That was the single strangest game I think I've ever seen. We witnessed seventeen runs between the two clubs, spread over twelve innings. We saw the Cardinals strand sixteen runners on the basepaths; it may not be a record, but it definitely seems like it should be. We saw Albert Pujols play his first professional innings as a second baseman, (All Star appearances don't count) balky elbow and all. Most of all, though, what we saw was two pitches that determined the outcome.
Two pitches. Two hanging breaking balls. And that's your ballgame.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, with Rickie Weeks at the plate and the bases loaded, Brad Thompson threw a slider that was supposed to be on the outer half, down. Instead, it spun right in to the middle of the plate. You couldn't have put a ball on a tee any more perfectly. The result was predictable; Weeks ripped it down into the left field corner for a three run triple.
The last pitch of the game, a hanging curve from Jason Isringhausen to Gabe Kapler, functioned as a nice bookend, as well as an unfortunate end to the game and the series. Izzy walked Gabe Gross ahead of Kapler; Gross then easily stole second base off of Molina and Izzy. Game over, folks. You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here.
Am I the only one getting a little worried about Izzy? He's pitched an awful lot already here in the early going, and he's beginning to show some of the same tendencies we saw from him during his 2006 death march; his velocity has been inconsistent, he's walked more than what you like to see from your closer, and his breaking pitches haven't been very sharp. I don't know if he's hurt again, and I wouldn't speculate. I hope he's just a little fatigued, but as often as he's thrown already, I fear that bionic hip of his is taking on a bit more than it can handle.
As I said, there were really two pitches that determined the outcome of the game, but there were certainly plenty of other noteworthy events that led up to those pitches.
A while back, I complimented Tony on the way he had handled the team so far. I still think he's doing a pretty decent job, but there are some worrisome trends I see emerging.
Tony's always been a meddler, but he seems to have taken it to a new level here recently, with the bench being pretty much completely empty by the seventh inning more often than not. Case in point: Brian Barton. Again in yesterday's game, we saw Barton being taken out of the game when the situation didn't really call for it. At least this time, it was for a pinch hitter, (Rick Ankiel) and not a defensive substitution, but the fact remains that the Cardinals had a very short bench yesterday, and Tony substituted for one of his outfielders in a situation when he didn't really need to. I'm not sure what Tony's deal with Barton is exactly, but his refusal to let the guy play a whole game is consistently eating into an already short, (and none too strong to begin with) reserve corps. We saw the same thing in the previous series against Milwaukee, during the 10 inning loss. The Cardinals ended the game with Rico Washington at the plate, having used every position player they had available.
Given the severe lack of depth the Cardinals have in the infield, I foresee a lot of this sort of thing this season, where Tony double switches his way into a corner. Hopefully, Wainwright works on his pinch hitting.
Of course, the elephant in the room is Albert and his elbow. With no bench players available, Tony was forced into moving Jason LaRue to first, Albert to second, and bring Yadi in off the bench to play the last couple of innings.
After the game, Tony answered as he usually does when asked about Albert's physical ailments. "He knows how to take care of himself. He'll play under control. He isn't going to do anything risky to jeopardize his health." Of course, when asked about it, Albert admitted that, given the chance to turn a double play, he probably would have taken it and gone for the throw. Is this really a good idea? You have one of the most driven athletic talents in the world, the face of the franchise, playing a position he's not used to, trying to control the impulse to throw the ball if he needs to. Seems like a bad idea to me, but I guess that's why I'm not the manager.
Cesar Izturis is expected to sit a few games but not go on the DL. The Cards are going to have to make a move today in order to bring in some reinforcements; as much as Tony probably doesn't like it, it's probably Brendan Ryan or bust. I fully expect Brad Thompson to make yet another trip down to Memphis. For his sake, I really hope that Mr. Mozeliak can find some sort of trade package to include Thompson in. He has nothing else to prove at Triple A, yet there isn't much of a spot for him here. i doubt Wonderbrad on his own would fetch much of anything, but I know there are several teams around the majors looking for pitching help of the cheap fill in variety; throw in a minor league relief arm or two, and maybe you've got yourself a deal going.
My first choice in such a scenario would still be Brent Lillibridge, the shortstop in the Braves organisation. He's athletic, fast, defensively talented, and blocked. The Braves' staff at the moment is a shambles; get on the phone, Mo.
Forgive the quick post this morning, folks, but I'm a bit pressed for time. Let's all give thanks the Cards are off to PNC Park tonight; home away from home.
Hopefully, we get the best of times, and not the alternative.