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Nooner #27: Bullpen Weirdness in the Windy City

C-Mart

Photo: Chris Lee, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

I can’t get it out of my head: Carlos Martinez coming in for relief on Opening Night bothered me. I caught hell on Twitter for thinking so. I know, he doesn’t pitch until Saturday and needs to throw. But is putting him into the first game of the season with a completely rested bullpen really necessary? I mean, they have an awful lot riding on his success. Their belief in him—admittedly paired with other factors—basically cost Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller their jobs with the Cardinals, and sent the best pitcher on the staff this spring (Marco Gonzalez) to Triple A. C-Mart is the 5th starter. That’s his role. The rest of the guys in the ‘pen have their roles, too. Jordan Walden in the 8th and Trevor Rosenthal in the 9th, right? Nobody would question those moves. But no Seth Maness in the 7th? No Kevin Siegrist? I just can’t wrap my head around why Martinez in the 7th was even an option, let alone necessary. The only thing that would have made less sense is bringing Randy Choate in to face righties.

There’s always risk when a pitcher is on the mound, but Carlos Martinez taking a liner off the knee pitching in middle relief in Game 1 of 162 would have been infuriating. The old adage applies: sure, it worked out…but was it really the right move?

CCR   @birdbrained

Happy New Year!

It begins today.

While it’s perfectly acceptable to still be in hockey mode, tonight is Opening Night for Major League Baseball. Oddly enough, an Austin radio station made that fact really hit home for me this morning.

I slept in a bit today, trying to shake off the effects of both the rainy, dreary morning weather and the not-as-good-as-I-thought-it-was bottle of wine from last night. I was in desperate need of coffee, breakfast, and Chillville—a local radio show that plays mellow indie and electronic music until 11 a.m. on Sundays. As the show wrapped up, I was clearing my dishes and pouring my second cup so I just left the radio on. And that’s when the most perfectly-timed song started to flow out of my little countertop radio: the first post-Chillville song to come on was “Some Nights” by fun. I perked up instantly, because whenever I hear that song now, I think about the online video made after the 2011 World Series. And that’s when it hit me…

TODAY IS OPENING DAY.

It’s one game out of 162. And there is plenty of hockey to watch still–Go Blues. But if that video doesn’t get you psyched up for Cardinals baseball, nothing will. The Redbirds renew their rivalry with the new-look Chicago Cubs in just a couple hours.

Play Ball!

–CCR   @birdbrained

Shock and Disbelief: Oscar Taveras

I thought I would have better perspective on the sudden and tragic death of Oscar Taveras, 22, after a good night’s sleep. Maybe I’ll get one of those tonight.

His life and the life of his girlfriend, Edilia Arvelo, 18, were cut painfully short when Taveras wrecked his red Camaro on Sunday in the Dominican Republic. Early reports indicate there had been a lot of rain in the area, and that the car ran off the road and hit a tree. It’s the kind of gut-punch you only expect to get upon hearing something absurd like “Baseball has been cancelled forever.” Because the reality certainly couldn’t be true, even though it too often is: a young man and his girlfriend driving along, maybe laughing at a joke or holding hands or singing along to a song on the radio, then something happens and it’s all gone. Just like that. It’s not fair, it’s not right, and it sucks, even from afar as nothing more than a fan of the team the kid played for. Potential unrealized takes a backseat to life unlived. How could this happen?

What’s worse, how could this happen again? News of Taveras’ untimely, shocking, and tragic death immediately reopened Cardinals fans’ old wounds from the 2002 death of Darryl Kile and the 2007 death of Josh Hancock. For Major League Baseball as a whole, the news rang eerily similar to the 2009 death of LA Angels’ young star-in-the-making Nick Adenhart. He also died in a car wreck. He was also 22. Those three tragedies—which, even more unfortunately, are of course but a fraction of the list of young lives ended too soon—happened in-season. As difficult as the events were, the teammates could lean on each other for support. They could grieve together in the dugout, in the clubhouse, and on the team charter. And they still had to take the field every day, using game day responsibilities to honor their fallen brother or maybe just not dwell on the tragedy for a couple hours. But this Cardinals team doesn’t get that luxury; all they have to do is sit around and think. Sure, some are playing Winter Ball, and all have offseason programs to follow to keep in shape until Spring Training. I’d guess the majority of these guys would tell you it’s not the same. That is, if they can get the words out at all.

