an old country

This is a great essay by Roger Angell on how America has aged as a country since September 11th, 2001.


Mets 2, Redbirds 0

After the events of yesterday involving first a possible terrorist strike in NY, then a tragic accident, then a tragic accident killing a major league baseball player with a wife and son, the game at Shea tonight seemed nearly anticlimatic. Some would say "baseball doesn't matter at a time like this" or something like that. Of course, that's both true and untrue. No more people died yesterday than any normal day recent American history. Baseball always "matters" (whatever that's supposed to mean) as much as you allow it, regardless of what's going on in the world around you. In any case, Lidle's death combined with the bleak October weather did cast a gray shadow over tonight's game.

Tom Glavine started for the Mets and he breezed through the first three Cardinals batters the same way he went through the rest of the lineup for the next six innings--efficiently, with little drama, and taking full advantage of the extra inches on the outside edge of the plate that the home plate umpire consistently offered him. Even at forty, Glavine is one of the top five or so pitchers of the last twenty years and the Cardinals, the umpire and the crowd all deferred to his experience and skill on this drizzily evening.

The Cardinals starter was Jeff Weaver, a stork-like lanky right hander with curly blond hair pouring out of his red cap and an intense, pacing style on the mound in between pitches. After starting the season in a particularly dreadful manner with the Angels this spring, Jeff was eventually released after being outpitched by his little brother Jered, who is essentially what Jeff Weaver was six years ago--young, talented and highly desired. The Cardinals general manager, Walt Jocketty, who has made a career of snapping up undervalued (mostly veteran) players discarded by other, more hasty teams leaped at the opportunity to sign the elder Weaver, who proceeded to pitch only marginally better for the Cardinals than he had for the Angels. However, in this Cardinal season, marginally better than terrible meant that Weaver was better than two-fifths of the St. Louis staff and that's how found himself starting Game 1 of the NLDS against the San Diego Padres. In that game Weaver pitched in and out of trouble, taking advantage of the weaker Padre hitters and an early Pujols homerun to earn the win by pitching five scoreless innings. Tonight, Weaver was much better, pitching what was probably his best game of the year, limiting the Mets to only one hit through five innings on good location and movement on his fastball and consistently staying ahead of hitters due to the generous strike zone. Then, in his third pass through the heart of the powerful New York lineup, Weaver gave the restless Shea crowd exactly what they had waited for: a scratch hit for Paul Lo Duca and then a mistake fastball to Carlos Beltran on a 2-2 count that burst the nervous knot that had formed in the stomachs of about 50,000 Mets fans and resulted in dancing, cheers and the occasional "Let's-Go-Mets" as Beltran rounded the bases.

The Cardinals accepted their loss meekly, the only real trouble coming in the eighth when Mota inexplicably walked David Eckstein on four pitches and then went 3-0 on Preston Wilson with Pujols on deck. After watching Mota throw two fastballs down the middle, Wilson fouled off a couple of good strikes and then decided that swinging at a ball out of the zone might have a better result, finally popping up ball four for the third out and leaving Albert Pujols and the Cardinals's last real shot at victory standing in the on deck circle.

Even though the Cardinals squandered a great opportunity for a 1-0 series lead tonight, they're a long way from being out of this series. The Mets took a must-win game for them tonight. If they lose to Weaver they then face Carpenter and might be down 2-0 going back to St. Louis. Now the Cardinals have a must win game--they simply must take advantage of Carpenter's starts in order to have a chance in this series. Hopefully they can get Maine out of the game by the fifth inning and have a shot at the Mets's bullpen before Wagner comes in, which apparently will only be in the ninth inning when the Mets's have a lead (Chad Bradford was warming up to face Pujols in the eighth when Wilson almost walked!). Let's go, Redbirds.


Cards-Padres roundup

I'm currently watching the Detroit bullpen make the A's batters look silly instead of the Cards-Mets game that was cancelled due to rain. The Cardinals's first round was a pleasure to listen to (games 1-3, all at work) and watch (game 4). Both teams pitched well (the Cardinals's six runs in game 4 was the most either team scored in any game) and the games were generally quick, crisp and well-played. Most post-season series turn on one or two moments where one player comes up with a crucial hit or catch or pitch that redirects the course of a game and ultimately the series, and this one was no different. In my mind, the Cards-Padres series really came down to two moments, the first being in Game 1 when Albert Pujols faced Jake Peavy after Chris Duncan had doubled to start the fourth inning. Thus far, Peavy had cruised through the Cardinals lineup, which is admittedly this season nothing like the powerful series of hitters opposing pitchers had to tip toe through in 2004 and 2005.

Tigers's game update: A couple bloop hits and suddenly the A's aren't looking so silly anymore, as the bases are now loaded for the Big Hurt with two outs, though they are still down three runs. If I'm Jim Leyland I bring in Zumaya. But he still reads the dreaded manager's book, and that book says you stick with your closer in spots like these, even if you have a much better pitcher on the bench. So it's going to be up to Todd Jones. Never mind--Thomas pops up and it's over. I guess the book was right.

Back to Pujols and Peavy. Peavy's on a roll, Pujols is at the plate with a man on and he pops a pitch up behind home that Mike Piazza turns around to chase first in one direction, then another and finally misses it. At this point it became painfully obvious what was going to happen next. You almost felt sorry for Peavy. When the following pitch finally landed in deep center the score was 2-0 and Game 1 was essentially over--Carpenter shut down the Padres and the Cards grabbed the home field advantage they had thrown away over the last 10 days of the season.

The second crucial moment of series came in Game 4. After Carpenter had struggled through an uncharacteristically wild inning, giving up two runs, the Cardinals suddenly faced a daunting problem--their ace was seemingly off his game and they trailed early in a game they had to win in order to avoid traveling back to San Diego and starting Jeff Weaver on three days rest against the Padres's ace in a decisive fifth game. And so, after loading the bases with two outs in the bottom of the first, Ronnie Belliard stepped in. In late July the Cardinals had dealt Hector Luna for Belliard because the ManRam lookalike was an identical player to Luna expect for being older, slower, and far more expensive and thus was well-suited for "clutch" situations like the one he now found himself in. Not surprisingly, Belliard blooped a two run base hit, tying the game and apparently also restoring Chris Carpenter's command, as the Cardinal ace returned to reel off six scoreless innings. This gave the Cardinals enough time to later execute a scoring swinging and squeeze bunt in succession, thus plating two runs and stretching their lead to four on two hits that together totalled about thirty feet. Somehow, Tim McCarver refrained from using the term "smallball" to describe the Cardinals's combination of skill and luck. Everyone watching was grateful.

It's likely the the Mets-Cards Series will turn on similar moments. Here's hoping we play well enough for Albert Pujols to be the one who determines what happens in those moments. I know, I know this is a shadow of the team that fell short of a World Series championship the last two years. But that won't keep me from pacing and yelling in front of the TV for the next week. Go Cards! Why not? It may as well be our year.

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