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It’s Opening Day…Christmas in March. I find myself without a
ticket to the game. But several of my friends have again taken the day off of
work and gathered at by buddy Ken’s house for food, drink, and baseball. We
have two televised games to watch: The Detroit Tigers vs. the New York Yankees,
and of course the San Diego Padres vs. the St. Louis Cardinals. Most of the
Tigers-Yankees game has been spent playing cards, prepping food, checking
fantasy lineups, and having drinks. But now that we’re just a few minutes from
first pitch at Busch Stadium, I’ve cracked open my computer and started a
running blog. Last year’s was a pretty good entry, but we had much better
weather and many more drop-in guests. This year, in addition to Ken, we also
have his brother Ed, other good friends Terry and Zac, and of course Scott the
Cubs Fan in attendance. Let’s play ball!
2:45 – The cavalcade of Cardinals Hall of Famers has begun,
and Stan Musial is in attendance wearing his new Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Whitey Herzog, Ozzie Smith, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, and Red Schoendienst are in
attendance, too…each wearing their brilliant red blazers. Opening Day has
officially begun in Cardinal Nation. I have a glass full of ice and some kind
of aged rum I brought back from Mexico. You might be asking, “Rum and what?”
Just rum, friends…just rum. I have a couple of cigars at the ready, too. Could
be quite a day.
2:55 – The coaching staff and players are being introduced
after their parade around the field in huge pick-up trucks. This isn’t as
exciting on TV. All we’re doing now is hoping none of the trucks stops short,
injuring yet another Cardinal for the season.
2:59 – Speaking of injuries, Adam Wainwright was just
introduced. Pitch a good game today, Ad…wait. Crap.
3:00 – Colby “Boomhauer” Rasmus and Albert Pujols were just
introduced. No boos for Pujols, even without a contract. I didn’t expect boos,
but you never know.
Now that the Fox Sports Midwest broadcast has cut away to
Dan McLaughlin, Al Hrabosky, and Rick Horton, it’s probably a good time to
mention we have a pot of chili, grilled brats, two different taco dips, and
three boxes of Hostess desserts. We expect other people to stop by, trust me.
But it’s a good spread.
Here’s the Cards’ starting lineup, courtesy of the St. Louis
1. Theriot SS
2. Rasmus CF
3. Pujols 1B
4. Holliday LF
5. Berkman RF
6. Freese 3B
7. Molina C
8. Schumaker 2B
9. Carpenter P
The San Diego Padres are rolling out the following lineup:
1. Venable RF
2. Bartlett SS
3. Hudson 2B
4. Hawpe 1B
5. Ludwick LF
6. Headley 3B
7. Maybin CF
8. Hundley C
9. Stauffer P
3:20 – The first pitch of 2011 from Chris Carpenter is a
ball. It’s officially baseball season.
3:27 – Carpenter gets through an easy 1-2-3 top of the
first, and looks sharp. Cards coming up, no score.
3:29 – After Theriot is robbed of a base hit in centerfield,
Rasmus takes one to the wall in right and Will Venable can’t handle it. In
fact, he looked completely lost. Rasmus ends up on third with a triple and
Pujols is coming up with one out.
3:31 – Pujols pops out in foul territory, and my slightly
liquored friends and I start mock-razzing him, saying things like “Is that’s
what 30 million per year is going to be worth?!?!” We’re hilarious.
3:32 – Matt Holliday comes up and rips a single up the
middle, scoring Rasmus. Cards lead, 1-0. This is what I like to see.
3:34 – In his first at bat as a Cardinal, Lance Berkman
strikes out. Cardinals 1, Padres 0 after one inning.
3:41 – Carpenter’s first base runner allowed is a hit by
pitch of Ryan Ludwick. It wasn’t intentional, as far as I can tell. Ludwick is
quickly erased though on a 6-4-3 double play turned nicely by Theriot and
3:42 – Scott the Cubs Fan just informed us his chicken
enchiladas are almost done. Good Lord, I didn’t realize we have even MORE food.
It’s like Thanksgiving. I wonder if I’ll fall asleep with gravy on my face?
3:43 – The sun has FINALLY poked its way through the clouds
here in Belleville IL. We’re sitting in Ken’s oversized garage and just raised
the big door. A quick breeze reminds us it’s still only about 50 degrees
outside, and we promptly close the door again. Smart guys, we are.
3:48 – Schumaker is up, and Terry keeps making fun of him
for adjusting his batting gloves after every pitch. I never really noticed it
before…but it is kind of annoying. Schumaker then reaches first on a dropped
third strike, but Carpenter grounds out weakly to end the inning. Cardinals 1,
Padres 0 after 2.
3:55 – Carpenter again makes quick work of the Padres, and
has faced the minimum through three innings. I love a great pitching
performance, but it doesn’t make for exciting blogging. What am I going to
write? “Hey, another strike! Boo ya!”
