Diamond Diaries

Cardinal baseball, from the girls

Lessons Learned as a Baseball Fan

 

Lesson learned: winning really is the ultimate feeling.

My first Major League baseball game is a hazy recollection. It was in 1977 or 1978, Reds vs. Cubs at Wrigley Field on a gray day. My family was there to see the Reds because my brother loved them – Johnny Bench was his idol. Somewhere in all the boxes of family photos are snapshots my brother took that day. I remember there are a lot of backs of heads in the photos, plus a blurry figure in the distance that was Bench. The day didn’t have a big impression on me, nor did either of the teams involved. It wasn’t until five or so years later that I fell in love with Major League Baseball, even though it was first with the Cubs (a story that I detailed in my first post for Diamond Diaries).

And the fact that you really can change allegiances is one of the lessons I’ve learned in these many years I’ve been a baseball fan. My brother who loved the Reds and Johnny Bench is now a Cubs fan with a basement bar filled with more memorabilia than many real sports bars. My friend Kathy grew up loving the Cubs but changed loyalties to the Yankees when that was where the Cubs traded her favorite player, Henry Cotto. I, of course, wised up and abandoned the Cubs after the 1999 season and became a Cardinals fan in 2000. And it’s been the right decision. Frustrating at times, of course, but every good relationship has its ups and downs.

There are some other lessons I’ve learned in these many years as a fan.

Until the numbers say otherwise, there is always a chance.
This lesson was repeatedly learned during almost all my years as a Cubs fan, when sometimes that chance ended in June. During the past month, the 2010 Cardinals have forced us to look more closely at the standings and the number of games left. Six games behind the Reds with 21 games left to play is still a chance (and perhaps a more realistic one than climbing past three other teams in the wild card).

Even when a season is hopeless, there are reasons to watch.
Even though the 2010 season is not yet hopeless, our friend Bob detailed on Twitter the other day many of the reasons to still be excited about watching this year’s Cards: Albert (of course!) Jaime Garcia’s Rookie of the Year quest (continuing tonight). Adam Wainwright’s push for 20 wins. Jon Jay. For me personally, of course it’s Chris Carpenter. Watch the games now, while they are still on daily. There will be a cold and dreary January evening when you will wish the Cardinals were playing the Pirates live on your television.

Talent is necessary, but it takes a good team to win.
One great player (such as Andre Dawson in his 1987 MVP season or Albert any year) or even five 2010 Cardinal All Stars plus Jaime Garcia doesn’t guarantee a thing. It takes a productive roster overall for success.

Technology enhances your enjoyment of the game.
Obviously my brother didn’t have a digital camera with a zoom lens back when he took those blurry photos of Johnny Bench, but that’s just one small improvement to watching baseball these days. We all have so many ways to find and watch our team now, as well as to find and connect with other fans – to say nothing of the improvements of the broadcasts themselves. Truly a different world that would have been unimaginable back when I rejoiced because my family finally got cable TV in 1983. (Or, during 1984, when I would write journal entries on that day’s Cubs game – who knew in the future I’d have the chance to share my writing for anyone to read?)

Gut instincts are right.
This is something I’ve learned only in the last 10 years as a Cardinals fan. There has been a moment late in every season, regular or post, when I’ve had a flash of what’s ahead for the team. All but one of those times, it was a realization that the season was – at some point in the near future – going to be ending either with a loss or on that early October Sunday when the season ends for 22 other teams as well. Then there was the exception. In 2006, while watching Chris Carpenter dominate the Tigers in game three of the World Series, I knew they were going to win it all.

Winning really is the ultimate feeling.
When you think of the 2006 Cardinals, of course the World Series win is the first thing that comes to mind. Perhaps the second is how awful that month of September was, when they lost seven straight and went from a seven-game lead in the NL Central barely clinching the division. Yet all that angst (and all the media reports mocking the Cardinals for even being in the World Series) was long forgotten when Adam Wainwright struck out Brandon Inge on Oct. 27. And the emotion of that instant, of knowing you are the champions, is what we all – fans, players and coaches – hope to experience (or experience again) when a season begins.

