Before game five of the NLCS (and perhaps the series) is history, I just wanted to revisit a few of the more salient points in game four, a 2-1 win for Houston. The Cards were in striking distance but due to a few key mental errors by two of their best players, their opportunities dwindled.
First, I have to point out that with number-four Astro starter Brandon Backe getting the starter, he of the 4.76 regular-season ERA and 4.86 career ERA, the Cardinals blew a shot right off the bat by not pouncing on Houston's weakest starting pitcher. Then again, who thought that a Backe-Jeff Suppan matchup would be the best of the series?
That aside, the first of mental error by St. Louis came in the eighth. With the Cards trailing 2-1, a runner at first, and two outs, Jim Edmonds was up. The first pitch to him was closer to hitting him than it was to being a strike. It was high and tight and Edmonds ducked out slightly turning his body. And yet homeplate umpire Phil Cuzzi called it a strike, and not a swinging strikeeven though the bat never left his shoulder as his body turned it was closer to a swinging strike than a called one.
Edmonds was naturally shocked, but instead of muttering his disgust with his head down and keeping his head in the game, he lost it. He walked behind the catcher and confronted the ump. Edmonds did not seem out of control, but in a matter of seconds was thrown out of the game.
Yes, the Cuzzi really had no cause to remove a player, especially a big name one, with the score so tight in such an important game. However, Edmonds should never have given him the opportunity to make another crappy call. There have been too many by umps in the playoffs so far.
The second mental error came in the ninth by the Cards' best player. Albert Pujols was on third after a leadoff single followed by a Larry Walker single. Pujols, representing the tying run, was not in a force situation. However, when Reggie Sanders hit a grounder to third, he went home, instead of retreating to the bag. He was, of course, out at home and the Cards lost on the John Mabry double play that followed.
When two of your best players are performing like this under pressure and you are down to your third- or fourth-string third baseman, being down three games to one is understandable.