That game was, I think, one of the more frustrating losses that I've seen in a while. The Cardinals wasted numerous scoring opportunities, they made fielding errors, and, of course, Tony La Russa made one of his patented questionable bullpen decisions® by allowing Kip Wells to throw to both Derreck Lee and Aramis Ramirez in the seventh. The home plate umpire was apparently attached to a random number generator designed to just scream out 'strike!' or stay silent without any clear correlation to the location of the pitch. All the while, players seemed to be getting hits at exactly the wrong time, grounding out weakly with the bases loaded, and then, two innings later, getting a beautiful-looking hit with the bases empty.
Yet, they stuck with the game. Those first seven innings of baseball were the compelling baseball that one would expect out of division rivals in the midst of a pennant chase. Wells and Zambrano fought and struggled with every at bat, and it never seemed like the Cardinals were letting Z's pitching or the stats on the scoreboard get to them--they struggled through lost opportunities, and through deficits, putting runners on base, and running up Z's pitch count very effectively. Whether or not they had their lead, you felt that they were in the game, and were putting an effort to crack it wide open.
That is, that's what they did until the Cubs' half of the seventh inning. I almost couldn't watch that at bat between Ramirez and Wells. The outcome of that at bat was just so painfully obvious that I felt like a horrible motorist gawking at a twenty car pileup on the highway, just wondering what I could see. The comment threads seemed to center on whether or not Wells was gassed at that moment, but to me, it is almost irrelevant exactly how many more pitches Wells had left in him--the bullpen was rested, and the Cubs' best two hitters were up in a tied game in the late innings. Wells' performance had begun to drop, and it only made sense to bring in one of the guys who you pay (in terms of $/IP) a premium to for one purpose: to let them throw the high-leverage innings that will ultimately determine the outcome of games. That at bat was clearly a game critical moment, and for some reason, the player best equipped to help the team through it was not given the ball. Since the 2002 season, I have been pretty slow to criticize La Russa's in game decision making, but I simply cannot really fathom a reason to not go to Springer in that situation--let him throw one or maybe two innings, and then go to Izzy for as many innings the team can last, and hope that things hold up.
Instead, we got Crazy Tony sticking with his starter, and the Cubs utterly deflating the team with some key hits. The bad calls and the error are excusable to me--those happen in this game, and have to be rolled with. A poor managerial decision, however, is much more inexcusable to me--a good manager puts his players in a position to win, and it was clear that Kip was not in a position to succeed there. And the final result was just extremely predictable.
I'm on the road today, and am not sure whether I'll be back to put up a game thread, so I'm doing it now, at this absurdly early time, just to make sure that a game thread gets up. It'd still be nice to at least win this series.
GAME TIME 7:10 CDT