There’s always a time to move on.
Truthfully, and personally, I’m hoping this is a lesson Tony La Russa realizes when this season ends. It’s a lesson that I’m glad Jamie Moyer, who I met during my internship in 1988, has not yet learned. Moving on also is a lesson I’m learning, as this is my final post for Diamond Diaries. As a writer and a Cardinals fan, being a baseball blogger was something I always wanted to do (once blogs actually existed!) Now that I’ve done it for five months, I’ve realized that blogging definitely has its high points. But it’s not helping me move toward my ultimate writing goal of being a published novelist. (There are, unfortunately, only 24 hours in a day and I cannot spend all of them writing.) So, although it’s been fun, now it’s time for me to move on.

Thanks for reading.

A Productive Day, and Jaime’s Productive Rookie Year

Yadi celebrating his grand slam yesterday.
(AP Photo/Jim Prisching)

“From now on, we have to win. That’s the rule.”

This quote, from Yadier Molina after yesterday’s win over the Brewers, caught my attention. It might be because I’m very much a “rules” kind of person (the result of attending Catholic schools from third grade through high school), but it’s also the simplicity of it. Yadi knows what needs to be done, and certainly the rest of the team does as well. They have to win. Period. Although it might have helped if Yadi had made this rule several weeks or months ago …

He gets a break, though, since his grand slam yesterday gave the Cardinals an 8-6 win over the Brewers on a day when the Reds, Braves and Phillies all lost (although the Phillies also won game two of their double-header) to make it a productive day in the NL Central and wild card standings. With 27 more games in the next 27 days, anything still could be possible.

Yesterday was a productive day for the Memphis Redbirds too, as they beat the Iowa Cubs to give the Redbirds the division championship. They start the Pacific Coast League playoffs on Wednesday night. Hopefully that will be a productive night all around, as the Springfield Cardinals and Quad Cities River Bandits also began their playoff hunts that night. Tonight, it’s the Batavia Muckdogs. Hopefully all the levels of Baby Birds are aware of Yadi’s rule and they all win from now on.

Jaime Garcia has been winning a lot this year, as his rookie year has been very productive. What are his chances of being named National League Rookie of the Year? He keeps expanding his credentials with each start he makes, and that’s just what I explored today for Baseball Digest. You can read that here.

So, here we go. Time to see how productive Jaime and the Cardinals can continue to be, in addition to how well they follow the rules.

Finding Joy at the Ballpark

 

Modern Woodmen Park, home of the Quad Cities River Bandits

These are tough days to be a Cardinals fan. As if the August collapse wasn’t bad enough (oh, in case anyone besides Erika noticed, I didn’t do an “August in review” like I’ve done every month since April – no desire to take another look at those games or individual numbers beyond Albert’s or Jaime Garcia’s once the month finally ended last week), there are the increasingly louder “Tony La Russa must go” voices making their opinions known. (And, truthfully, I’m starting to agree with them.) Then, yesterday brought the multiple La Russa/Colby Rasmus/Albert reports, articles and blog posts on whether Colby did or didn’t request a trade and Albert’s subsequent comments. Oy vey!

The malaise we Cardinals fans are going through is tough to take. The other day, my friend Michael e-mailed me this: “Oh, for the Cardinals to have some joy in the dugout. Not arrogance, not strutting, just some joy.” I agreed. And I came upon my solution for trying to find that joy again: head to the ballpark. Not to St. Louis, as I’m about 200 miles up the Mississippi River from there. But close to home, just across the river at Modern Woodmen Park, watching the Quad Cities River Bandits.

Their final regular season game is today, meaning there weren’t a lot of opportunities left to catch baseball at our beautiful riverfront park. (They are in the Midwest League playoffs this week, however, having clinched the division last week, so this is not their last game.) I wrote about one of my Bandits game excursions several months ago and have been to more than a few games this summer. But it had been a while between games before I went last Saturday – so much time that much of the roster was different. Promoted to Palm Beach were guys like C.J. Beatty, Deryk Hooker, D’Marcus Ingram, Ryde Rodriguez and Niko Vasquez, replaced by the likes of Alan Ahmady, August Minor League Player of the Month Rainel Rosario, Colin Walsh and former Padre minor leaguer Nick Greenwood (although we’ll just overlook how he came to be a Bandit). Last week was a 6-3 Bandits win where both Bandits old (relatively speaking), like Shelby Miller and Matt Adams, and new, like Rosario and Greenwood, all played key roles. And that, combined with the Cards continued struggles last week, had me anxious for more fun at the ballpark two nights ago.

