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Cardinal Number
2004-10-25 12:57
by Mike Carminati

Adrenalin dispels boredom. Run, you sufferers from ennui! Run for your lives!

—Mason "Mel" Cooley, refuting the "Gently Rocking" approach from The Natural

The talk shows are stuffed full of sufferers who have regained their health—congressmen who suffered through a serious spell of boozing and skirt-chasing, White House aides who were stricken cruelly with overweening ambition, movie stars and baseball players who came down with acute cases of wanting to trash hotel rooms while under the influence of recreational drugs. Most of them have found God, or at least a publisher.

—"Pud" Calvin Trillin

You don’t want to be lousy during the World Series. If you’ve got to be lousy, let it be June. And believe me, I was very lousy yesterday. I had nothing to say, and, by God, I said it.

—Red Smith

Well, I'm going to disregard Red Smith's warning. I'll forge ahead and say my nothing. And I won't even mention my Al Leiter-"Scooter" murder/suicide pact theories.

Game two was not much of a game. The Cardinals could muster only five hits, three by Albert Pujols and no other hits by the other top six hitters in the lineup.

The Red Sox used their eight hits and six walks to bunch up six runs. And Curt Schilling was again masterful. But what can we expect when he has the man upstairs suturing his lame ankle before the game all the while ignoring that heathen Scott Rolen. We should have known that there was divine intervention when catcher Jason Varitek tripled in the first two runs in the bottom of the first.

Again there was plenty of grist for the Tony LaRussa mill. Should he have gone with Matt Morris on three day's rest, something Morris had never done before, even though he barely outpitched Pete Munro in his last two starts and still couldn't get out of the fifth inning? Why is LaRussa putting So Taguchi and Marlon Anderson in to DH? As a Phils fan it gives me great pride just to see Anderson in the majors, let alone starting in the World Series, but he had a OPS (.649), which is the second lowest among the Cards' active position players (Matheny had a .640). There were three Cardinal pitchers, actually the three Jasons (Jason Simontacchi, Jason Marquis, and Jason Isringhausen) who had a higher OPS. Taguchi at least contributed to two runs, and wasn't a completely horrific choice, just not the best one. Meanwhile, the Cardinals best bat on the bench, John Mabry (13 HR. 40 RBI, .296/.363/.504/.867 in 240 ABs) languishes on the bench waiting for his first World Series at bat. LaRussa prefers to hold him back for that one important at-bat rather than four at-bats.

Perhaps Tony LaRussa's worst decision was the one he never made, which was to leave the struggling and apparently injured Scott Rolen in the cleanup spot. Rolen was tremendous during the season but has been an albatross throughout the postseason. He does not look comfortable at the plate, and that calf injury from last month must still be affecting him. Rolen is batting .184 in the last three rounds, with 12 strikeouts in 46 at-bats (.184/.293/.408/.701 overall). He went 0-for12 with six walks in the Dodgers series. He seemed to come around in game two of the NLCS with two homers and ended up having a great series (.310/.355/.690/1.044 with 3 HRs).

But he's been back to his old ways in the Series going 0-for-8 plus a useless sac fly last night with one out and two men on in the eighth inning when the Cardinals trailed by five. Yesterday, Rolen had some bad luck as well. He lined to Bill Mueller in the first with two outs and Albert Pujols on second, after a great piece of hitting. Again in the fourth, he followed Pujols who had doubled to lead of the inning but flied out to Trot Nixon on a nice catch (if not a nice run to intercept the ball). In the sixth he reached on one of Bill Mueller's three errors.

Then again, with the entire lineup faltering, there's not a lot of juggling LaRussa can do. Reggie Sanders is 0-for-6 with three walks in the Series. Jim Edmonds is 1-for-8 with four Ks. The Cards as a team are a collective .239/.316/.373/.690 and have 18 strikeouts in 67 at-bats in the Series even though they did score nine runs in game one.

LaRussa did move Edgar Renteria up to the leadoff spot to replace Tony Womack in the last game of the NLCS. Renteria lead off the game yesterday looking like a real leadoff hitter battling Schilling for a twelve-pitch at-bat, though he grounded out. One would think that would help the other Cardinals batters become familiar with Schilling, but it didn't seem to help them against the crusading hurler.

The game devolved quickly from there. The Albert Pujols beauty of a double with two out in the first was followed by the Rolen lineout to end the inning. This typified the Cards night, that is at least while the game was close.

