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life at replacement level

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i remain unmoved. i still think the cardinals are going to win the division -- more on that in a second -- but moreover (to repeat what i have been writing on a more or less daily basis since last friday) i won't lose any sleep if they don't. for me, the season pretty much ended when mulder's rehab came a cropper and edmonds' head injury became debilitating. those two personnel losses rendered the cardinals extremely unlikely to do much october damage; i lowered my expectations accordingly. i've continued to hope for the best, but i've been prepared for the worst -- like most cardinal fans. st louis has played the last six weeks without its starting shortstop and centerfielder (remember the cliche about good teams being strong up the middle?), the last three months without its #2 starting pitcher, and the last three weeks without its closer -- and it was a flawed team before all those injuries hit.

so why, exactly, is anyone stunned that they're losing games in bulk?

it's hard to watch them struggle like this; makes me sad. but i don't see them as chokers. they're losing these close games because they're fielding a replacement-level team --- because josh hancock and aaron miles and skip schumaker are not jason isringhausen and david eckstein and jim edmonds. the fact that they've given themselves a chance to win almost every night speaks well of their moxie; they have repeatedly fought their way back from deficits (including a couple of large ones) to forge ties. but why can't they get over the hump and take a single blasted lead? why do we now expect them to lose all the close ones?

because josh hancock and aaron miles and skip schumaker are not jason isringhausen . . . . . yadda yadda.

but here's the thing. at some point, just by random chance, one of those replacement-level guys will get a big hit. or a st louis pitcher will throw 7 innings of shutout ball. or the opposing team's starter will have an off-night and give up 8 runs. that's what happened earlier this year, when those seemingly endless 8-game losing streaks finally ended; odds are the same thing will happen at some point this week. i am well aware of the trouble the cards have played themselves into, and the seemingly unstoppable current sweeping them toward the shoals. i'm also well aware that they can't pitch, can't hit, and can't close. but above all i can add and subtract -- and for all the sturm und drang, st louis still leads the astros by 3 games in the loss column with 6 to play. that's a significant lead, and one that even a bunch of replacement-level players should be able to defend. if they keep their cool, continue to play hard inning by inning, and avoid getting mind-f**ked by the past week's frustrations, they will probably pull out of the tailspin and take the division crown -- however dented and tarnished it may be.

and if they don't? salvomania posted some wise words in saturday's game thread; you might've missed them since they appeared on the weekend, and if you did see them already they bear repeating: "Nobody likes to lose when you play a game, but handling losing with dignity and perspective is part of playing (and being a fan)." so if the cardinals really do blow this, we'll keep it in perspective -- too few assets on the roster this year, and too many injuries -- and get on with our lives. we'll watch the astros take that kick-ass rotation of theirs into the playoffs and scare the crap out of every opponent they face, possibly win another pennant and become the worst world series entrant since the '73 mets. houston even has the personnel to win a world series title -- and if that should come to pass, they'd be the worst one in history. i know that'd be tough for you houston-based guys to swallow; i get what that's like. i roomed with two loud, obnoxious, insufferable mets fans back in the mid-1980s, at the height of the "mets are pond scum" era, and had to live with their joy as they rooted their loathsome team to a world title in 1986 -- while i was still licking my wounds from the cardinals' 1985 series collapse. here's how i dealt with it: i admitted that the mets were damn good. better than my team. once i got over hating the mets and regarded them as just another ballclub, met-fan euphoria no longer galled me.

one final thing is this vein: five years ago, the astros led the cardinals by 6 games in the loss column with 12 to play. good astros team, too -- they arrived at that point in the season 30 games over, at 90-60. but they lost 8 of their next 9 games, while the cardinals went 7-1 in the same span to take a 1-game lead into the season's final weekend -- with houston coming to busch for a 3-game showdown. the cards had already clinched a playoff spot by then, but the free-falling -- and now 2d-place -- astros found themselves just 2 games up in the wild-card race over the giants. they'd been outscored 57-30 during the 9-game trough and, with 3 tough road games looming vs the surging cardinals, were in serious danger of missing the playoffs.

must have been agonizing for those astros fans.

but after all that, houston ended up taking the season-ending series in st louis 2 games to 1 and earned the right to call themselves division champs on a tie-breaker (they'd won the head-to-head season series vs the cards, 9 games to 7). the astros promptly got swept in the nlds by the braves, but they avoided the indignity of being remembered as chokers. they rewarded their fans with two home playoff games.

so let the losses keep piling up. the cardinals will keep showing up for their games, and keep trying to win them; and they'll prob'y get out of this mess and make a proper, routine postseason exit in the nlds.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

and now a word about edmonds.

i'm very, very sorry i missed that dinger he hit last night. must have been a special moment. i did some quick research and found that edmonds' last hurrah --- if that's what last night was -- bears some interesting parallels to stan the man's parting shot. that, too, came in a critical game in a pennant race, played on september 16, 1963 -- the 153rd game of the year. the cards came into that contest having won 19 of 20 to close within a game of the league-leading dodgers, who were the opposition that night -- first of 3 games at sportsman's park. ernie broglio pitched his tail off for the cards -- yielded only 1 run in 8 innings -- but johnny podres no-hit the cardinals through five and still had a 1-hit shutout when musial stepped up with the bases empty, 1 out in the 7th. he was batting just .249 at that moment, with 11 home runs; but he launched his 12th, and # 475 for his career, in that at-bat. it tied the game 1-1 and placed the cardinals on the cusp of a dramatic win and a 1st-place tie. alas, they ended up losing the game in the 9th inning; got shut out in the 2d game; and carried a 5-1 lead into the 8th inning of the finale but yielded 3 runs in the 8th, the tying run in the 9th, and the losing run in the 13th. lost the game by a final score of 6-5.

sound familiar?