I don’t really know what else to say. I’ve seen the tweets and the tributes and the video interviews and the footage of the story breaking and I still can’t believe it’s real. But a lot of people are hurting today. My heart goes out to the Taveras family, the Arvelo family, and the St. Louis Cardinals family.

 

Giants Cardinals Baseball

 

OT18-3

 

OT18-2

(PHOTOS CLIPPED FROM INTERNET SOURCES; THESE PICTURES ARE NOT MINE.)

 

–CCR

On The Job With Yadi

After St. Louis won Game 5 of the NLDS, the Cardinal Nation Twittersphere was obviously jubilant and busy. I happened upon a tweet by fellow Cardinal blogger Dennis Lawson that talked about the hug Adam Wainwright got from Yadier Molina at the conclusion of Wednesday night’s clincher and compared it to the hug Jason Motte got from Molina at the securing of the last out of the 2011 World Series. After a quick exchange, Dennis remarked “Seriously, I want toyadi-walk celebrate the end of a work day with a Yadi hug.”

It’s a funny mental picture, depending on your job. And it got me thinking: that would actually make a great “This is SportsCenter” commercial.

You’ve seen these spots advertising ESPN’s flagship news and highlights show; athletes or mascots or pop culture luminaries interact with SportsCenter anchors in the offices or on the set of the network’s headquarters and awkward hilarity ensues. Albert Pujols as “The Machine,” somewhat vanilla football commentator John Clayton as a metal head, and this misunderstanding in the lunch line are a few of my favorites. Proposing ideas for these commercials is certainly nothing new, but I’m going to give it a whirl. I’m emulating the “This is SportsCenter” model so of course the settings and cast will follow suit.

 

Scene 1

SportsCenter anchor John Anderson gets out of his car to head into work at the start of the day. He is met by Yadier Molina in full uniform and gear (but carrying his mask), who walks Anderson into the building like he would walk from the bullpen to the dugout with that day’s starting pitcher. While they’re walking Molina says “OK John, you have a tough day today: full NFL schedule, MLB playoffs, hockey highlights. Here (hands Anderson a sheet of paper) is your list of catch phrases; stick to the game plan and we should get through OK.” Anderson agrees with everything Molina says.

 

Scene 2

Cut to the lunchroom, and anchor Scott Van Pelt is looking in the fridge. He says “Hmm, I wonder what John brought me for lunch today…” Suddenly the door is slammed shut, almost smashing his hand. Van Pelt straightens and turns; Molina is standing there (full uniform and gear, but again no mask) slowly shaking his head and says, firmly, “NO STEALING.” Van Pelt mumbles an apology and sulks out of the room while Molina looks at him disapprovingly.

 

Scene 3

Cut to the SportsCenter studio, showing Anderson in the middle of anchoring but from over his shoulder so the ESPN cameras and teleprompters are visible too. Among the cameras is Molina in his crouch (full gear with mask). As Anderson is setting up a highlight, Molina puts down a two fingers sign; Anderson pauses for an instant to glance at the catch phrase sheet Molina gave him earlier and smoothly delivers catch phrase #2. NLDS Pirates Cardinals Baseball

 

Scene 4

Anderson, obviously tired and a little disheveled after a long day, punches out at a time clock and, turning, raises his hands in relief and joy. The camera then pans back to show Molina doing the same thing and running toward Anderson; they hug and jump and yell as if they just won the World Series while “This is SportsCenter” appears on the screen.

 

I’m not sure if all of that could be squeezed into 30 seconds; maybe the lunchroom scene would have to be a short follow-up commercial. But I think it works. Because let’s face it…we’d all be a little happier at our jobs if we knew even the toughest day might end with a hug from Yadi.

–CCR

September 11

I can be pretty good with words sometimes. But nobody else is THIS good:

 

 

 

 

–CCR

Eenie meenie miney moe…

Last week, Danny Knobler of CBSsports.com wrote a great article about the St. Louis Cardinals and their decision process for letting Albert Pujols sign elsewhere while eventually re-signing Yadier Molina and how that was the right move for the future of the franchise. I have no dispute with any part of the article, so there’s no need to go through it here—but I highly recommend reading it if you’re a fan of the Cardinals, interested in how to build and maintain a culture of winning, or just love the business of baseball in general.

But on a personal note, the piece struck a chord with me and somewhat related decision I had to make a few years back.

