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10.11.2006 

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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