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let's start at the end of last night's game: albert's un-pujolsian game-ending at-bat. in case you missed it, i was musing just yesterday about albert's recent lack of production in key situations, and i posited the following explanation:

in trying to make up for the loss of other rbi men [ie, walker rolens and sanders], albert has expanded his strike zone in key situations, in the belief that he's got to be "the man." maybe in their absence he's seeing more marginal pitches and, not wanting to be pitched around, swinging at them.
that's certainly what prince pu did last night -- lunged at a slider that ended up several inches outside, as clearly shown on espn's "pitch tracker" (or whatever they call that gizmo which illustrates where a pitch broke the plane of home plate). give dempster some credit -- he made a great pitch, right on the corner and with a tight, late break -- but albert doesn't normally get fooled on that offering, and when he does he can still usually keep his hands back and halt his swing (or, if he commits, put a little better charge into the ball). earlier in the count, on the 0-0 pitch, he got caught unprepared, taking a belt-high fastball on the inner half of the plate -- per his postgame remarks (scroll to end of article), he wishes he could have that one back. but albert went up there a little too mindful of the slider and missed his pitch; then, two deliveries later (and maybe still thinking about that 0-0 fastball), albert swung at the exact pitch (slider down) he supposedly was trying to lay off . . . . .

i believe that is what they call "pressing." whatever; the man is human and entitled to his struggles. but if he's taking anxious at-bats now, with an 11-game lead, what can we expect come october? hope this doesn't build into the kind of thing that looms large in his mind, or that (god forbid) the media seize upon and turn into a postseason storyline . . .

we rewind now to the fateful sixth inning. as he did friday, la russa stayed with his starting pitcher one inning too long, ignoring obvious signs that his hurler was tiring. morris faced four men in the 5th inning; two of them hit home runs (although one sailed juuuuuust wide of the foul pole), one got a single, and the last one creamed the ball right at abe nunez, who initiated an inning-ending double play. so when morris came to bat in the top of the 6th with the go-ahead run at 2d base, it seemed an obvious time to send up a pinch-hitter. tony didn't. nor did he relieve morris after a jeromy burnitz comebacker nearly ripped off mattmo's glove hand. no, tlr waited until the damage was completely done before making a move. of the last 9 hitters matty faced, six reached base.

la russa is not stupid (never mind that i've called him an idiot many times over the years), so what possible explanation is there for such stupid managing? if, as the post-dispatch intimates, la russa was simply trying to get morris his 100th win, then he was out of his mind -- the 100th win will come one way or the other, probably on a night when morris isn't serving up gopher balls every other inning. i'd rather imagine that la russa made a calculation roughly like this one:

  • matty is struggling again tonight
  • we need to win this game less than we need matty to regain his form
  • matty can't regain his form if he doesn't pitch
  • he's got to make adjustments
  • he needs to make said adjustments against live hitters
  • and he needs a shot of confidence
  • if i lift him now, it's just another failed outing -- nothing gained
  • if i leave him in and he continues to struggle, nothing lost -- still a failed outing
  • if i leave him in and he pitches through it, he can turn a failed outing into a successful one
  • the astros have already lost; we are 11 games up
  • i'm going to roll the dice and stick with matty
i'm not suggesting here that la russa made the right move; i'm just giving him the benefit of the doubt, groping to find some intelligible basis for a seemingly irrational decision. if something like the above was in tony's mind, ettiquette would prevent him from articulating it fully and candidly; essentially, he'd be admitting that he's already tuning up for october, using these games as de facto exhibition contests in which it's less important to win than it is for guys to "get their work in." tony has already come close to such an admission vis a vis marquis -- he has placed wins on the line for the sake of an individual player's needs. seems to me he did much the same thing last night. the decision cost st louis the game and the series, exposing all of us to the aggravating spectacle of cheerful cub fans. but if tony was acting on a rationale similar to the one bullet-pointed above (a very big if, i freely concede), i can live with it. i still wouldn't agree with it, but at least i would see some semblance of logic in the decision.

the alternative is that la russa is just stupider than we fans are. sometimes i believe that's true. but it's not a very hopeful thought.

we haven't even gotten to the more important question, which is: what the hell is wrong with matty? his velocity was down the first few outings after the break, but that wasn't the case last night -- according to espn's gun his fastball peaked at 92, and consistently was in the 89-90 range. (prior was at 93-94.) duncan suggested two or three starts ago that morris was tipping his curveball; i don't believe that for a second, but even if it's true they supposedly corrected the problem, so it can't explain last night's performance.

my only thought, and it's a weak one, is that morris is simply not locating -- he's getting hurt on mistake pitches. that's what he told the post-dispatch: "I was just getting too much of the plate ahead in the count." he also cited an overreliance on his cut fasball at the expense of his sinker.

whatever's going on, we ain't winning diddly in the postseason if morris keeps pitching like this. i continue to have faith that he'll get it turned around; his fastball has life again, he's still throwing strikes, and the guy has no fear. seems to me he's missing by inches, not by feet. c'mon mattmo; we need ya.

and if morris doesn't get it back? bellyitcher called my attention to anthony reyes' breathtaking line in his first start for memphis since his big-league debut:

ip h r er bb so
7 2 0 0 0 15

wow. that's your basic cry of: i am through with the f**king minors, i'm a major-league pitcher!!

final thought: i sincerely hope the cubs don't go on the kind of run the astros did last season and sneak into the wild-card slot. i want no part of these guys in october.

Update [2005-8-15 9:18:13 by lboros]: if you're already steamed and depressed after this weekend, do not read bryan smith's thoughts on the trajectory of the cardinal organization at baseball analysts today.