In 2009, Busch Stadium hosted the All Star Game. It was the first time the Midsummer Classic was held in St. Louis in 40+ years, and anticipation was high. The 09 All Star Molinaonce-in-a-lifetime aspect of the festivities was the catalyst for us to get partial season tickets, knowing that was our best shot at securing tickets for the All Star festivities as well. We were correct; as soon as they were available, we purchased tickets to the game, the Home Run Derby, the Fan Fest, all of it. As All Star Weekend drew near, I was surprised with one more All Star-centric proposition: as an early birthday present, I could select an All Star batting practice jersey for my gift. The jerseys were red, of course, with the great All Star logo featuring the Gateway Arch, and just a hint of the powder blue beloved by so many Cards fans—including myself. Though they weren’t the only players selected from that ‘09 team to represent the Cardinals on the National League squad, for me there were really only two choices: Pujols or Molina.

I have written about this kind of decision before; in fact, it was earlier in 2009. But that was just off-the-cuff thinking out loud, before I was faced with actually making the decision. And it was one I had a LOT of trouble making. At that time, Pujols was still peaking as the best hitter in the game. His importance to the Cardinals’ lineup was never higher, especially since former fellow “MV3” members Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen were now with other teams. Based on that and the words from his own mouth, it seemed unfathomable that Pujols would ever wear a different uniform. On the flipside, Molina was quickly coming into his own as an elite player. His defense was never in question, but his light offensive numbers and clunky base running usually relegated him to the bottom of the order. Then, in 2008, he topped a .300 batting average and 50 RBI for the first time. He was getting on base much more often and striking out very little. His importance to the franchise was high before, but if his offense kept coming around he too would be harder and harder for the Cardinals to let walk. It was a decision I put off until the very last second; even as we pulled up to the Cardinals Team Store I was still mentally flipping the coin. On the one hand, the 2009 All Star Game would be an event that could never be taken away from either player regardless of whether they left for free agency someday. On the other, I couldn’t imagine wearing any jersey or shirt of a former Cardinal while he was playing for a different team. You know…root for the name on the front, not the one on the back…

09 All Star Pujols

And then I made the decision.

To this day, the jersey I chose still hangs in my closet—which is probably where it will stay, at least until Pujols’ contract with the Angels expires. The Cardinals have much better foresight than I do.

–Chris

The Big Adjustment

Moving to a new house is always a big deal. When that new house is more than 800 miles away from the only area you’ve ever inhabited in your 35 years, it can be a little jarring—to say the least. I could probably go on for a couple thousand words about the things that are different between Central Texas and the St. Louis area, how much I miss friends and family, etc. Austin/Round Rock is great, but it will never be home because home can only be Belleville/St. Louis. But for now, let’s focus on baseball.

As a Cardinal fan, baseball is VERY different now.

I was a partial season ticket holder in the Left Field Bleachers at Busch Stadium for five seasons; now, the closest Major League team is at least three hours away. I know, I know…”First World Problems.” But you really do come to expect going to ballgames being a significant part of your life each summer. It impacts your budget, your availability, your perspective of the game…and when it’s gone, you lose something.

It would probably be different if I still lived in the St. Louis area. I could watch or listen to the games like everyone else does, and while I’d miss going to 20 or 40 games each year, I’d still get more than my fill of daily baseball. But even though I’m able to pick up KMOX in my car most evenings, I have to resort to MLB.TV to see or hear the play-by-play. It’s a great technology to have available, and I’m grateful for it—except for one thing.

The Delay.

Yes, there is a pretty significant delay for both the radio and TV broadcast streams to get to whatever device I happen to be using to catch the game that is in progress. That probably would not be an issue if I was just interested in game action. But no, I also have to be addicted to Twitter during the game. I love the social media aspect of watching the Cards and seeing what everyone—writers, broadcasters, bloggers, fans—have to say about what’s happening. It’s like a game within the game. I also love participating in that aspect of the experience. But now, I’m sometimes minutes behind everyone else. Maybe it isn’t all that important being first, but seeing game updates before the feed gets to my Blu-Ray or phone or computer is…well, it’s just unnerving. I don’t even care that much about being surprised as I watch. It just sucks to know everything that happens before it happens (on my screen, anyway). I’m always a batter behind…sometimes two. Yikes.

Again, I know…total “First World Problem.” Twenty years ago, this move would have me wrapping foil around a boombox antenna in the hopes of picking up the signal from St. Louis at best, and waiting for game updates the next day on SportsCenter or, if I was really lucky, the Austin American-Statesman at worst. In that context, I’m not complaining one bit. And down here I do have access to different baseball than I’ve ever had before—namely the Triple A Round Rock Express and the University of Texas Longhorns. I’ll still catch Cards’ games any way I can, and I’ll still be a weirdo on Twitter as much as possible. It’s just not the same as it was. And I miss that.

