pujols, shmujols. who needs the bum?
we whip la russa a lot of sh*t at this site, and sometimes he even deserves it. so let's give him his due for flashing taguchi the green light in two risky base-stealing situations yesterday. first one came in the bottom of the 1st -- gooch on first (walk), rolen batting, cards trailing 1-0, and la russa sends the runner. love the call. in anxious times (whether on a ballfield or otherwise), just taking action -- any action -- can have a settling effect. i think the 1st-inning steal helped do that; it put the team in an action-taking frame of mind right from the start, dumped 'em immediately into the flow of the ballgame -- and maybe eased the constipation that had frozen them (or their pitcher, anyway) in the belabored, 32-pitch top of the 1st.
the other steal also came with the cards trailing, now 5-3 in the 5th inning. same situation -- gucci on 1st (single), rolen batting. this time the throw got away, and taguchi scampered to 3d, later scored on a single. in both cases, the steal came at the front of a 3-run inning. i don't want to oversell this -- stolen bases do not cause subsequent hits -- but i also don't want the subtext to get overlooked. those were a couple of fearless moves. i think it emboldened the cardinals to see someone leading the charge; it set a good tone, and the players all fed off it. that's strong leadership. attaboy, tony.
as for the decision to play edmonds . . . . . well, no doubt jimmy's unexpected appearance on the lineup card also stiffened a few spines -- maybe more so than the 2 steals. but two nights ago he was so infirm that he couldn't even pinch-hit in a 14-inning game that emptied the bench -- and now all of a sudden he's well enough to hit cleanup and play all 9 innings? i mean, they didn't even sub him out after taking a 9-5 lead in the 6th inning. . . . doesn't add up. after reading miklasz's postgame quote dump, i came away with the sense that la russa acted here out of fear, not courage. before albert's injury, tony had been doing the prudent and responsible thing -- keeping edmonds out of action, preparing to put him on the DL in hopes of getting him well for the 2d half. but then, suddenly bereft of middle-order hitters and worried about where his offense was going to come from, la russa took a chance and asked -- or at the very least, allowed -- edmonds to play. and for what -- to avoid a sweep? edmonds played a brilliant game, but at what cost down the road? all parties claim there is zero risk of making this injury worse by playing on it, but i don't know if i'm buying that. and even if it's true, the memory of rolen screaming in pain with each swing last summer is still pretty fresh; i can't believe that taxing an injured 35-year-old body in june is going to pay dividends in september/october. if disabling edmonds was the right thing to do as of friday, then it's still the right thing to do today, pujols injury or no.
see bernie's column for more in this vein -- and to learn, among other things, what a Lazarus taxon is.
the handling of edmonds does not give me comfort vis-vis albert. he will no doubt demand to come back before he's ready -- that's his nature -- so it'll be up to the team to keep him out of action until it's truly safe for him to play again, with minimal risk of re-aggravating the injury. but suppose it's early july and the cards are feeling heat from the astros, or they've fallen a few games behind the reds, and albert says "get me out there dammit, i'm fine, i gotta help the team" . . . . will the cards impose the discipline necessary to avoid a foolish risk? or will anxiety cloud la russa's judgment, as it may have done here?
consider what happened when woody williams sustained this injury in 2002 -- not a pretty story. he popped the oblique in his 1st start of the season and sat for five weeks; came back may 15, at a time when the cardinals were desperate for rotation stability -- they stood 13th in the league in era and were 4.5 games out of first place, playing .500 ball -- and pitched well for 11 starts. but he reinjured the oblique during his july 6 start and had to sit again, this time for seven weeks. returned on august 29, with the cards clinging to a 2.5-game lead, but still wasn't sound; he made five more starts but had to come out of a game on september 20 and missed the 1st round of the playoffs. still sore, he took the mound for the 2d game of the nlcs, throwing 6 courageous innings in a loss to jason schmidt. the upshot -- he came back too soon, and as a result the injury bedeviled him all season; williams needed a full off-season of rest to shake it. he came back hale in 2003 and had a career year, with highs in wins and innings pitched.
did the cardinals rush him back too soon and increase the odds of a recurrence? who knows; it's a difficult injury under the best of circumstances, and it can get reaggravated even if every precaution is taken. maybe an extra week or two of rest in may 2002 wouldn't have made a difference for woody williams. either way, his story exemplifies why extreme patience is in order -- and it's going to be up to the team's leaders to enforce it.
as they didn't do in the edmonds case.
p-d has an update on albert's condition.
here's some gossip from a reliable source: the cards are among the most earnest suitors of florida's dontrelle willis, jostling with the diamondbacks for the marlins' attention. if they should eventually make a formal trade offer, it'd likely be a three-way transaction, with the cards trading a veteran somewhere for some prospects and flipping them, along with reyes or wainwright or somebody, for dontrelle.
oh, and since i mentioned jason schmidt a couple paragraphs ago -- i'm also hearing the cards are starting to scout him . . . . . . .