I’d been watching the Cardinals and Reds on the FOX game of the week before I left, so was in even more desperate need of a pick-me-up by the time I reached the ballpark. Once again I went with my friend Keith, a good game companion even though he’s not a baseball fan like I am. Given Saturday’s weather – a high of only 70 degrees after a sweltering summer – and the holiday weekend, the ballpark was packed. And, once seated, the game playing out in real life before me was much like the one I’d been watching from downriver in St. Louis: home team errors led to unearned runs and not much hitting by our guys. The Bandits were extremely impatient at the plate early on, so much that even Keith (who is learning more about baseball but not really what I’d consider a huge fan) was yelling at them to stop constantly swinging at the first pitch, especially since they were grounding into outs. To make matters worse, the Bandits were playing the Peoria Chiefs, the Midwest League Cubs affiliate who wear the Cubs road gray uniforms. And, given that the Quad Cities is a mix of both Cubs and Cards fans, there were quite a few cheers for the Chiefs.

Yet, despite all that, it was hard to be upset. Maybe it’s because the Bandits had won five in a row going into Saturday night’s game and clinched their division. Or possibly it was because the weather was incredible – I had to put on my Bandits sweatshirt in the fourth inning. It could have been the entertaining-when-he-was-interacting-with-the-players-or-umpires-but-otherwise-not-amusing antics of Birdzerk. Or perhaps it was just that the beer was extremely cold, the bratwurst was extremely tasty and I had a terrific view of Robert Stock. (Yes, he’s young enough to be my son, but he won my heart forever when he gave my niece crap for wearing a Cubs shirt on Bandits opening day this year, saying he wasn’t sure if he could sign her baseball because of it – and again a few minutes later when he said she was nice to share when he asked to borrow her Sharpie to sign another autograph.)

By the seventh inning, when the Bandits were down 8-2, Keith wanted to walk around the ballpark and head to the tiki bar behind right field. First we stopped to look at the corn planted in a little patch behind the Bandits bullpen – the team enters through the now-grown corn to start the game (just like in “Field of Dreams”). As we started to move on, I noticed something I’d never seen at a ballgame before: the guys in the bullpen (which is nothing more than a row of folding chairs) had lit a bunch of cups on fire and were adding even more to the blaze. Were they cold? Bored? Getting ready for the post-game fireworks show? Regardless, it cracked us up. (I did get pictures, but they are too dark beyond the little fire!) A few minutes later, Keith and I continued our journey on the path above the grass berm that was being cleared of fans in preparation for the fireworks. As we walked, a Bandits employee reminded us we couldn’t stay out there once the game ended. After stopping to admire yet again the beauty of the Mississippi River, the Centennial Bridge and its lights reflected onto the water, we finally ended up at the tiki bar – after last call. We watched a bit more of the game from this vantage point, until the bottom of the ninth started and we wanted to get better seats for the fireworks.

So we moved back to the grandstand, choosing seats at the top of the section just behind home plate. The couple who had just vacated them were still standing there and talked to us. They had driven two hours to the game, from Morris, Ill. (hometown of Scott Spiezio!), although we never did find out if they were there rooting for the Bandits or Chiefs. The man proudly showed off a bat he’d received from a Chiefs player during batting practice before they departed. Then, after the now-obligatory chanting of the firework’s sponsor’s name by the on-field announcer, the lights went out and the display began. In contrast to the Bandits usual fireworks show, there instead was slow, instrumental movie soundtrack-sounding music that accompanied much of them, which made us very glad to hear “God Bless the U.S.A.” by Lee Greenwood once it finally began. (We did, however, miss hearing the usual “Born in the U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen – the other Bandits fireworks staple.)

And as the crowed went “ooooh” and “aaaah” over what really were spectacular fireworks, I realized that the night had accomplished what I’d hoped: given me back some of the pleasure that comes from watching baseball that’s been missing the past few weeks. True, the Bandits lost – the first time all season I’d watched them lose – but it had been a fun night and, more importantly, it was baseball. In a matter of months, after the 2010 World Series champion is crowned and during that dreary time before the 2011 season begins, I can look back and remember that Saturday night during Labor Day weekend when I was able to sit outside wearing just a sweatshirt. I’ll be counting the days until I can do that again – as well as watch the big Cardinals on TV.

Win or lose, there definitely is a joy to watching the game in person – and, also win or lose, that joy of watching live baseball in 2010 will be gone all too soon.