3:58 – Theriot knocks a base hit into left, and we give
Scott the Cubs Fan a hard time. “Remember that?” Ken says. “Yeah, and I
remember all the other games, too” Scott replies. Don’t worry, Cards fans…he’s
4:01 – Albert Pujols comes up with runners on first and
second, no one out and grounds into a double play. “Trade him!” lament my sarcastic
friends. Something tells me this will be a theme throughout the year anytime
Pujols makes an out when he has a chance for an RBI, though. That will make
this season really irritating at times. Holliday follows with a groundout.
Cardinals 1, Padres 0 after three innings.
4:06 – As excited as we are for Opening Day, we’ve decided
to play a game of euchre while we watch the game. Maybe it’s a sign of the game
moving kind of slowly so far. Of course, as soon as we sit down at the table,
Will Venable rips a double down the left field line for the first Padres hit of
4:08 – David Freese makes a highlight reel catch on the
third base line and throws out Bartlett at first. Those ankles look pretty
sturdy early on. Freese is easily one of the most important components to the
Cards’ success this year. So far he looks good.
4:11 – After a sacrifice fly, Carp gets out of the inning. Still
4:17 – Three straight hits by Berkman, Freese, and Molina
quickly put the Cards back up 2-1. In perhaps a more important story, no one
got hurt and the speed on the basepaths was BLINDING.
4:18 – Venable makes a great diving catch on a Carpenter
bloop into foul territory to end the inning. Cards 2, Padres 1 after four
innings. Time for more rum.
4:29 -After Ludwick walks, he steals second when Schumaker
can’t hold onto the ball during the tag. Molina threw it perfectly; Schu just
dropped it (Ludwick might have gotten a hand up, but that’s still a ball that
has to be held). Nick Hundley then sends a rocket off the wall, scoring Ludwick
from second. Padres 2, Cardinals 2. We’ve got a barnburner on our hands!
4:35 – Albert Pujols just grounded into another double play.
In three at bats, Pujols has made five outs. He’s off to a great start. And
yes, I realize it’s only the first game of a 162 game season. But he’s on my
fantasy team, and he’s killing me right now.
5:03 – Took a break from the log to eat more food, finish
the euchre game, and refill my rum. In the meantime, Dan showed up. He
compliments my chili and enjoys a swig of my rum. Chris Carpenter has pitched 7
strong innings, a great start for this early in the season. He’s due up second
in the bottom of the 7th so he’s likely finished for the day.
5:08 – I’m right about Carp; after Schumaker led off the
inning with a single, Daniel Descalso pinch hit and bunted Schu over to second
base. But a Theriot groundout and Rasmus strikeout later, the inning is over.
We’re still tied 2-2.
5:23 – We just got into a lengthy discussion about baseball
salaries. Ed doesn’t seem to think Pujols is worth $25 million or more; he
thinks Pujols should do just play for $15 million. We’re fairly certain he’s
drunk or crazy. Even Scott the Cubs Fan laughed. I had a hard time convincing
Ed that the CBA doesn’t allow players to be paid based on their performance
year over year. I know what he’s trying to say. It’s easy to talk about what
would be “nice” or “right” but reality is harsher. I’ll need another drink to
finish this conversation.
5:42 – Matt Holliday just snuck a solo home run over the
wall to give the Cardinals a 3-2 lead. Scott the Cubs Fan said it would be
Pujols who was the hero after his awful day at the plate, but once again he was
wrong. Ed just asked how much Holliday makes, so I shook up a beer and opened
it in his face.
5:50 – Ryan Franklin is brought in to close the game out.
The first two outs were relatively easy, though Headley did give one a ride.
But Cameron Maybin spoiled the party at Busch by cranking a solo homer to dead
center. Franklin is on the hook for his first blown save of the year. Is that
Jason Motte I see warming up in the bullpen? This is not how today was supposed
5:57 – The Padres bring in Chad Qualls for the bottom of the
9th. Molina, Schumaker, and Jay (after a double-switch) are due up.
6:01 – Jay smokes one up the middle that Qualls gets a glove
on but can’t hold on to. Jay is on with two outs. Theriot is up….
…and lines out. Extra innings on opening day!
6:06 – Brian Tallet makes his Cardinal debut, and I do a
quick image search for some of his epic pics from when he was a Toronto Blue Jay.
Dan drops the first Goose Gossage reference of the day.
6:10 – Tallet mows down the Padres, and looks good doing it.
Due up for the Cards: Rasmus, Pujols, Holliday. Go Cards!
6:14 – Leadoff walk to Rasmus. Mike Shannon must be going
nuts in the radio booth right now.
6:15 – Pujols grounds into ANOTHER double play. That’s eight
outs for him on the day. That’s just awful. Has he ever had a day like this? Oh…ask
and you shall receive. They just flashed a graphic that states Pujols has never
grounded into three double plays in one game. Good thing we’re not keeping
track of GIDP in the fantasy league.
