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swamp gassing


danup invited me to drop by and offer an emeritus reflection or two, so here i am -- alas, with few worthy reflections to offer. like just about everybody else, i wrote this team off in mid to late august -- not enough defense, not enough pitching, not enough speed, distressing habit of playing down to the level of the competition. in one of the p-d water cooler segments i likened them to the 1980 cardinals, another talent-rich club whose league-leading offense was undermined by deficiencies in just about every other aspect of the game. that club finished 74-88 and never stood more than a game over .500. it was not intended to be a flattering comparison.

having made up my mind about the cards -- they were bums -- i’ve had a hard time getting excited about them again. i watched the great comeback mostly from afar, missing most games entirely and tuning in to the rest only for the late innings. i scoffed at the comparisons to 1964; finishing 4th in a 16-team league is a far cry from finishing 1st in a 10-team league. i couldn’t (and still can’t) quite get over the feeling that atlanta lost the race, more than our side won it; had the braves merely played .400 ball over the last month (12-18), they’d be getting ready to host the brewers for games 3 and 4 and we’d all be lamenting the wins given away in the final week to the mets and the astros -- along with all those other wins the cards gave away all season long. i anticipated that type of sad outcome down to the very last day of the season; a team only gets so many opportunities, i reasoned, and the cards had blown their quota and then some. even after the champagne began to flow, i didn’t completely feel the love. they’d found a way to survive, but i still didn’t view them as completely redeemed.

i admit to all of this without apology or regret; blast me in the comments all you want. there it is.

as i write this confession, my thoughts drift back to the summer of swamp gas — 2005, when the extinct species of lefthander known as mark mulder still inhabited the #2 slot of a major league rotation. danup (then blogging at Get Up Baby) coined the nickname "swamp gas" that year in honor of mulder’s rancid assortment of pitches, which comprised an 86 mph sinker, an 80 mph changeup, and a looping eephus-like curveball that nobody ever swung at (on account of laughing so hard). we didn’t realize at the time that mulder was pitching with a half-raveled labrum; we only knew he was serving up slop on a platter. and getting away with it. in july and august of that year, a span of 10 starts, swamp gas struck out just 25 men in 67.1 innings (3.3 k/9) and had more walks (26) than whiffs (25). next to him, tom glavine looked like vida blue. yet somehow mulder managed a 6-1 record in those 10 starts with a 2.89 era; the team went 9-1.

his success was jarring; mulder didn’t seem to deserve it. he only had one repeatable skill -- he could throw pitch after pitch to a 3-inch sliver at the bottom of the strike zone -- but he couldn’t change speeds, couldn’t throw the ball past anyone, couldn’t move the ball around the strike zone. his foundation was way too flimsy to support the results mulder was getting. with each victory, the universe seemed a less orderly place. after one of these impossibly effective outings, danup had to be snapped out of a bewildered stupor by his mom, who uttered the immortal mantra "just go with it." don’t bother trying to understand or explain; some things simply are.

it has taken me 164 games, but i’m finally approaching the "just go with it" zen state as regards the 2011 st louis swamp gassers. maybe it was the game 2 win in the nlds that finally enlightened me, inflated as it was with so much stale air. they stunk it up before the game even started, viz the ill-advised decision to start carpenter on short rest -- the latest in a long string of object lessons in postseason rotation management that skipper la russa refuses, after all these years, to heed. once they started playing, the cardinals twice failed to score guys who reached third base with nobody out, lost another baserunner on a play at the plate, and failed to turn a routine dp in the 8th inning, enabling ryan howard to bat as the go-ahead run. this type of nonsense cost them wins all summer against mediocre (and worse) teams; a mere week ago they dropped such a game 5-4 to houston that just about snuffed out their last chance. but then, they also won a lot of games like that down the stretch, overcoming stranded baserunners and misplayed two-hoppers and walked-in runs and rally-killing GIDPs. remember this beaut against the phillies a little more than a fortnight ago? st louis left 15 men on base, failed to get a crucial run home from 3d base with one out in the 7th, and allowed the tying run to score in the 9th inning on a dropped flyball that would and should have been the 27th out. at nearly any point during the summer, that game woulda been an L. they came back to win it 4-2.

they’ve been getting away with this crap for over a month now. slop on a platter. they keep serving it up and getting results they have no right to expect. laws of the universe are being broken, disorder is encroaching, bewilderment swirls, and finally -- at long last -- i’m getting used to it. like mulder v2005, they have one repeatable skill -- they can swing the bats -- and another asset that plays well in october: power arms in the bullpen. somehow they’ve been able to make those stand up no matter how ragged and deficient they may be nearly every other respect. i’m starting to forgive them for that. i’m waking up and smelling the swamp gas. i’m breathing in that awful, glorious stink and not choking. can’t explain it. not trying to. just going with it.

game thread in a few hours . . . .