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Defining Listlessness, OR When you're sure you've had enough of this team / well hang on

Even Albert Pujols (0-3, 2 long strikes) hurts, sometimes. 

Now the losing streak is starting to get malicious. We talk about the offense yesterday and it generates two runner-on homers and a 2-5 night from one of the replacement outfielders, and what happens? The bullpen, heretofore on the road to recovery, takes an all-the-wrong-buttons beating, with its two defining features, walks and pitching changes, conveniently appropriate for the listless, suspenseless way in which the Cardinals have been bad. But I'm not up for analysis today. Analysis is the province of people who are not parked in their vintage Firebird with the windows up, listening to R.E.M. 

So anyway. For my money those are the two most listless ways to pitch badly in baseball. If I had to make a top-five list, it would look like this: 

  1. Pitching change backfire
  2. Walk, preferably on four pitches
  3. Pick-off play error
  4. Run Balked In
  5. Ground rule double
Luckily for us, the two the Cardinals have utilized in the last three games are the longest lasting of all the techniques; they aren't just making the game worse to watch, they're spreading it out. It's the opposite of that joke at the beginning of Annie Hall--terrible food, and such enormous portions.

The pitching change backfire is a nightmare to sit through. It means there are probably important runners on already; it means the pitcher before has almost failed, gotten so close to blowing the game that the nervous hum of failure hangs in the air; it means that a narrowly effective pitcher, often one who looks completely helpless when the pitching move doesn't work, is about to enter the game with one chance to make good. 

Most listlessly, it takes forever. It might begin a batter early, with a furtive trip to the bullpen phone; meanwhile the current pitcher stands slump-shouldered on the mound. Then Dan'n'Al suggest that La Russa is walking up to make the change, and finally--he really is.

Then: commercials. FSN Midwest commercials--five or six, all local, all poorly made, chosen in April and played on shuffle for 162 mind-numbing, serious, cheap-cheap fun-fun games. I'd argue that if you're at Busch the pitching change can be almost pleasant, if the weather's nice and you're with friends. But watching on TV means you have to flip around, lest you feel an unavoidable compulsion to burn down the Last Refuge of the Persecuted Smoker. 

Yesterday we got a moderate case of the pitching change backfire--La Russa brings The Diner in to face Prince Fielder, in a matchup with much symbolic import, after Blaine Boyer retires one batter out of two.

One important criterion for the high-grade pitching change backfire is that it must be a sound decision--it doesn't hurt quite as much if you begin the Call to the Bullpen with I told you so. This one meets the requirements--Boyer has a .135 OPS platoon split and had given up a back-breaker to Fielder the night before, and Reyes was brought in specifically to neutralize the in-division southpaws.

So he comes in with just one lefty to face--another hallmark of the backfire--and he walks him on four pitches and three pickoff attempts, and is left to face a bunch of right-handers. The run the move was designed to strand comes in. Textbook. 

Walks: The Cardinals walked 23 Brewers in the last three games. You may be asking yourself: self, as my high school physics teacher would say, when was the last time the Cardinals walked 23 opposing batters in three games? Perhaps you're curious. Perhaps you don't have your own Baseball-Reference PI account yet. 

Anyway, it's September 16-18, 2007, helped along by an 11 walk, 14 inning loss against the Phillies. Without extra innings, you have to go all the way back to 1994, that most listless year of all--judging from the half an hour I spent scrolling down Baseball-Reference game logs, it seems like it takes a rare kind of listlessness to break the 20 walk mark in regulation. 

From July 14-16, in Coors Field at its moon-gravitiest, the Cardinals walked 24 batters, including a remarkable 16 in 8 innings on the 16th. (Even Bob Tewksbury, who started game two, couldn't stop this BB bacchanal.) The Cardinals lost the three games by a combined score of 11-33, which is to say that, although we're probably past the point of diminishing returns, it could be worse. 

Steve Dixon, who walked 6 in 1 2/3 on that day and 13 in his 5 career innings, is the resposible party; I'd like to sponsor his B-R page, but a ticket broker, apparently knowing that Dixon's pagerank would be boosted by this link, has preemptively swooped in.

No team has walked more people in one nine inning game in the last 50 years, presumably because Todd Wellemeyer has not yet been allowed to throw 200 pitches in a game. 

It's a long season; there'll be stretches like this, sometimes, where the day games and the night games are long, so just hold on, hold on, hold on.

[Pozterisk: While I'm at it, hitting listlessness, non-DP division:
  1. Get up, baby, get up, get up--just foul!
  2. Infield fly rule
  3. Pinch strikeout. 
  4. Failed sacrifice bunt
  5. Ground rule double.]