for the 2d straight start, la russa/duncan left mulder in to work out of a late-inning jam in a close game; for the 2d straight time, mulder justified their confidence in him. last time it was the 8th inning vs houston; with the score tied 1-1 he pitched too carefully to berkman and ensberg, walked them both, then got out of the inning by whiffing jason lane (on a swinging strike) and popping adam everett up. last night it was the 7th inning: he walked wes helms to bring the lead run to the plate in the person of brady clark. mulder got ahead with a strike on the outside corner, then went to 0-2 when clark swung through a sinker. the 1-2 pitch started on the inside corner and broke inside; outstanding pitch, and clark swung and missed again to end the threat.
as well as he has pitched this month -- 2-0, 1.93 era, 1.2 whip -- i continue to hold my breath. two red flags: mulder is striking out fewer guys than ever -- only 10 in 28 july innings -- and his ops against, even in a strong month of pitching, is .728. not to be ungenerous, but that puts him a distant fourth among the cardinals' five starters in july: marquis is at .611, morris .646, carpenter an unbelievable .359. only supps trails mulder in this category, and not by that much -- .754. to put this into context, the league ops for 2005 stands at .740; mulder's not beating that by much, even in a stretch of very strong performances.
don't take this the wrong way; i'm not complaining about the results or trying to beat the guy down. nor am i just stubbornly refusing to admit that i wrote him off prematurely; i freely admit he has righted the ship far more quickly than i predicted he could. but the red flags remain; the likelihood is that he still has some rough road ahead. i say that with full admiration for what he has accomplished this month, for the way he has faced down his problems and made adjustments. mulder was in danger of going into a full tailspin and becoming a drag on the team; he avoided that, which is a credit to his professionalism and guts. so mr mulder, i salute you; as ryan put it over at the diaspora, "if this is mediocrity, I'll take it."
one last bit of information: i haven't seen much written about mulder's day-night split, but it's growing: 10-1 with a 2.14 era under the lights, 1-4 with a 7.40 era under the sun. his ops against is .644 night, .962 day. probably completely random, but still kind of interesting.