–Chris

Son of a Mitch

Now that’s what I call a hiatus.

Recently I made the trek back to the St. Louis area for a visit. It was a reconnect and recharge I enjoyed. Many of my family and friends had the expected questions: How do you like Texas, do you miss home, etc. etc. But one question I got more than I expected.

“Are you still writing at all?”

The long answer is complicated, so here’s the Cliff Notes version: Yes, I am, but not stuff I want to share at this time. The extension of the writing question was always some version of whether or not I was able to still watch or listen to Cardinals games. And the answer there is also yes, thanks to MLB.TV. I don’t see nearly as many games as I used to, obviously, but I get to see or hear at least some of most games. Plus there’s always a steady stream of baseball updates on my Twitter and Facebook feeds. I did get to a game at Busch last week, and realistically that might be the only Cards game I see. If that holds, this will be the first year I only see one game at Busch in I don’t know how long—maybe a decade or more. But I do have the Round Rock Express (Texas Rangers Triple A affiliate) playing right down the road and could always make the trek up to Arlington or over to Houston for some Major League action. Regardless, I’m still able to see a good amount of baseball; I just haven’t been writing about it—until today.

Mitchell effing Boggs

The game only ended about five and a half hours ago thanks to that bizarre rain delay, but 11 or so hours ago Mike Matheny called out to the bullpen to get a reliever up to close out a 2-1 game. Edward Mujica and Trevor Rosenthal were apparently unavailable after pitching a bunch of games in a row, so he picked Boggs—the enigmatic, suddenly always struggling reliever who was lights-out as the 8th inning guy last year but has blown more saves than he has secured in 2013. No one can figure out what has become of this guy. He’s been down all year. The Cardinals sent him to Memphis where he pitched better but still didn’t excel. And he comes in to a game where Michael Wacha makes his Major League debut with a great outing and allows the Kansas City Royals to tie the game. The Royals were mired in an historically bad slump before the 9th inning of last night’s game. They had lost eight in a row and 12 of their last 13 and hadn’t hit a home run in like 9451 innings. So what’s a bad team’s cure for that kind of suck?

Mitchell effing Boggs.

And Matheny is at least partially culpable here, too. There are plenty of places to insert a troubled reliever so he can get straightened out. The 9th inning of a 2-1 game isn’t one of them. But it’s decision time regarding Boggs. This isn’t about one loss, or failing to sweep a series the Cardinals should have swept, or ruining Wacha’s debut. This is about wins and losses, and Boggs has been responsible for too many of the latter. I’m not saying the Cards need to release him, because the talent is there—we’ve seen it for several years. Maybe it is going from the 8th inning stopper to the 9th inning closer that messed him up just a little before it turned into a death spiral. But something is amiss with Boggs, and whether it’s his head or his health or his mechanics, he demonstrated again last night why he does not deserve to be anywhere near the mound in any inning of a close game.

 

–Chris

Carpenter Down and Out Again

The only question is for how long…but it legitimately may be forever.

On Tuesday, the St. Louis Cardinals called a press conference to announce co-ace of the rotation Chris Carpenter will likely miss the 2013 season after a return of the shoulder and neck symptoms that kept him out of the vast majority of the 2012 season. With Carp due to be a free agent this fall and seriously questioning his ability to ever throw a ball again, the hurler maybe calling it a career once the Cards’ season is over.

