Last night, baseball lore received a twist so ironic it borders on unbelievable—and only fans of teams other than the ones involved would think so.
The Seattle Mariners beat the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (still the dumbest name in baseball, by the way) 5-0 in a fairly pedestrian mid-July contest, except for the fact that the loss kept the Angels from leapfrogging the AL West-leading (!) Houston Astros in the standings. But two important plays in the game—one a rally-squashing catch; the other a strikeout to ice the victory for Seattle—seem otherworldly in the memories they stir up for fans of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers.
The Angels threatened in the top of the first, loading the bases with none out and the middle of the order looming. But two unproductive outs later, the bases were still loaded when David Freese stepped to the plate. Freese ripped a line drive to right-center that was hauled in with a spectacular diving catch by none other than Nelson Cruz.
Yep…that guy. Only, last night he actually made the game-saving catch on a well-hit David Freese liner.
If that wasn’t enough to make Cards and Rangers fans cringe—albeit for vastly different reasons—the end of the game certainly would.
The Angels couldn’t get much going after that deflating first inning, only putting together four hits on the night. But one of those was a two-out single by Erick Aybar.
Coming to the plate? David Freese.
Standing on the mound? Mark Lowe.
Yep…that guy. Only, this time Lowe struck Freese out to preserve the victory.
That these three players would cross paths again isn’t all that surprising, since it’s been less than four years since that fateful Game 6 night. But all three in the same game, where Cruz DOES make the crucial catch against Freese and Lowe DOES get the crucial out against Freese to end the game? That borders on absurd–not for Angels or Mariners fans, necessarily; for Rangers fans, who can only wonder what might have been…and for Cardinals fans, relieved at what actually was.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
The life of a transplanted baseball fan can be interesting, especially if transplanted to a city without a Major League team. The Austin, Texas area has plenty of Rangers and Astros fans, but because so many people continue to move here from other areas it’s not uncommon to see many different teams represented while walking down a busy street. Still, looks of confusion, bewilderment, or even contempt come my way from time to time when I’m representing the Cardinals in public.
This afternoon while out running errands I stopped in a local hooch parlor to pick up a beverage for this evening’s writing adventures. The store had a half dozen or so people milling about, but my mind was made up before I opened the door. I grabbed a bottle of 8 year Haitian Rum and headed to the register. A guy paying was counting out bills, one was behind him on a cell phone, and a third guy kept walking up to the counter to set down three bottles and then walking away to grab more. The cash counter completed his transaction and left right when cell phone guy ended his conversation, so I waved cell phone guy to go ahead of me.
Cell phone guy apparently has a credit card that pays homage to his favorite team, because when he handed it over the cashier said, “Oh, wow, you a Pirates fan? That’s cool, I respect them. I’m a Cubs fan.”
They had a quick exchange about how excited they both are that their respective teams are doing so well. I said nothing…I just waited for the right moment. As Cell Phone Pirates Fan finished his transaction and turned to leave, Cubs Fan Cashier said, “Yeah, man, good luck to your team. I have no hate for the Pirates. But I’d give you a hard time if you were a fan of the Yankees, or the Red Sox, or…”
I figured this was the perfect time to interject. But I said nothing—I simply took out my own credit card, emblazoned with the Birds on the Bat of course, and set it on the counter with a shit-eating grin on my face. Cubs Fan Cashier stopped mid-sentence and said, “Whoa…you a Cardinals fan?”
Cell Phone Pirates Fan, who was halfway out the door, whipped around with eyes as big as saucers. “No way! Are you really?”
Why yes…yes I am.
“Man, this weekend is going to be some series, huh?” Cell Phone Pirates Fan continued. “Or, at least, I hope it is, if you guys manage to lose a game or two!”
I replied, “I think they definitely lose one, but probably not two.” He chuckled and left.
I turned back to Cubs Fan Cashier just in time for him to hand me my receipt. I signed it and said, “So…how about that game last night?”
His smile faded. Mine broadened.
This rum is really good.
Today Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch posted a column about the 2015 All Star Game voting and how the Kansas City Royals’ fan base has essentially hijacked the process, putting seven (!) of the defending AL Champs in line to start the Midsummer Classic in Cincinnati next month. There does seem to be a tongue-in-cheek factor in the article; still, he frames some of the many issues with the MLB All Star Game pretty effectively.
All other absurdity around this whole sham (This time it counts!) aside, one thing Strauss mentioned both surprised and depressed me: no more paper All Star ballots at the stadium? One of my fondest ballpark memories as a kid was scouring the list of names and positions and punching holes next to, admittedly, players that probably had no logical business playing in an All Star Game. But it was a fun way to feel like a part of the game while at the game. Kind of a shame future generations won’t get to experience that without clicking around ads for car insurance.
I don’t know that I like the general idea of eliminating the fan vote, but if the winner of the All Star Game continues to determine home field advantage in the World Series, MLB needs to consider it. Of course, the most logical thing to do would be to take the HFA aspect out of it altogether so it doesn’t matter who votes for—or who gets voted to start—the All Star Game. But since even the installation of a new commissioner doesn’t appear to be changing that anytime soon, logic probably isn’t in play here at all.
In just a few moments, Jaime Garcia takes the mound for the St. Louis Cardinals in what is probably his last big chance with the organization that drafted him back in 2005. Garcia—somehow only 28 years old—has battled injury after injury since his last full season, the World Championship year of 2011. And with 2015 being his walk year, he needs a good showing this year just as much as the Cardinals do. But what exactly does that mean? What do the Cards really need from him right now?
In a word: efficiency.
The Cardinals have good pitchers in their rotation, but they’re far from efficient. It was fairly exciting to see Lance Lynn, John Lackey, and Michael Wacha get through seven innings this week, because in recent outings the rotation has pitched more like Carlos Martinez yesterday: get to 100 pitches, but not make it through seven (or even six) innings. Among qualifiers, the Cardinals only have two pitchers—Lackey and Wacha—who are in the top 50 in MLB in pitches per inning pitched. If that continues, the effect on the bullpen could become disastrous real quick. As a team, the Cardinals’ staff has great numbers. But the starters have to find a way to get deeper into games. In a year without Adam Wainwright, the team desperately needs an innings-eater.
Sure it would be great if the 2010-2011 version of Garcia showed up this season, when he was arguably the second or third best pitcher in the rotation depending on whether Wainwright or Chris Carpenter happened to be hurt. But those days are likely gone; expecting Jaime to come out throwing complete games this season seems foolish at best. Obviously what the team really doesn’t need is for Garcia to get shelled over and over again or get re-injured, although the Marco Gonzales honks would probably see that as a win. But if Garcia can just be OK-to-good, take the ball every fifth day, and go deep into the games he does pitch, the team should consider that a windfall. And since Garcia isn’t likely to be able to fire 100+ pitches per outing every day, he’s going to have to get the Mets and every other team he faces to make soft contact. In short, Jaime Garcia needs to revive the Dave Duncan/Tony La Russa days of pitching to contact.
Getting five good innings out of Garcia today might be acceptable, but it’s not going to be sustainable. The team needs more from him. And if that means lining up the best possible defense behind him regardless of the offense that lineup might provide, so be it. This is likely the beginning to Jaime Garcia’s final chapter as a Cardinal. Let’s all hope it’s readable.
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?
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.
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.
(PHOTOS CLIPPED FROM INTERNET SOURCES; THESE PICTURES ARE NOT MINE.)
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 to 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 once-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…
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.