Jaime Garcia’s Greatest Day

Chris Lee/STLToday.com

After being the hard-luck loser against the Brewers last Tuesday, Jaime Garcia deserved a better fate when he started yesterday. He definitely got it, as he went out pitched the best game of his young career. Jaime was masterful, throwing an 89-pitch, three-hit complete game shutout. The standing ovation he received from the Busch Stadium crowd when he came up to bat in the bottom of the eighth inning was goose-bump inducing, even watching on television. “I think this is the greatest day of my baseball career,” he said after the game.

Thankfully, the Cardinals offense provided more than enough support for Jaime to win. The Cards’ bats came alive against Cy Young winners Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito on Saturday and Sunday, as the Cardinals scored 14 runs in the two games to win a series for the first time since sweeping the Reds nearly two weeks ago. The contributions came from everyone, veterans and rookies alike – as well as from the newest Cardinal, Pedro Feliz. After the instant negativity at his acquisition, he had two hits in each of his first three games plus drove in two runs and scored three. He’s also, as expected, played well defensively at third base.

Yes, once again the Cardinals 2010 rollercoaster is on the upswing. With six more weeks left, anything really can happen in the NL Central race between the Cards and the Reds. But yesterday was all about Jaime. Going into the game, he was only 1-2 with a 4.41 ERA for the month of August (including that not-so-memorable start on Diamond Diaries night Aug. 3 when the Cards lost 18-4). Jaime’s numbers for the second half of the season were perfectly fine, 2-2 with a 3.86 ERA, but not quite on the same pace as the first half when he was 8-4 with a 2.17 ERA. He’s been given extra rest this month, with a week between each of his previous August starts, as the innings have piled up in his first season back from Tommy John surgery, and his total innings pitched will likely continue to be monitored. Yesterday everything paid off, as he proved just how talented he is.

I will admit to not realizing Jaime’s efficiency yesterday until seeing a couple of tweets after the fifth inning saying that he’d only thrown 50 pitches. Of course I’d noticed he’d been doing well and hadn’t allowed anything beyond Pat Burrell’s two singles, but was focused more on the offense as the Cards scored in the third, fourth and fifth innings (including Jaime’s base hit and his going from first base to third on Brendan Ryan’s single). From then, each inning became a joy to watch as he retired Giant after Giant. Before yesterday, Jaime’s longest outing had been seven innings – something he’d done five times this season, and not since July 21 – so it was exciting to see him move through the eighth so quickly. Then came the top of the ninth. How appropriate that the first two outs were right to him, although it was a bit disappointing that Nick Schierholtz singled. But in the end, of course it didn’t matter, and Jaime finished the game in 89 total pitches.

He’s now 11-6 for the season, with an ERA of 2.42 (sixth best in the National League). His name continues to be rightfully mentioned in the NL Rookie of the Year race. Jaime continues to anchor his third of the Cardinals Big Three starters along with Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. And all three continue to dominate, as the team is 50-27 in games they’ve started (and 17-27 otherwise).

Jaime’s masterpiece yesterday is definitely something to be savored, a game to watch again and appreciate all the more – most definitely his greatest game, and day, to date. Here’s to many more career highlights like that in his future.

Who are the 2010 Cardinals, really?

Chris Lee/STLToday.com

Here we are again. Another off day, two more losses tacked onto the latest losing streak (which is tied for the longest of the season), now trailing the Reds by three games in the NL Central (tied for this year’s biggest deficit), the Giants (who took two of three from the Cards out in San Francisco in late April) headed to town to conclude what’s been a rotten home stand for a team that had a great home record …

The Cardinals are 7-7 for August, which seems appropriate: mediocre once again. In this latest losing streak, it’s the offense that’s (once again) the source of the dive, particularly against the Brewers. This is after the team scored four or more runs every day from July 31 until the streak started last Saturday, Aug. 14.

With the exception of Albert (who had at least one hit in each game), the numbers over the last four games for the rest of the team look expectedly anemic given the game results. Matt Holliday was 2 for 15, Yadi was 1 for 13, Felipe Lopez and Jon Jay were each 2 for 13, Allen Craig was 1 for 11. The team struck out 26 times, with six for Jay alone. Each of the Big Three starters had a loss, with each having a quality start. Jaime’s loss was particularly painful, since he allowed no earned runs in his six innings Tuesday night. Yesterday was Adam Wainwright’s first loss at home this year.