Carpenter’s entire career was marred by injuries, but the years he spent with the Toronto Blue Jays were also markedly mediocre. The Cardinals took a chance on him while he was injured, signing him in 2002—but he would not pitch for the Redbirds until 2004. Then, under Dave Duncan, he flourished. Carp became the leader of the rotation, both in statistics and competitive fire. The playoff run in 2004 came to an abrupt halt partly because Carpenter got injured and didn’t throw a pitch in the postseason that year. In 2005 he rebounded to a 21-5 record with seven complete games (four of them shutouts), 241 innings pitched over 33 starts, 213 strikeouts, and a Cy Young award. In 2006 he again topped 200 innings, led the league with three shutouts, and propelled the Cardinals to their first World Series Championship since 1982. The injury bug bit Carpenter again in 2007-2008 when he only pitched in five games—combined. But his resilience would shine again for the next three years. In each season his strikeout totals increased, but so did his innings pitched. It all culminated with the 2011 championship run. For three of the four clinching games that year—Wild Card berth in Game 162, Division Series Game 5, World Series Game 7—Carpenter was the starting pitcher. And you’d better believe he was ready to go for Game 7 of the NLCS if it went that far. But the others were just works of art: a complete game shutout of the Houston Astros to put the Cards into the postseason; a 1-0 masterpiece in Game 5 of the NLDS to knock out Roy Halladay and the Philadelphia Phillies; and starting Game 7 of the World Series on short rest, keeping his team grounded after the heroics of the previous night, and pitching six solid innings to give the Cardinals the chance to win their 11th World Championship. David Freese may have been the MVP of the NLCS and World Series, but if they gave that award for the best overall postseason performance Carpenter would have a serious claim to the trophy.

That October 2011 performance could more or less prove to be his swan song. Carpenter did pitch at the end of last year and helped the Cardinals get within a victory of a return trip to the World Series. But now he faces uncertainty like never before, and so does the team.

Carp is a leader like no other on the St. Louis Cardinals. His numbers speak volumes, and may be replaceable. His presence, however, is not. And it’s another key loss from the so-called “old guard” of the Tony La Russa era in St. Louis. In less than 18 months, the Cardinals have said goodbye to Duncan, La Russa, Albert Pujols, and now Carpenter. Certainly nothing lasts forever, especially in professional sports. But that’s quite a hit in a short span of time.

There’s always the glimmer of hope that Carpenter can make it back and take the mound once again for the Cardinals. After all, it’s not like it would be the first time. But for some reason, this time it feels different…more final…more finished. Maybe it’s a combination of his contract situation and age. Maybe it’s that I was always afraid this would be the way he finally hung it up—leaving the game because his body forced him to, not because he wanted to. Hopefully Carpenter remains that invaluable presence in the clubhouse, in the dugout, and around practice. We’ll always wonder what might have been if he’d pitched in the 2004 World Series, or if the Cardinals had him in ‘07 and ‘08, or if he had been healthy all last year. But even if he has in fact thrown his final pitch as a Cardinal, Chris Carpenter can close the book knowing he was one of the best starting pitchers the franchise ever had.

 

–Chris

Stan Musial Tribute Ideas

Less than 24 hours after his passing, Stan The Man’s legacy is already the biggest discussion in Cardinal Nation. That should surprise no one.

But it should be more than just a uniform patch or a new image at the stadium. Those are fine ideas, but a person with the stature of Stan Musial—both on and off the field—deserves more. Maybe it’s impossible to come up with something truly big enough to represent what Stan The Man meant to the Cardinals, to St. Louis, to Baseball. I mean, he already has two statues erected in his honor, and one is only slightly less iconic to the city of St. Louis than the Gateway Arch. Yet somehow even all that doesn’t seem like enough, does it?

So here are two of the best ideas I’ve seen so far, with what I believe to be proper attribution…and by that I mean, where I first saw the idea:

–St. Louis media guy Larry Thornton tweeted: “On Jackie Robinson day everyone wears 42. On Opening Day every Cardinal should wear 6” Such a simple idea, yet so brilliant. Robinson’s impact on baseball and, really, the entire country is unparalleled and will never again be matched. The same could be said about Stan Musial and St. Louis/the Cardinals. Not that Musial was a civil rights pioneer fighting for equality and justice…that’s not where the comparison is. But just like Robinson to the whole of the game and the fabric of the country, Musial transcended what it meant to be a pro ballplayer. He was one of the greatest ever, and yet that doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story.

–Fellow bloggers Chris Mallonee and Daniel Solzman each wrote posts suggesting a name alteration at the home of the St. Louis Cardinals. “Musial Field at Busch Stadium” (or some variation) has a pretty good ring to it. Naming the field after Musial would in no way impact the name Busch Stadium, yet it would give more permanence to Stan The Man’s impact as a player and a person on the organization and the community. One good spot for the name would be the backstop. Busch Stadium looks great there; wouldn’t Musial Field look even better?

I may add some ideas to the post, so look for updates. I’m sure the Cardinals are already on top of a number of tributes set for this season; these are just some suggestions with both class and precedence. Commemorative giveaways and video tributes are nice, too, but Stan’s passing is not just the death of an icon…it’s the death of THE icon. Feel free to leave more ideas and suggestions below.

–Chris R.

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