The Giants beat the Cardinals 4-1 at Busch last night. San Fran now leads 2-0 as they head to Pac Bell for two games. Obviously, the Cardinals are not in an admirable position, but they are by no means out of this series. They do, however, have very little margin for error. I saw a stat on SportsCenter today that LaRussa has been 0-2 more than any other manager. What they didn't mention was that he lost all of the three previous times (1988 WS Oak lost 4-1 to LA, 1990 WS Oak lost 4-0 to Cin, and 2000 NLCS StL lost 4-1 to the NYM). He should have accumulated some experience in losing though.
Jason Schmidt was great, and it is very encouraging for the Giants to see Aurilia break out in the playoffs after a subpar year. He has been outstanding offensively and defensively throughout the playoffs. Their performances were the stories of the game. There were some interesting points that I would like to focus on though:
First, J.T. Snow is a fine defensive first baseman, but-and I did not hear the commentators mention this-should he have tried to get the Drew grounder in the third inning? Jeff Kent was standing about 10 feet behind him and could have made the play. If Snow had instead retreated to first, let Kent make the play, and simply readied for the Kent throw, it would have been an easy 4-3 out. By committing do far to his right, it a) required the pitcher to get over to first to cover the bag-which Schmidt was late in doing-and b) it makes the throw much more difficult. That makes three reasons against Snow making the play: it's Kent's ball, the pitcher must cover first, and Snow has a difficult throw.
On the next play, a ball is hit to the position that Snow had just vacated to hold the runner. First, I do not know why the Giants were so concerned with Drew who has good speed but is not really a base stealer. Second, if Snow did not make the play on the first ball, he can make a play on the second. And maybe Schmidt still has the no-hitter going (that, I realize, is a big maybe). Schmidt does not give up another hit until the seventh.
Look, I don't want to blame a player for making an effort, but sometimes those efforts just aren't the smart play. (And yes, the picther should have covered, but that's beside the point.)
What a perfect segue for my second point. Later that inning the Cardinals have men at second and third base with one out (Williams sacrificed them over). Fernando Vina sends a fly ball to shallow center field, and J.D. Drew is thrown out at home by Lofton as he tries to tag up. Lofton may not have a great arm (only 6 assists this year though he had a pretty good arm when he was younger-18 assists in 1998), but if he could not make that play, he really has no business playing center field in the majors any longer. Lofton is running in, so his momentum is already headed toward home, and is not really extending himself much. The throw really wasn't a particularly good one. It was a one-bouncer but a bit up the line. The point is that the throw would have had to be rather poor for Drew to have scored. Relying on another player to screw up is just not playing the percentages in a major-league playoff series.
By the way, I disagree with McCarver in that I believe that Drew's momentary loss of balance just before he ran home did delay his tag. But it would not have mattered anyway.
I thought that the poor play was just the product of an overzealous third-base coach. But then I read this quote from LaRussa:
"We were all yelling, including myself, 'Send him! Send him!,''' La Russa said. "They made the pitch, they made the play.''
McCarver did allude to the Cards' stated position to test Lofton's arm whenever possible. This is consistent with the way that LaRussa has been Bobby Cox-ing this series throughout. First, he takes 12 pitchers and three catchers. Next, he keeps two injured players (Williams and Rolen) on the roster further limiting his bench. Williams somwhat redeemed that decision by pitching well yesterday. However, if the Cards get swept without Rolen playing, LaRussa will have put his team at a severe disadvantage. There are no backups for three infield positions, second, third, and short. I suppose if there is an injury to a player at one of those positions, Pujols could be shifted to third and the remaining infielders cover the other two spots. But there is no real possibility of pinch-hitting for one of those players in a close ballgame. Now, he tries to go small, or rather miniscule, ball when it is not advisable.
The play at home was the turning point in the game as the Cardinals never again mounted a serious challenge (Bonds overrunning a ball in left notwithstanding). It was doubly ill-advised, as McCarver point out, since it killed a potential rally. Methany was on second at the time. Miguel Cairo, their hero yet far in the playoffs, was due up next. So sending Drew didn't cost them just that one possible run but it cost them a rally, something that was in short supply yesterday.