In the bottom of the first, Matt Morris got himself into trouble by walking both Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz with two outs. He then delivered a nice fat pitch to Jason Varitek that he tomahawked for a triple to the deepest part of Fenway. The Red Sox went ahead 2-0 and barely looked back from there.

The second had more bad omens for the Cards. Jim Edmonds could do nothing after being given new life by a Bill Mueller error on a foul fly—he and Varitek pulled a Charlie Brown play on the ball (it was sort of the Bob Boone-Pete Rose Game 6 1980 World Series play in reverse). After Sanders drew a one-out walk, Tony Womack singled to right-center. Sanders passed second and either was deked by Orlando Cabrera or thought he missed second or both (Cabrera took credit later in the dugout), he circled back. Then Mike Matheny lined to Bill Mueller who tagged the lollygagging Sanders for an unassisted double play (that McCarver said would have been a triple play if there were none out—no mention of how many Mueller could have gotten, had there been negative or an irrational number of outs).

Mueller's mercurial play at third again became an issue in the fourth. With Pujols leading off with a double and moving to third on a diving catch by Trot Nixon, Sanders hit a two-out ball to Mueller that just ate him alive, scoring Pujols and cutting the lead to one.

However, the Red Sox got that back and more in the bottom of the inning. It started with a one-out hit batsman, Kevin Millar, who longer has his bill goat beard to protect him. Mueller doubled to right, sending Millar to third. Meanwhile Tony LaRussa wanting to save what remained of his bullpen had no one getting loose. It was pretty ludicrous given that his starter went on three day's rest and had only gone five innings in his last two starts with regular rest.

Mark Bellhorn came up next and sent a nice straight as an arrow fastball to deep center scoring both runners. It was 4-1 and the Cards could do nothing on offense.

The Red Sox decided to help out the Cardinals' by flubbing two grounders in the sixth on Mueller's third error and Bellhorn's first as the ex-Cub factor exacted some revenge. But Mueller was able to handle a Sanders grounder to get a force to end the inning.

In the bottom of the sixth with one on and two out, Johnny Damon hit a nice opposite field single on cut fastball away. Then Cal Eldred battled Orlando Cabrera seven pitches. He at first started Cabrera with breaking stuff and got ahead 1-2. A couple of fouls and a ball in the dirt, which almost fooled Cabrera, followed. Then Eldred gave him the nice meaty fastball that Cabrera slammed to left, scoring both runs. Eldred had given him a similar pitch earlier in the at-bat that Cabrera just missed, fouling it off. That was essentially the game.

The seventh did have some nice moments. Alan Embree struck out the side. Donna Summer, looking a cake left out on the rain, sang the "God Bless America" to the beat of "Last Dance". And Jim Edmonds made a basket catch on a Jason Varitek fly to deep centerfield, drawing comparison's to Willie Mays famous catch.

Also, there was more wackiness from LaRussa, who turned to game four starter Jason Marquis in the seventh for one scoreless inning (thanks to Edmonds). Marquis stumblingly pinch-ran in game one. He'll probably be the emergency catcher in game three (shades of Jose Oquendo and Super Joe McEwing). I hope they have oxygen ready for him when he actually starts a game.

LaRussa is one of those super-geniuses, whose move I never understand but at least the work out some of the time. But that has not been the case in this series. Either LaRussa feels that preparing for a game is beneath him or his pitchers are disobeying orders by throwing fastballs to Damon and Cabrera. Either that or he's adopting Jo Torre's strategy from the seventh game of the ALCS.

And I won't even mention replacing Anderson with Taguchi in the seventh (Embree's big inning).

The bottom line is that when game one and game two were within their grasps, LaRussa's wacky genius routine did nothing to help. So the Cards return home with not much to feel too happy about from game two except that the reportedly Curt Schilling will not be able to pitch again. They must rely on ex-Sox Jeff Suppan to keep the series from going to the brink.

But then again, maybe that's LaRussa's strategy, to lull them into a false sense of security. He saw how the Sox came back from the same situation in the ALCS and wants to top them. There's a method to his madness. It's "Rope a Dope". He's playing off the Red Sox's admission that they are all a bunch of "idiots". To quote the Guiness guys, "Brilliant!" Tony LaRussa, Super Genius, strikes again.

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