Yet this all seems familiar, right? Déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Berra famously said. Maybe instead of inconsistency being the defining trait of this team, it’s underachievement. This is a team with five All-Stars, a team picked to run away with the NL Central. And at times, obviously, they do play like that team. They have won 65 games and are still 12 games over .500. The pitching overall is still number three in the majors in ERA, and the Big Three are in the NL top eight in ERA (with Wainwright still first with 2.06). BODY { MARGIN: 8px}.LW-yrriRe { FONT: x-small arial}.MsoNormal { MARGIN: 0px}Albert is leading the league in RBI with 87, tied for first in homers with 31 and fourth in batting average at .314. But there are the Reds, playing the way they are. The “last 10 games” column in the standings is one I always look at. Currently the Reds are 7-3, the Cardinals 5-5.

Driving home last night, thinking about what to write, the song “I’ve Seen Better Days” by Citizen King came on the radio. Seemed appropriate. Then, listening to the chorus, I wondered if it was fitting for this latest streak or a sign of things to come: “I’ve seen better days – and the bottom drops out.”

There are six-and-a-half weeks left, so plenty of time for things to happen. A Twins fan friend reminded me yesterday that last year her team was seven games out in early September and still made the playoffs. Anything truly can happen. And I’ll guess we’ll see what the legacy of the 2010 team will be – one that lives up to its pre-season predictions and five All-Stars potential, or one that has the bottom drop out and fades away.

Ugh

Well, that wasn’t what any Cardinals fan hoped to see this weekend.

J.B. Forbes/STLToday.com

Of course there are no absolutes in baseball, but there are definitely a few certainties about the 2010 Cards: Adam Wainwright will pitch extremely well. Albert will be Albert. Yadi will throw out any baserunner foolish enough to try to steal second. And the team will remain consistently inconsistent.

After the emotional sweep of the Reds and gaining a one-game lead in the NL Central, of course expectations were high for this weekend’s series against the Cubs. Friday’s game lived up to our hopes: Jake Westbrook finally received his first Cardinals win, Albert Pujols hit his 29th home run of the year in the first inning, and Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina continued hitting and driving in runs like they did in Cincinnati. Ryan Franklin even had a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his 21st save as the Cards won 6-3.

 

Going into Saturday’s game, it seemed like things should keep rolling along with Chris Carpenter starting. But then things started to look eerily familiar to all those not-so-pleasant games this season. Carp allowed three runs in the first three innings (although he did settle in after that), although it was the lack of timely hitting – and especially the inability to bunt – that cost the Cards the game in the end.

 

Then there was yesterday. Realistically, it was difficult to know what to expect from Kyle Lohse. Our friend Bob had a great pre-game piece on his Throatwarbler’s Blog that detailed all Kyle has been through in the last year-plus, since he was hit on the forearm by a Ron Mahay pitch in May 2009. Unfortunately, Lohse had a terrible day and allowed seven earned runs as he pitched into the fourth inning. If the bullpen had been able to keep the Cubs scoreless the rest of the game, things would have been better and the Cards could have actually won. However, both Mike MacDougal and Dennys Reyes allowed a run each. The Cardinals did stage a valiant comeback attempt in the bottom of the ninth, scoring five runs, but it wasn’t quite enough.

So the team that got swept by the Reds last weekend beat the team that just swept the Reds this week, winning two out of three games. The Reds also had another sweep this weekend, beating the Marlins, and now find themselves back on top in the Central by a game. And the frustration is back among Cardinals fans again, that’s for sure. While there are definitely bright spots when you look at the team’s record since the All-Star break, it’s the ups and downs that stand out more than anything. Of course, no team is going to win every game and even great teams are going to lose around 60 games a season. But it’s the now season-long inconsistency that stands out as the hallmark of the 2010 Cardinals.

It’s difficult to know what to expect from this team during the next seven weeks. The optimist in me can easily see them winning the division. With the starting pitching of Carpenter, Wainwright and Jaime Garcia – plus Westbrook – they could do very well in the playoffs also. But then there’s the internal pessimist. I can just as easily see the Cardinals not winning the division, nor the wild card either. September has not been their most productive month in recent years. And look at what happened last year when they did win the division, with Carpenter and Wainwright as Cy Young-worthy starters.

