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St. Louis Cardinals vs. Philadelphia Phillies NLDS Game 3: Missed Opportunities Doom Cards

4 BB + 12 H = 2 R

The equation looks wrong. A baseball club should have more runs scored than two when it generates sixteen base runners in a ballgame. And yet that is just what the St. Louis Cardinals did in their pivotal Game 3 matchup with the Philadelphia Phillies today. The Cardinals had 22 LOB in today's game, a total that felt more like 2,200 to the frustrated fans watching at home.

So bad was the Cardinals' performance with runners in scoring position that David Freese singling in Albert Pujols for the club's first run in the bottom of the seventh felt like a breath of fresh air. Of course, that momentary uplift was quickly followed up by Yadier Molina flying out to right field with runners on first and second. Just as the trend ended, it was started back up again.

The LOB dagger was twisted in particularly brutal fashion in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Cardinals loaded the bases against the Philadelphia bullpen. Allen Craig dug in against the Phillies' closer Ryan Madson. Craig hit the ball on the nose--too well, in fact--for it went right to second baseman Chase Utley who had time to run to second, touch the base, and fire to first for a inning-ending, rally-killing double play. For a fan base that has suffered so many GIDP this season, the comeback being halted by another was almost farcical.

Jaime Garcia pitched well enough to win, to be sure, but his first six innings were a display of efficiency that undoubtedly warmed Dave Duncan's heart. Garcia was a strike-throwing machine, inducing poor contact on swing after swing from the Phillies. So dominant was Garcia that the manager understandably chose not to pinch-hit for him with runners on and two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning. The Gods of Baseball being a fickle lot, they created trouble for the young southpaw in the top of the seventh.

Shane Victorino singled to lead off the seventh. Then, improbably, Yadier Molina failed to properly block a Garcia pitch in the dirt which allowed it to pass between his legs and to the backstop. Victorino advanced to second base. After a fly out to Berkman in right field and a groundout to Freese at third base, Garcia was ordered to intentionally walk catcher Carlos Ruiz to get to pinch-hitter Ben Francisco. Garcia left his second pitch to Francisco, a four-seamer, up and Francisco knocked it into the bullpen beyond the left-field wall, giving the Phillies a 3-0 lead. That would be all the runs they would need.

And so, with this latest punch to the gut, it would seem that the dazzling unidentified flying object has been revealed to be nothing but swamp gas. But with this Cardinal collective, this wonderfully flawed group of underachievers, this club that has seemingly had its season ended on at least a half-dozen prior occasions, this is par for the course. Personally, I'm still trying to figure out how there wasn't a Game No. 163. In my mind, the jury is still out on the question of UFO or swamp gas.

Game 3 was indeed there for the taking and the Cardinals had every right to snatch it up as a tally for their win column. But they didn't. And so the Cards enter Game 4 of this NLDS starring down elimination. For weeks the Cards have won this starring contest. I might be distraught or worried if this situation hadn't become so routine for the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals and, by extension, we their fans. As it is, I'm looking forward to another baseball game at Busch Stadium with Albert Pujols in a Cardinals uniform.