It's less than two weeks until pitchers and catchers report. I'm thinking it's time to tell some stories and really start to get excited about the season. I'm going to tell you guys about my experience with this game. As many of you know, I am a graduate student in Austin, Texas. Where people have baseball loyalties here, they are mostly Astros loyalties. It's always a completely different experience when you are cheering against the most popular team in an area. My students loved talking trash to me, as I wore my lucky Pujols jersey to teach.
As luck would have it that day, I had to go and go and administer the discussion section for my engineering physics course that day. I had about an hour of game time before I had to go to class, so I went to the nearest bar, and sat in the corner, and watched the game unfold. This particular bar is very divey, with tables made out of rough-hewn tree bark. The clientèle is mainly graduate students and a variety of fourty something regulars. Today, there was a disproportionate number of undergraduates there to watch the game.
Some of them had a good chat with me as the first few innings went on, but there was one table that I stayed away from, which featured the loudest cheering individual in the place: a 22 (or so) year old prominently wearing a Cubs cap. He was clearly not cheering for the Astros so much as he was cheering against the Cardinals, loudly cheering every strike Edmonds made, and kind of half watching during the Astros half of the inning. By the time I left, it was around the third or fourth inning, and the Cardinals were ahead, and I was feeling pretty safe with Matt Morris on the mound. I went to do my two hours of teaching, sad that I wouldn't get the opportunity to see the game finish out.
So I taught my two hours, and I talked smack about Pete Munro to my students a bit, and quickly ran back to see the rest of the game. I first went to a closer bar with a much older fan base, but found that place completely packed, and loudly, LOUDLY cheering for the Astros. Remembering talking to some of the regulars here, who were actually hard core Astros/Colt '45s fans, I decided to wait out the inning and flee to the first place. I did manage to see that Brad Lidge was on the mound, and looking truly terrifying, retiring Pujols, Rolen, and Edmonds in order.
My friendly chat people recognized me as I walked in, and this place was also completely full. I managed to take the last seat remaining, to watch a tense extra innings matchup. Any error, and the Cardinals would go home. I had just witnessed that horrific Beltran homer off of Tavarez to win a game. I saw images of that filtering through my head as he took the plate. But Izzy held up, despite having allowed the tying run (as I later discovered). And Tavarez behind him. My newfound friends "reminded" me that the Cardinals couldn't handle Lidge. I asked them how long they thought Phil Garner could possibly keep him in there.
Finally, the twelfth inning came up. Garner, out of pinch hitters, pinch hits Brandon Backe for Lidge. The inning ends, with the Cards facing a fresh pitcher. I ask them if they are as confident about this next guy as they were about Lidge. I get a nervous shuffle.
Pujols walks to lead off the inning. The general consensus in the crowd is that this is good strategy--don't let Albert beat you. Rolen grounds out. And, seeing Jim Edmonds in the on deck circle, the whole bar starts yelling "strike out" "strike out" (Astros fans HATE Jim Edmonds, and never really seem to have an explanation for why. But they do, on average, really hate him). I say, I really don't think so. I remember him taking the first pitch for a ball, fouling off the second pitch, and then, he makes his enormous golf swing, and this happens:
After watching three innings of nothing on both sides, this was like a thunderbolt. Forgetting where I was, I jump up and scream out of excitement. The sound, of course, echoes silently around the room as everyone else is flabbergasted at their team losing one that they should have won after the blown save and the three brilliant innings out of Lidge. Cubs guy, in particular, looks truly dejected. I am challenged to come back the next day, as I head out of the bar, completely energized by that moment.
That night was the second (maybe third, now--that Mets NLCS had some entertaining moments) largest amount of fun that I have had following the Cardinals in Texas. It's very odd how being out of market makes some things about the season so much less entertaining, but will occasionally produce these brilliant moments. As I look forward to the season, I hope that the current squad has a couple more of these moments left for me.
Update [2007-1-31 12:19:28 by Valatan]:: I almost forgot: if you enjoy the hot stove secondguessing fun, you should check out this diary by ilillillli. A lot of nice constraints on the typical sorts of GM backseat driving that people do.
Update [2007-1-31 13:24:59 by Valatan]:: Looks like Sammy Sosa has finally found a home. If he can't hit at The Ballpark, he can't hit anywhere. I'd like to say I wish him the best, but...