 

Time will tell us what the 2010 Cardinals really are. And, unfortunately, we have an off day to dwell on what should have been instead of what was throughout the weekend.

Sunday’s Highlights

Congratulations to:

  • Albert, who hit his 30th home run of the season in the first inning yesterday. With the blast, he now has hit at least 30 homers in each of his first 10 seasons in the majors. He currently has 396 homers, the most ever by a player in his first 10 seasons.
J.B. Forbes/STLToday.com
  • Steven Hill on hitting his first major league home run to start the Cards’ rally in the bottom of the ninth inning. Steven was on what today are the Quad Cities River Bandits in 2007, when they were the Swing of the Quad Cities. He wasn’t the only former Quad Cities player getting that rally going, as Nick Stavinoha (2005) and Aaron Miles (1997/1998, when they were an Astros farm team) followed Hill by getting base hits. Jon Jay (2006) received a bases-loaded walk a bit later to score Stavinoha. (Personally, it’s nice to see some of the guys I remember seeing in the Quad Cities make contributions to the big league team. At this level, most of the guys I see year after year never make it to the majors.)

More on Rivalries

Obviously the Cardinals’ rivalry with the Reds has intensified this season. Read more in Angela’s post “A Reflection on Rivalries” at i70baseball.com here.

Two Nights and An Afternoon in August

Talk about making a statement.

In sweeping the Reds, the Cardinals provided the heroics and dominated the villainous antics of the Reds to take a one-game lead in the NL Central. The series featured a familiar cast for anyone who’s read Buzz Bissinger’s classic “Three Nights in August”: Tony La Russa, Dusty Baker, Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds. Yet the drama and intrigue provided during these two nights and an afternoon went far beyond anything that happened during that pivotal August 2003 Cubs-Cardinals series.

Of course the main antagonist is well known by now: Brandon Phillips. The desperate-for-attention statements he made Monday provided him with the media attention he apparently craved, but also united the Cardinals as a team in a way we haven’t seen all season. Yes, the Cards have played with spark and energy at times – such as in April and during July’s eight-game winning streak – but these three games were different and more intense, particularly when they discovered what Phillips had said about them.

Yet even before the Cards knew how they’d been disparaged, they were on a mission during Monday night’s game when the combination of scoring seven runs in the fourth inning and Chris Carpenter’s pitching brought them victory.

Tuesday night, Yadier Molina played like a true Cardinal: standing up to Phillips’ shallow attempt to play nice after his words were blasted everywhere, and then hitting his most memorable home run since game seven of the 2006 NLCS. (The fact that Reds fans booed him the rest of the series, just like Mets fans still boo him today, proves how monumental the homer really was.) Jaime Garcia was able to rise above the literal fray that happened as he was ready to pitch and provided a solid performance that led the Cardinals into a tie for first place.

Yesterday the Cardinals completed their statement to the Reds and moved to a season-high 15 games over .500, thanks especially to birthday boy Colby Rasmus and Adam Wainwright. Waino further enhanced his Cy Young qualifications, moving into a tie with Ubaldo Jimenez for the league lead in wins with 17 and lowering his ERA to 1.99 (just above current leader Josh Johnson’s 1.97). His numbers for this month are astounding: three wins, one earned run allowed in 23 innings pitched for a minuscule ERA of 0.39, one complete game shutout (and he was certainly on track for another yesterday until the rain came). And those are only through Aug. 11!

His numbers weren’t the only impressive ones of the sweep. Matt Holliday hit .636 (7 for 11) during the three games and had four RBI. Including his Monday grand slam, Skip Schumaker hit .455 and had five RBI. Colby drove in six runs during the series. Yadi hit .417 for the three games, plus had a stolen base on Tuesday in addition to his homer. Jon Jay hit .385. Albert only hit .274, but his four walks definitely had an impact (particularly the intentional ones). Pitching-wise, the bullpen bounced back from last week’s struggles and turned in admirable performances. Fernando Salas especially deserves mention for his 1.2 innings pitched Tuesday night.

It was, by far, the series of the season.

Now, after a 4-1 road trip, the Cardinals return home and enjoy a day off today. Fittingly, after such an impressive sweep, they take on the Cubs this weekend for one night and two afternoons in August. (How can this really be the Cubs first time in St. Louis this season?) With Chicago currently in fifth place, the action won’t necessarily be as important as that August 2003 series – but it is still the Cubs vs. Cardinals, after all. And that always means something.

