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two down

that, my friends, was vintage whiteyball.

you can tell because four of the six guys who scored had to slide across the plate; only two toed it standing up. in the grand tradition of curt ford and mike ramsey, the cardinals weaseled their way on via walks, errors, fcs, and slap hits, just nudging the ball into play and then scurrying around like pests. three runs scored on groundballs, one on a walk; only the two 7th-inning insurance tallies came home on a hit, and even there baserunning made the inning -- a hit-and-run single, then pujols' swift, tight circuit around the paths on sanders' double.

the run-scoring models i've been using this season in the (now woefully neglected) perfect world box estimated st louis' offensive output yesterday at just shy of three runs; in the real world they scored six. the same models gauged the padres' output at four runs; they scored two. i'd say the cardinals were lucky if they hadn't been winning games like this all season. to quote a post from way back in may, "all teams get breaks; the devil's in what you make of them. the ability to exploit good luck, capitalize on it, coin it into wins -- that's a skill. and these cardinals have it."

likewise, i'd be inclined to say mulder was lucky to get nicked for only one run after yielding 12 baserunners in 6.2 innings. but he, too, has been doing that with regularity. mulder employed his post-all-star-break formula (as described yesterday) to perfection: singles (7 of his 8 hits allowed) and groundballs (13, vs only 1 flyout), hence double plays -- four of them, wiping out an estimated 1.5 san diego runs (using the method described in this post).

it was a rewarding win, and great fun to watch. . . . . . but let's get real now: the cardinals can't win a championship this way. they may spin flax into gold against a .500 team, but to beat an nlcs foe or an al pennant winner they're going to have to hit the ball harder than they did yesterday. yes they created and capitalized on opportunities, but they also wasted chances to turn the game into a rout. begin with the two-run rally in the third, which ended on consecutive strikeouts by stl's #4 and #5 hitters with the bases loaded. a simple sac fly would have added a run and lengthened the small-ball resume; but had either walker or sanders delivered so much as a single, we might not even be talking about small-ball this morning; we might be talking about the unstoppable cardinal attack that blew the padres away early with a 6-run inning.

another missed opportunity: eckstein's squeeze in the fourth. will leitch, writing in his live blog at deadspin, questioned the call at the time:

We love the squeeze bunt, we really do (we grew up loving Whitey Herzog and all), but we don't quite understand it here. This is the time to break a game open, not sneak one run at a time. The run is nice, but just about everything Eckstein could have done other than a double play would have gotten that run home.
let's reset the situation: stl 3, sd 0, men at 1st and 3d with one out. eckstein had hit the ball hard his first two times up -- a single in the 1st, and a smash toward the hole in the 3d that would have been an rbi hit but for nady's diving stop (it ended up being an rbi fc). eck also led the league in batting with runners in scoring position, something i didn't realize until espn flashed the graphic. (situational aggressiveness!) moreover, astacio had to be gassed. he had thrown 39 pitches in the 3d inning, then barely got a rest in the top of the 4th as the padres went down on 5 pitches (the dumbasses). by the time eckstein came up in the 4th, astacio had thrown another 13 pitches, retiring only one batter -- mulder, who struck out looking (as if, to paraphrase leitch, he forgot he was holding a bat). the edmonds pujols walker gauntlet loomed . . . leitch is right; it was time to go for the throat. the squeeze was well executed, it did net one run, and it looks great on the 10 o'clock highlights. but it may have cost the cards a much bigger inning and, perversely, kept the game within reach for the padres.

finally there was the whiff by grud'k in the bottom of the 7th with sanders on 3d and one out. now that was a time i might squeeze; it's late in the game, when a single run has much higher value; the bottom of the order is up behind grud'k, so little chance of a big inning; and you're facing not an arm-weary, replacement-level starter but a fresh reliever with a strikeout rate of 12.5 per 9 innings. that's not to criticize la russa for failing to squeeze, merely to instruct him in the type of situations that are truly squeeze-worthy. . . . anyway, a fly ball or a grounder to short from grud'k would have served just as well as a squeeze -- and when the tying run came to the plate next half-inning, the failure to bring sanders home loomed momentarily large.

the pen: mad-dog tavarez kicked off his postseason in the usual fashion; maybe he could break his pitching hand this year. he did get a big out to end the 7th . . . . . the peril he created in the 8th wasn't really all that perilous; even when sweeney batted as the tying run, the cards' win expectancy stood at 96.1 percent. but be honest: the way this pen has pitched, you didn't feel safe even with that four-run lead, did you . . . . randy flores looked solid in his LOOGY turn, and izzy pitched with a bit more interest than he had in game 1, and the cardinals lead by two games.