clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

sink or swim

let's open with some more verse:

old la russa, committed to youth?
so help me god, that is the truth
ty, adam, and josh
mowed 'em right down, by gosh
i dare say they'd have struck out Babe Ruth.

after that 7-game slide in late september, it's a wonder la russa could ever trust any relief pitcher again, much less a buncha rooks. the st louis bullpen capsized that week, going 0-5 with a 7.64 era and a 1.755 whip. wainwright pitched twice and got scored on both times; tyler johnson gave up two walk-off bombs to left-handed batters; braden looper retired fewer than half the men he faced (5 outs vs. 6 baserunners). josh kinney was the only one of the 8 relief pitchers tlr used during the losing streak who never got scored upon; he threw 4 1/3 scoreless frames over 3 appearances.

it was a terrible week for the entire organization, but tony went to school on all those close, late losses; he learned a few things about how to survive without isringhausen. he cut bait on jorge sosa and relegated looper to rearguard duty -- since sept 22, braden has only been given one lead to protect, a 5-run bulge on september 29. la russa named wainwright as his closer and expanded kinney's role; hancock settled back in to middle relief; and brad thompson started to appear in higher-leverage situations. and ty johnson salvaged his credit rating with two wins during the final week. by the milwaukee series the bullpen had begun to look vaguely seaworthy; and, perhaps fortunately, there weren't enough games left in the season for la russa to think too much about patching up all the holes. he just had to slap together whatever pieces of driftwood were nearest at hand and call it a boat.

in this case, haste might prove a blessing. tony doesn't have the luxury of babying his young hurlers; he's got no choice but to shove them out there and growl, "go git'm." now, there are some among us who wish he would show that tendency more often, and do it proactively rather than out of pick-up-the-pieces expediency. but leave that aside. for whatever reason, he's managing the kids that way now; he's completely committed to them, and they're pitching with exclamation points in their eyes rather than question marks. la russa could have gone with looper or hancock or thompson in the 7th inning, all of whom are more seasoned than kinney (who has thrown all of 25 big-league innings). but kinney has been better than any of'm vs left-handed hitters (.162 average against), and 3 of the 5 padres he faced swing left-handed; also, kinney pitched very well vs these same padres last week at busch, preserving a tie for 2 innings and looking super-sharp in the doing. on that night, kinney struck out 3 of the 7 guys he faced and induced 7 swinging strikes; the only balls put into play off him were a couple of harmless fly balls and a grounder to short. the pads actually hit the ball much harder off him yesterday -- a deep fly to left (preceded by a scorched foul ball), a sharply hit ball to pujols, and a liner to encarnacion. if they'd played this game a week ago, a couple of those balls would have found holes instead of gloves, and la russa would be getting cursed on all the online boards and forced to justify his decision umpteen times in the postgame interview room.

sometimes you're only as smart or stupid as your players -- and the shadows across home plate -- make you look.

my praises for weaver can be summed up in the retelling of a single at-bat, his last one of the day -- dave roberts' two-on, two-out AB in the 5th inning. weaver had just lost two left-handed hitters in a row-- blum on a walk, klesko a well-hit single -- and roberts was due to inflict injury, having gone hitless in his first two at-bats. all three of roberts' hits in game 1 came on fastballs; the cardinals adjusted yesterday. weaver retired him on a curve in the 1st and here, in this critical 5th-inning at-bat, threw nothing but curveballs. missed with the 1st, dropped the next two over, missed with the 4th. molina put down signals for the 2-2, then trotted out to the mind for a brief conference. perhaps they considered the fastball; weaver could ill-afford to miss on 2-2 and run the count full, because -- especially with giles on deck and another lefty (gonzalez) to follow -- the advantage would swing back to roberts. but after talking things over they settled on another curve for that crucial 2-2; weaver threw it close, it broke into the dirt, and roberts swung through it. inning over. it took no small amount of nerve to call for the bender on that 2-2 pitch; weaver simply trusted himself and his stuff, didn't nibble, didn't try to make a perfect pitch, and just concentrated on getting it over. the same might be said for his whole 5-inning stint -- and that turned out to be enough.

here's another limerick, courtesy iron duke 75:

Nobody thought they could do this
And some fans were just saying, "screw this"
But from out of the blue
They win the first two
Now they're on their way back to St. Louis

very nicely put. for two games, anyway, the cardinals have struck that lucky balance between concentration and disinhibition, intensity and relaxation, that seems to mark october winners. feels good to see it.