Now for a few chick comments …

Thanks to Twitter, Erika and I discovered we are not alone in our fascination with the now clean-cut Jason LaRue. His pre-game interview on Fox Sports Midwest to discuss his battle wounds from Johnny Cueto’s unbelievable form of fighting drew plenty of complimentary tweets yesterday morning. (There’s something rugged about seeing those stitches on his lip too, right? In addition to that scruff …) Hopefully Jason will be healed up very soon and, more importantly, hopefully Cueto gets the punishment from MLB that he definitely deserves. If you didn’t have the chance to see Jason’s interview, it’s available here.

In addition, the dugout shots of Jason and his fellow wounded warrior Chris Carpenter sitting side by side Tuesday night were great. When Dan McLaughlin mentioned that the two had just been shown on the kiss-cam at Great American Ballpark and Carp obliged by kissing his pal on the cheek, my immediate reaction on Twitter was where’s the footage of that? My sentiments were not unique, I was happy to find out, although we unfortunately never did see video or a photo of the moment. And I wonder how the camera operator in Cincinnati felt following the kiss? My guess is that person purposely chose Carp in hopes of getting some negative reaction from our fiery ace. So way to go, Chris, for smooching your buddy and showing your softer side to the Reds crowd. Your intensity not surprisingly returned when you were discussing the fight following the game (you can see his reaction on the Fox Midwest link also), and we once again saw the literal and figurative hot Carp who we love.

Photos: top, Gary Landers, Cincinnati Enquirer; bottom, New York Post

One Step Closer, and Looking at Wainwright’s Cy Chances

Quite the game last night, wasn’t it? Wow.

First, and most importantly, the Cardinals beat the Reds 7-3 thanks to their most productive inning all season: six straight hits (including an infield single from Yadi!) in the fourth that was capped by the first-ever grand slam from Skip Schumaker to give them six serious runs before there was even an out. During his second at-bat of the inning, Albert singled again to drive in the seventh run. And, with Chris Carpenter pitching, those were more than enough runs.

Ah, yes, Carp. No, there’s not (yet!) a feud here over his displeasure with Brendan Ryan delaying the bottom of the first inning. (Thanks, C70!) But, really, haven’t there been plenty of comments made throughout this season about a lack of fire and spark on the team, how they’re just business-like out there and act like they don’t really care? Then how can you complain when Carp understands the importance of this particular game and series, is all amped and ready to go, gets ticked when he has to wait because the guy who’s always the last one to the field anyway (based on our observations last week) delays his start of the inning and Carp lets him know about it later? Angela made a good point during the game: that it might not have been noticed at all were it not for the ESPN cameras focused on the dugout. But the look of fear on Brendan’s face that the camera did capture … yeah, the Hyperactive Puppy won’t be doing that again!

I could go on and mention the Jim Edmonds trade (who’s next, Walt?) or Brandon Phillips (think he’ll be regretting those comments?) but instead will switch gears a bit to talk about tomorrow afternoon’s starter, Adam Wainwright. After his brilliant two-hit shutout last Friday against the Marlins, he’s continuing to reassert his position as one of the top National League pitchers. So what are his chances for winning a well-deserved Cy Young Award this season? That’s exactly what I explored for Baseball Digest, which you can find here.

With all the drama and entertainment that the first game of this series provided, it’s hard to know what to expect tonight. Here’s to Jaime bouncing back from his outing-we-want-to-forget last Tuesday and providing another dominating performance again tonight. Because a win will bring those magic words “first place” back once again …

Go Cardinals!!

First-Place Showdown

So, here we go – Cardinals vs. Reds for three games and a battle for first place on the line. It’s Aug. 9 now, which means there are less than two months left in the regular season. The Cards are two games back going into tonight, thanks to the stellar (ha!) effort by the Cubs this weekend in allowing the Reds to sweep them.

In other words, these games are pretty big.

The Cardinals have a slight lead over the Reds this season, with a 7-5 record, and this will be the fifth series between the two teams. The Cards won two out of three in Cincinnati to open the season (with the winning pitchers being Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright), took two of three in St. Louis in late April/early May (Ryan Franklin and Carp were the winners), lost two of three on their last trip to Cincinnati in mid May (Jaime Garcia was the lone winner) and finally won two of three in late May/early June (with more victories for Jaime and Carp). The last victory over the Reds, on June 2, put the Cards into a first-place tie with the Reds.

