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they're shooting at everyone

i'm pissed off at this team, but i won't quit on it. i'll keep watching as long as there are games on the schedule. a 1-3 hole (and who knows them better than we card'l fans?) can become a 3-3 tossup in a blink; you don't see your team get this close to the world series very often, so you just gotta keep hoping for the best.

but i don't kid myself; i know this series, this season, is likely over for the cardinals. and deservedly so. they haven't played like champions since game 1, and certainly didn't behave like them yesterday. and that, i think, accounts for the bitter, disgusted, defeated tones heard throughout the card'l nation last night and this morning. it hurts enough to see the team lose a critical game; but seeing them lose their composure, and thereby materially decrease their chances of winning said game . . . . it leaves a really, really bad aftertaste.

i might otherwise have hope aplenty about this series; i might say a bounce here, a call there and we'd be up 3-1 rather than down; i might say gotta keep grinding, make the astros earn it. but i don't see a team that's poised to launch a comeback; i see a team that is easily frustrated and, frankly, averse to pressure-packed situations.

rewind to the bottom of the 7th yesterday. tie game, sacks jammed, 1 out, cleanup hitter at bat -- classic playoff gut-check situation. ev'y contender has to face these at some point or another, often repeatedly. the best teams stare those situations cold in the eye and battle through them.

our manager chose that moment to come unhinged.

his behavior was as disturbing as julian tavarez's maniacal ravings in the bottom of the 7th of last year's game 4. same game, same inning; bizarre. hoolie had just yielded a tie-breaking homer to carlos beltran, and -- picking up the narrative from my journal entry:

it was beltran's fourth homer of the series, and it drove tavarez temporarily out of his mind. he had a meltdown that called forth the awful memory of joaquin andujar in game 7 of the 1985 series. first he loaded the bases on two walks and a hit batsman, with a wild pitch thrown in for good measure and a near-scalping of jeff bagwell on a wild 3-0 delivery. bagwell muttered some words on his way down to first and tavarez came off the mound and jawed back, gesturing like a playground punk. he miraculously got out of the inning without further damage by inducing a double play, but came off the field screaming at himself and flailing like a mentally ill street person. they shoulda straitjacketed the guy before he did harm to his teammates or himself . . . . but too late. he hurled his juvenile fists into the dugout phone and busted two bones in his left (nonpitching) hand -- thereby summoning forth another 1985 postseason demon, that of john tudor.

when i saw that display, i knew the cards were in serious trouble.

championship teams don't do shit like that. they don't get so easily rattled, don't panic with so little provocation. here the cardinals were, still leading the series 2-1 and down but a run in a hitter-friendly ballpark, with two innings to go; plenty of time to rally. but you can't rally with infantile frustration abroad in the dugout; you can't rally when a one-run deficit drives your teammates into public fits of hysteria. . . .

same story, different year. also for the 2d straight year, the cardinals took anxious, uncertain swings against brandon backe and made the kid look like j.r. richard. both times they faced him on the heels of back-to-back nlcs defeats, badly needing a win; both times they let this unremarkable player master them. again, my entry from last year's journal seems lamentably applicable to this year's series:
with each of the three successive losses they have seemed to shrink right before our eyes, to the point that last night they mustered only one hit -- a scratch single by tony womack -- in eight innings against a nondescript rookie pitcher named brandon backe. this from the proud group of sluggers that led the league in ev'ything; the group with the three mvp candidates, the great right-left balance, the mix of experience and youth. yet last night they were tentative at the plate, sluggish and sagging. i have never seen a cardinals team with so little fight in it.

well no, come to think of it, i have -- only too often, point of fact. viz game 7 of the 1985 world series and game 7 of the 1996 nlcs, to name two instances. those disheartened teams also laid themselves meekly down upon defeat's pillow, so paralyzed by fear of failure that they couldn't compete at all. i never thought we'd see that from this group of guys.

the cardinals didn't lay down yesterday; they competed their asses off. but they still lost their composure, and that bothers me 10 times more than the loss. that idiot behind home plate provided ample provocation, no doubt; but you gotta rise above it. you gotta be a grownup. that's what champions do.

i saw a flash of that spirit in the top of the 8th, when john rodriguez -- entering the game cold, and having had only three live at-bats in nigh a month -- calmly stepped in for the banished edmonds, fouled off two pitches, and launched a 425-foot fly ball. that is composure; give the kid a start tonight. i also saw great poise in the top of the 9th, when pujols and walker got two-strike hits off the dread hurler lidge -- mature, professional at-bats, maddeningly unredeemed.

but those images are obscured by the clouds of spittle and bile that flew from mad tony's maw during his tantrum. watching him go nose to nose with cuzzi and tim mclelland, i flashed on this scene from chapter 2 of catch-22; yossarian is talking to an officer named clevinger:

yossarian: they're trying to kill me.
clevinger: no one's trying to kill you.
yossarian: then why are they shooting at me?
clevinger: they're shooting at everyone. they're trying to kill everyone.
yossarian: and what difference does that make?
clevinger: who's they? who, specifically, do you think is trying to murder you?
yossarian: every one them.
clevinger: every one of whom?
yossarian: every one of whom do you think?
clevinger: i haven't any idea.
yossarian: then how do you know they aren't?

that's mad tony, in a nutshell. he manages as if he, personally, is always in the crosshairs. and if that's your reality -- well, who wouldn't be jittery, impulsive, hyperreactive? who wouldn't be prone to faulty decisions (viz., letting marquis bat for himself in the top of the 8th) and fight-or-flight ravings? yossarian's humanity is indelible and endearing; there is courage in his cowardice, and sanity in his derangement . . . . . i admire all that. i still wouldn't want him managing my ballclub.

after the backe loss last year, here's the conclusion i came to in my journal:

i don't think they recover; i think they have been exposed. while they may play admirably tomorrow i think they no longer believe in their destiny. the spectre of defeat has crossed their field of vision and turned their heads; they can't take their eyes off it, and thus can't keep their eyes on the prize.

hope i am wrong, but i sees what i sees.

i was wrong last year, and based on that lesson i'll issue no such proclamations this time. anything can still happen. i don't have much hope that what will happen is a 2d straight pennant in st louis. but i am open to persuasion.