6:17 – Holliday walks. Up comes Allen Craig. Come on, kid…we
need a hero.
6:18 – Craig fouls out to Venable, who is having a heck of a
game. Time for the 11th inning…and more rum.
6:23 – Hundley gets a two out single off of newly promoted
Cardinal Brian Augenstein. Not good.
6:25 – Maybin also singles; Hundley to third. But Ryan Theriot
blows the relay and Hundley makes it home on his terrible throw to the plate. The
Padres take the lead 4-3.
6:28 – 5-3 Padres. FML. More rum.
6:31 – Ed asks Dan why he smokes Marlboro Reds instead of
lights. Then he asks Scott the Cubs Fan why he smokes Marlboro menthols. I then
ask Scott the Cubs Fan why he’s such a woman. All conclusions can be drawn from
his Cubs hat and shirt.
6:33 – The Cards now face one of the best closers in the
league, Heath Bell. Ugh.
6:36 – Schumaker lines out to end an uneventful bottom of
the 11th and the game.
What’s the bigger story today: Pujols 0 for 5 with three
GIDP, or Franklin’s blown save? I have a feeling we’ll see more of Franklin’s
performance than Pujols’ performance, especially when you realize that Pujols
has NEVER had that kind of a day. In fact, not many ever have…according to
ESPN, it’s the first time since 1920 anyone has grounded into three double
plays on Opening Day. Closers blow saves…it happens. But wasting a Carpenter
start as good as the one he put on is really tough to watch. Bottom line is, this
was game 1 of 162. The Cards got off on the wrong foot, but they have a chance
to right the ship Saturday.
It’s United Cardinal Bloggers project time again. This month, we put on our prognosticator hats and try to come up with what we believe will be the top five headlines Cardinal fans will see in 2011. I decided to play this one straight, because I think the Cards could be at a bit of a crossroads this season…Albert Pujols hasn’t been signed yet, David Freese is coming back from inury, Ryan Theriot and Lance Berkman are new kids on the block, and Chris Carpenter is in the last guaranteed year of his contract. So without further ado…
1. St. Louis Cardinals Sign Albert Pujols to Record Contract – No, not a recording contract; we’re talking Guinness-type stuff here. I’m not sure if the total value of Pujols’ next deal will be the highest ever, but he will make more per season than any player ever has…and he will make it wearing the Birds on the Bat.
2. Punto Named Opening Day Starter; Freese to Report to Extended Spring Training – All this offseason, I have advocated the Cards signing a “true” third baseman to back up Freese in case he isn’t ready for Opening Day. Now that they have signed Nick Punto, I believe this is the ultimate sign that the Cards know they needed this insurance because Freese could need more time before he is 100%. I put Freese’s Cardinal debut sometime in the month of May.
3. Yankees Confirm Interest in Chris Carpenter – Carp still has an option for 2012 left on his current contract, but it is a pricey one: $15 million. If the Cards re-sign Pujols, I have no idea how they can afford that. Now if the team is in contention and Carp is pitching well, I can foresee the Cardinals declining that option and extending Carpenter for a couple more years at less per year. But if the Cards tank in the first half of 2011 for whatever reason, expect the Carpenter trade rumors to start flying. Regardless, the New York Yankees figure to be in the market for a big acquisition because they didn’t make one in the offseason and the Boston Red Sox made some serious upgrades this winter. Carpenter will almost certainly be one of their targets because of his contract situation. The Cards’ response will depend on if they are winning or not.
4. Albert Pujols Collects Hit #2000 – This one is a slam dunk, barring a catastrophic injury–Pujols currently sits on 1900. But it brings up a good point: Pujols will get his 2000th hit sometime in his 11th season in the big leagues. If his season hits totals continue to average somewhere in the mid 180s, he should get to 3000 in about six years, and he probably would still have at least three or four good seasons ahead of him. That puts Stan Musial’s 3630 within reach. And if that number really is that likely to be passed again, I want it to be done by another Cardinal.
5. Cardinals Clinch Playoff Berth – Notice I didn’t say “Division Crown.” The truth is, the NL Central will be a much better division overall this season. Everything hinges on player health, of course. But no team in the division has the 1-2 punch of Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, Yadier Molina is still the best catcher in the league in terms of defense and calling a game, and there’s only one Albert Pujols. That gives the Cardinals an edge, even if it is only a slight edge. But the Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers, and Chicago Cubs cannot be counted out. Could the Wild Card team come from the Central? With all the pitching upgrades, why not? I see the Cards making the playoffs this year but I’m not ready to go all in with a division championship prediction. It could be a knock-down, drag-out year in the NL Central this year.
What do you think…how many of these headlines do you expect to see in 2011? Do you expect to see some I haven’t listed here? Comment away!