In the time since, the Cards and Reds have battled back and forth for first place. No doubt the Reds have held that spot longer, and once had a three-game lead over the Cards, plus right now they are definitely on a roll – they’ve won four in a row and nine of their last 11 games. The Cardinals are 6-4 over their last 10 games (which includes the two unfortunate Diamond Diaries nights at the ballpark) and are only one game back in the loss column, with 49 total losses to the Reds 48. (Cards have 61 wins to the Reds 64.)

The pitching matchups couldn’t be better: our Big Three against their top three.

Tonight
Chris Carpenter (12-3, 2.91 ERA) vs. Mike Leake (7-3, 3.86 ERA)

Carp is 3-0 against the Reds this year, with a 1.29 ERA and has held the Reds to a .157 batting average. Leake is 1-0 in one game started against the Cards with a 3.00 ERA and the Cards have a .190 average against him.

Tomorrow
Jaime Garcia (9-5, 2.53 ERA) vs. Johnny Cueto (11-2, 3.24 ERA)

Jaime’s won both of his starts against the Reds this season, with a 2.92 ERA and the Reds hitting .245. Cueto has started three times against the Cards and has a 1-0 record with a 6.75 ERA (he’s allowed 12 earned runs in 16 innings pitched) and the Cards are hitting .308 off him.

Wednesday
Adam Wainwright (16-6, 2.06 ERA) vs. Bronson Arroyo (12-6, 3.83 ERA)

Adam is 1-1 against the Reds, with a 4.15 ERA (allowing six earned runs in 13 innings) but the Reds are only hitting .222 against him and he has 12 strikeouts. Arroyo also is 1-1 in three starts against the Cards this season and has a 4.22 ERA, with the Cards hitting .256 against him.

Slugging-wise, Albert Pujols is hitting .381 against the Reds this season with three homers and 12 RBI and is batting 1.000 against Leake. (It’s only one at-bat, but does that matter?) Matt Holliday is hitting .325 against the Reds with two home runs and 10 RBI, while Jon Jay is hitting .438 with one homer and four RBI. And, with Carp pitching tonight, maybe he’ll hit another grand slam like he did against the Reds last season. (Probably not, but I can always hope to see a repeat of that!)

With 12 hours until game time, I can still say that these games are going to be fun. It’s going to be playoff-type baseball, with possible post-season implications on the line. But, by tonight, I know watching these games will be excruciating – like all Cardinals fans, what I want most is a sweep over the Reds. Let’s see how it goes …

And go Cardinals!

P.S.: This is Diamond Diaries post number 100. Thanks to each of you for reading. We appreciate your support!

Diamond Diaries Heads to St. Louis!

It doesn’t matter if the Cardinals win or lose, it’s how much fun we have …

Well, of course we would have preferred the two Diamond Diaries nights at Busch Stadium this week (Monday and Tuesday) be Cards wins. But we did get to see: a successful debut by Jake Westbrook, a birthday-present-for-me homer from Albert on Monday, several hits by Brendan over the two nights, a Colby jack, a Hunky homer and pitcher Aaron Miles. (And a lot of other defensive plays, hits and runs we are still trying to forget – ouch!) We also had a blast making all of our chick comments in person and taking plenty of photos! Plus we had the chance to meet several Twitter pals, which – in all seriousness was awesome. We also checked out as much St. Louis baseball history as we could and visited the Missouri History Museum to see the Cards history on display, took the Busch Stadium tour and even visited the former site of Sportsman’s Park.

So here’s a photo special with a few of our pictures from this week. Enjoy! (We did!)

 

Outside our favorite place!

 

And inside too.

 

It was a tweet-up, as we met Cadence and Courtney!

 

It’s probably not a surprise that Erika took a lot of Brendan photos.

And a lot of Hunky photos too!

Or that I would take as many pictures of Chris Carpenter as I could …

No matter what he was doing.

Angela took photos while doing her Adam Wainwright imitation in his seat in the dugout.

We enjoyed learning more about the history of baseball in St. Louis.

And, all too soon, it was time to say good-bye – to Busch Stadium, St. Louis and each other, but only until the next time!

 

So, we’re going to take the rest of the weekend to look through our photos and relive the memories, but we’ll be back with regular posts again on Monday. Go Cardinals!
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