly better about the Hector Luna trade, and that second one gave me hope that this nonsense was over.
Through six, Carpenter pitched through having horrible stuff on this given day: The nightmarish seventh cancelled a lot of the good feelings from this, but until then, I was impressed with Carp's ability to stay on the mound and log innings, and try to eeeck out a win on a day where he had off stuff and very poor location.
If you want a little more "cheering up" in a more sarcastic form, check out DanUp's take on the inner workings of the Cards medical office. Sadly, that dialogue is 90% of the way to believable at this point.
Now, how to dissect this loss? I have never really trusted Tony La Russa--I have always tended to contrast "genius Tony" with his Jeckyll-counterpart, "crazy Tony," who seems to spontaneously show up at the most inopportune moments. Genius Tony has transcendent baseball instincts, knows how to put players into the perfect role that optimizes their performance. He will mix up the lineup regularly to give guys some rest and to keep others sharp. Genius Tony generally does all the things that a manager should do, and he does them very well.
Most fans that aren't from St. Louis or Oakland are familiar with Genius Tony, and only Genius Tony. The problem is, for a few games of the year, in my mind, we get stuck with Crazy Tony. Crazy Tony freezes under pressure, and makes strange, strange decisions--he leaves pitchers in for too long, and has odd fascinations with semi-capable relief pitchers, who he puts into roles fary beyond their apparent ability. He will stick with the same lineup despite the depth of the slump it is going through. Crazy Tony gets in fights with umpires, and generally is the polar opposite of Genius Tony.
At least that's what I thought when I was in my late teens, and had seen Tony bench my favorite player from childhood, and then that horrific collapse in 1996, and then four years of horrible baseball, marked by home runs, and a horrible fascination with poor relievers. Seeing him take the same basic approach with the 2000-2004 teams, and to turn those teams into winners moderated me on him significantly--all of a sudden, TLR seemed to get the most out of guys like Kent Bottenfield, Dustin Hermanson, Tony Womack, Abraham Nuñez and Cal Eldred. At the time, I thought that he was moderating his more obnoxious instincts, and emhasizing his better ones, though this is something I doubt today--these guys were just better players than the Ron Gants, Donovan Osbornes and Ricky Bottallicos of the world, or at least somehow meshed better with TLR. By 2000, Tony had finally built his team, and once he had done so, it succeeded.
I lay out my history with TLR not as an apology for him, nor as an indictment of him, but rather, as a way to start to explain this horrible loss--it would be so easy to ascribe this loss to Crazy Tony--all the elements are there in the seventh--an obviously struggling Carp, who started the inning at ninety four pitches gets into an increasingly terrifying jam, yet still remains on the mound, with Wainwright only warming up in a very emergency-style manner. This situation ends with a gassed pitcher, with well over a hundred pitches under his belt on the night and faltering command in a game-breaking situation. The result is almost predictable.
Yet, I'm not going to put this loss on Crazy Tony's shoulders. The bullpen had been horrifically bad since Izzy's injury, and there had been no indication that it would not continue to be horrendous in the future. Further, Carp pitching his way out of that jam would have been a huge boost to the team--here's a guy, not quite himself, but who can stand up and get shit done when he has to. I can see the attractiveness to TLR of letting Carp pitch his way out of that disaster, so as to minimize the amount of time that the bullpen has to be on the field. It's not the decision I would have made, but it is certainly a defensible decision. Deciding to stick with Carp through all four runs in the seventh probably garners him some of the blame for this, but I wouldn't really put the bulk of the blame for the loss on his shoulders, however much that sixteen year old in me is screaming for me to.
So, who should we put the loss on? I don't know. This is yet another of those hair-thin, nailbiter losses that seem to baffle me more than anything. It seems most of these games really feel more like wins than anything, until something horrible happens late, over and over, and all of a sudden, we are in the midst of a seven game losing streak. I honestly am simply at a loss for words at this point--it doesn't make any damn sense. A year ago, Carp would have struggled out of that jam, or Albert would have hit a heroic home run in the 8th to equalize the score, or something. There was a time where I could have watched the eigth and ninth innings actually believing.
But there was a time,
you can put it out of your mind,
leave it all behind,
there was a time,
that time is gone.
We're just stuck in a trap looking for a way out of this series of losing streaks.
RIP, best Cardinal team I have ever lived to see. Maybe this will be a reverse of previous years, and we'll randomly see you show up when it most matters. But if not, I'll miss you.