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Game 97 Open Thread: July 23, 2005

here's what i love most about this group of cardinals: they got outhit and outpitched last night but still came off looking like the better team. by far. for 10 innings their offense consisted of two swings -- one by rodriguez, the other by pujols (the latter neutralized by an incredible catch) -- while the cubs had men in scoring position every other inning. yet only once (in the 10th ) did the outcome seem in doubt. the cardinals now possess something they haven't had since the gibson-brock years: a mystique. that's a powerful psychological edge, because it puts doubt in the minds of the opposing players; they have to defeat not just you but themselves, the nagging sense that they just can't beat you. two months ago, when the cards beat pittsburgh in a game that had a lot of parallels to last night's, i wrote that the cards were simply damn lucky. but after sleeping on it, i changed my mind and wrote this:

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. . . . that's a quality statistics can't measure; and while i love my numbers, it's that numberless and nameless thing that i appreciate most about these cardinals.

the numberless, nameless thing was clearly in evidence last night. carpenter and the stl defense bore down with men in scoring position, while the cubs took anxious at-bats. result: 11 men left on base. fast-forward to the 11th, with eckstein up in an obvious squeeze situation -- to me it appeared as if the cubs just sat there and let the cardinals have their way. the cubs could have pitched out; they could have brought in michael wuertz or ryan dempster (their closer), both harder throwers, to neutralize the squeeze and hope for a popup or weak fly. or they could have played the matchup game. they had a LOOGY named will ohman in the pen; he could have been waved in to ibb eckstein, setting up a left-left matchup with rodriquez; if la russa had countered with a right-handed batter (and his only options were seabol and diaz), dusty could have waved in wuertz or dempster. but here is where the mystique came into play: looming just over the horizon was mr pujols, the very embodiment of the cardinals' seeming invincibility. we all know that albert has been fallible in late-game situations this year; had he come to plate with two on and two out, we would have sweated the at-bat. but the cubs weren't going there; ruled it out, tied their own hands. and that's exactly what mystique does: it makes you passive, makes you freeze in the headlights. the cubs acted as if they didn't have any options at all; they played it straight down the line, stayed with their groundball pitcher and crossed their fingers that the cardinals wouldn't squeeze. eckstein got an easy pitch to bunt, and there's your ballgame.

a mesmerizing, intoxictating win -- but today i'd like to see the old-fashioned kind, ie where the cardinals hit and pitch better than their opponents.

mattmo williams
11-2, 3.12 2-3, 4.96