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So, how 'bout that game last night? Ya . . . my bad on that extra overflow thread. I'm getting ahead of myself though.
Mike Parisi didn't look good last night. He didn't look like a major league pitcher to be honest. Everything was up in the zone and my willingness to attribute that to nerves lasted one start -- his previous one. Location was a problem but I'm not sure it was the only problem. In the first inning, Parisi threw just 4 curveballs out of 25 pitches. Pumping fastball after fastball after fastball and the Nationals were all over him. His fastball isn't even his best pitch but that's what he was totally reliant on in the first.
In the second, Parisi was let down by his defense in part but he wasn't able to bear down and get the last out. It's understandable that after your first inning shellacking you'd be a little shaky and then having to watch your CF commit an error. . . while I'm sure it's hard, you have to stop the bleeding. He didn't. Plain and simple. Again a lot of fastballs (over 60%) in the second inning, and he wasn't fooling anyone.
How about Troy Glaus ? Another HR in the 4th inning for his 6th shot of the year. If you check out his batted ball data for this season, it's all in line with his career numbers. The only number that's depressed is HR/FB. His flyballs are leaving the field about one-third as often as they have in the past. This is the type of thing that you'd expect to regress to around career norms by the end of the season.
Tony LaRussa had made up his mind that he was going to get some innings out of Parisi without destroying his bullpen. It was borderline reckless of Tony as Parisi was obviously laboring and tired throughout the 4th. It's easy to overlook punishment like this because it's only 89 pitches and Parisi isn't someone that figures prominently into the Cardinals longterm plans but make no mistake -- that was a recipe for an injury if we've ever seen one.
Mark Worrell came on in relief and true to Cardinal pitchers this season hit a HR in his first major league at bat. A three run shot that put the Cardinals within 2 of the Nationals after being down by 6. Worrell hasn't been especially sharp in STL but he's proven that he can get major leaguers out. His Memphis numbers over the last two years are superb and while he doesn't project as anything more than a middle reliever, it's nice to see him get the callup he obviously earned. The Cardinals have shown how adept they are at cultivating right handed relievers this season with McClellan, Worrell and Perez. Jason Motte is getting roughed up in Memphis right now but he's the next best reliever in the minors. He needs a secondary offering (something --- anything!) to keep hitters from sitting on his fastball but if he ever gets that he has the potential to be second only to Perez in the bullpen.
But I digress. The 7th was a relatively boring inning as Skip, Kennedy and Miles went down in order for the second time that night (see the 5th). After his 1-for-6 showing last night, I have to ask what it's going to take for Kennedy to be shown the door. He's hitting .246/.300/.283 overall and those numbers are still buoyed by a crazy good April. Since May 1st, he's hitting .164/.222/.194. This is well below replacement level production. You should be able to grab any Brooks Conrad or Callix Crabbe out of the minors and have them be a better player than Kennedy. The Cardinals have shown that they're willing to do what's necessary to field the best team this year (DL Izzy, option Chris Duncan) so hopefully it's not much longer before Kenned is simply released but he needs to go.
Let's skip ahead past McClellan and Villone who pitched good 7th and 8th innings, respectively. The real fireworks start in the 9th. Jason LaRue grounds out to the catcher and we all assume that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow morning. The pitcher's spot comes up in the lineup and Brendan Ryan gets to pinch hit. He hits a long double to centerfield that probably could have been a triple if he had gotten the green light but Albert was available off the bench. (A quick side note on the bench, the Cardinals are really hamstringing themselves by refusing to put Ankiel on the DL. This is the second time this season he's been more than mildly injured -- read: unavailable -- and the Cardinals just drag him along. It's foolish.)
The scene was set for Pujols. The pitch sequence was ball, called strike, called strike, ball, ball worst called strike in the history of man. I was sure the umpire had done the Cardinals in as he called Pujols out on a pitch that was at least 6 inches off the plate. It's not that the pitch even broke inward; it was a fairly vertical slider that the ump just flat out botched. Albert exchanged a few words with the ump but I was surprised that no one was terribly fired up about that call on the Cardinals team. It's not that it was just a bad call -- it was a terrible call that took the bat out of the hands of the Cardinals best hitter late in the game in an incredibly important situation.
Fortunately, Skip and Miles came through. Skip hit a pitch to dead centerfield that was about 1 foot short of being a HR. It bounced off the wall for a triple, scoring Brendan Ryan. Aaron Miles proceeded to single Schumaker in on a "hit" about a foot left of second base and 5 feet past it that Christian Guzman probably should have had but couldn't quite pick with the glove. Adam Kennedy proceeded to groundout weakly to the pitcher and stop running after about 5 steps.
Bringing Randy Flores in to pitch the 9th was a hard thing for me to watch. The game is tied and Flores isn't exactly a good pitcher. Except he had his slider working last night and it had some pretty tremendous sweeping action. He got two groundouts before retiring 298lbs. Dmitri Young on a flyball to Ryan Ludwick.
Which brings us to the 10th. Ludwick and Glaus are retired, Joey Bombs is at the plate with the bases empty. The Nats pitcher fed him everything he had in his repertoire -- fastball, splitter, changeup, slider. Mather worked the count and fouled off 5 pitches before taking the 10th pitch deep for a HR. (The dog in the apartment below me went crazy after I jumped up and was yelling at the TV.) It's was Mather's first HR in the majors and a sign of the plus-power he possesses. Mather had to fight off pitches that were all over the plate: up, down, outside, inside. The slider he took deep was thigh high on the inside part of the plate and Mather turned on it with a swing that you knew meant the ball was leaving the park. The stage was primed for the Cardinals dramatic and inspiring comeback win.
LBoros wrote about some starting pitching "heroes" a few days back. After Izzy, it's not hard to see that Franklin is TLR's go to guy for a bullpen "hero". TLR had already used much of his bullpen in the first game (including Chris Perez who was shaky and gave up a run) so there weren't really any great options. He could have let Flores out for another inning since Flores had only been needed for one out in the day game but Franklin had pitched a perfect 9th earlier and TLR went to the trusted veteran again. Ryan Franklin scares the crap out of me everytime I watch him. His stuff is average at best but he has some decent sink on his fastball and is able to command his pitches throwing strikes a good portion of the time. The problem I have, besides the underwhelming stuff, is that, statistically, he's a ticking time bomb. He's not getting as many groundballs as he did in the past, his walks are way up and his HR/FB has been extremely low. The same as when Kyle Lohse was pitching phenomenally early in the season, balls staying in the park have been a huge part of Franklin's success. The problem is that it really isn't sustainable -- as was evidenced when Elijah Dukes took him yard.
Dukes is a good player, despite his somewhat juvenile reaction last night, but I still would have preferred Perez to close. There's no good choice to close the game -- and I certainly won't be lynching TLR for his decision to go to Franklin -- but that was a damn hard game to lose after an incredible and exciting comeback. Regardless of the outcome, last night was my favorite game of this entire season so far. If the Cardinals lose another 101 just like that this year, I'll tune in to every game. Well fought Redbirds -- a tip of the cap to you.