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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Wildest Times of the World

By Cardinal 70

Lohse blowing a 2-0 lead. Cards trailing 8-3. Rallying for four, then scoring the tying run off a missed double play in the ninth. 12 innings. Albert Pujols playing second. And then the Brewer who scored the game winning run is traded to Tampa Bay. (They couldn't do that just a little earlier?) What's next, cats and dogs, living together?

It was a crazy game, made a little more so because it was a day game and I was following along at the CardsClubhouse game thread. One of the great things about the internet and the rise of game threads (almost every forum has them now!) is that you can "watch" the game together. As close as sitting with a bunch of people in the stands as you can get without spending money.

Anyway, it was a very unorthodox game. Lots of what ifs. Most people will dwell on the missed call by the umpire on Pujols's slide home. I didn't see it, but it sure sounded like he was safe. Obviously, that run plus the fact that it made first and third two outs instead of one out could have made a difference in the game.

The one I want to talk about, however, is one of LaRussa's questionable moves, at least in my mind. As soon as a right hander came into the game, LaRussa pinch hit Rick Ankiel for Brian Barton. This seemed a little bit of a knee-jerk reaction. At the time, the Cards were down by 5, which seemed like a perfect opportunity to see what Barton could do. I realize that TLR always goes all out for a win and the team did rally, but it didn't have much to do with Mr. Ankiel, who is really slumping right now. Besides, if he'd kept Ankiel on the bench, he could have used him at a more strategic time.

Many people say that TLR doesn't like the youngsters, that he'll do anything not to play them. A theory I've come up with in the last week or so is not that he doesn't like the young players. I mean, look at his use of Kyle McClellan, the way he used the bullpen in 2006, his four ROYs under his watch, stuff like that. No, I think what TLR's bias relates to is first impressions.

Rick Ankiel made a heck of a first impression as a pitcher and Tony immediately liked him. Now, he'll go almost out of his way to give Ankiel shots. Brian Barton started off the spring slow and didn't make the best of first impressions on the field. That seems to be what LaRussa remembers and possibly part of why he starts on the bench.

It's not really a personality thing--I mean, he probably likes Barton as a person, just like he likes Brendan Ryan--but being that his first impression of Barton as a baseball player was negative, that keeps factoring into his decisions.

It's just a theory, but it seems to fit some of the decisions he's made over the last few years.

Anyway, back to the game. It's a rare decision, but I think the Hero of the game has to be Aaron Miles, who went 4 for 5 with a run and an RBI while playing two different positions without an error.

The Goat is Jason Isringhausen, who quickly ruined the afternoon by allowing a walk, a stolen base and a hit. You can't be walking people in the 12th if at all possible, especially when your first baseman is playing second and would have to cover on the steal. (Though, to be fair, it sounded like Molina's throw was on the wrong side of the bag.)

While Izzy gets his third Goat of the year, it was one of the first and few times where you could actually consider Albert Pujols for the role. Sure, AP had a nice game (2-6, 2 RBI, a run--should have been 2--scored) but look at his last two at-bats, when the game was on the line. In the ninth, he impatiently swung at pitches with the game on the line and would have ended the game on a double play if not for Rickie Weeks' bad throw. Then, in extras, he strikes out. The Goat is not always about who had the worst game.

Still, I love his attitude about playing second. (And also like the fact that he lobbied to play shortstop. Like that was going to happen with his bad elbow, but the man wants to do anything he can to help the team.) When he was given instructions about not turning a double play and to be careful, he said he would. But later.....

"What do you think, that I wasn't going to turn a double play?" scoffed Pujols. "I was. I was going to turn a double play. I'd be careful. First of all, I'd make sure I catch the ball and not try to get too fancy and drop it. But I was going to try to turn it."

There's a reason he's the best.

So on to Pittsburgh, a land that has been favorable to the Cardinals in the past. Last year, they went 12-6 against the Pirates and are 88-41 (.682) against them this century. The last time the Cardinals had a losing record against the Bucs was 1999, when they went 5-7.

Tonight, Ian Snell tries to shut down the St. Louis machine. El Hombre is really looking forward to this one. He has four homers (and a .563 average) in 16 ABs against Snell. There's a strong likelihood that Pujols will get his third three walk game of the season tonight. The rest of the lineup looks pretty good against him as well.

Todd Wellemeyer is on the hill for the Cardinals. Most of the Pirates haven't seen him much, but what they have seen, they've not liked. Ronny Paulino does have two hits against him, however.

Finally, a couple of small notes. If you've not heard, Brendan Ryan will be joining the team in Pittsburgh. Brad Thompson is going down to Memphis for a bit, which is probably good because he's had some struggles in the bullpen in two of his three outings.

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