I have often felt that, in order for a club to make the postseason, they need to win a handful of games in unexpected ways. To my knowledge, no one has ever run a study showing this to be important; although, maybe someone should. This has just been a way in which I look at the fun and painful occurrences that are so often found on the @cantpredictball Twitter feed.
In the past, these games have featured odd occurrence like Skip Schumaker homering, Adron Chambers lashing a triple with the bases loaded, or Lance Berkman swatting two dingers. Each of these events is unlikely. Schumaker hit 23 homers over 2,687 plate appearances (PA) as a Cardinal. Chambers has had 15 career big-league hits. Berkman has clubbed two homers on 28 different occasions over his 15-year career. My thinking has always been: When your runs-scored total is increased in odd ways, leverage it into a victory.
The young season has already seen El Birdos squander one such improbable performance, albeit on the pitching side of things. Against San Francisco on Friday, Jake Westbrook walked six Giants over 6 2/3 innings and also allowed six hits. Despite allowing 12 baserunners, Westbrook surrendered just one run. Since Westbrook (or any pitcher) is not often going to give up only one run while walking six and allowing six hits, one would hope the Cards would take advantage of his unique feat. Unfortunately, the Cardinals lost to the Giants 1-0 on Friday despite Westbrook putting on a performance that would make Houdini smile.
At the home opener at Busch Stadium on Monday, St. Louis was the beneficiary of a bizarro rare occurrence. Shin-Soo Choo committed two fielding errors while manning center field for the 17th time in his career. Choo is thirty years old and in the ninth season of his MLB career and the Reds have committed to playing him in center so they can maximize their offensive potency. The result of this experiment on Monday was Choo aiding the Cardinals in scoring three runs via his ham-handedness in center field. Since the opposition's center fielder doesn't often make two errors that result in three runs, my hope was the Redbirds could leverage Choo's gifts into a win. For a while, it looked like they would.
Jaime Garcia pitched pretty well. The lefty struck out 10 Reds over 6 2/3 while walking three and allowing six hits. And so the Cards owned a slim 4-3 lead heading into the eighth. Mike Matheny turned to the flamethrowing Trevor Rosenthal in the eighth. For the second time in as many opportunities, the youngster blew a save by surrendering the tying run. (Rosenthal also apparently blew a "hold," whatever that is.)
Matheny responded to the game being tied after eight innings in most Matheny-esque fashion. After Matt Holliday flew out to end the home half of the eighth, Matheny pulled the Cardinals' $17 million franchise left fielder as part of a double-switch, replacing him in the outfield with Shane Robinson and bringing in last year's walking ERA-FIP gap Mitchell Boggs to preserve the tie.
Boggs provided the Reds' kindling by walking Choo. After a Chris Heisey popout, Boggs threw a wild pitch. Matheny thought Boggs could use some more kindling, so he ordered the righthander to intentionally walk Votto; this put runners at first and second. Brandon Phillips provided the match when he slapped one down the right-field line that caught chalk and the Reds had the lead. Boggs saw the Reds' rally aflame and doused it with gasoline. By the time his day was over, this was his pitching line: 1/3 IP, 2 H, 4 BB, 0 SO, 6 ER, and 7 R.
The Reds won the game 13-4. The fraudulent inflating of their run differential is no solace for the fact that the Cardinals not only failed to leverage two Choo errors and the three runs they gifted into a win but suffered one of the worst late-inning meltdowns in recent memory.