By Alex Fitzsimmons, email [email protected]
It’s the worst feeling in the world. The kind of feeling you get when you step in an airplane and breathe in a whiff of unfiltered gook mixed with dead skin and a glut of infectious bacteria. Whether you dominate for 8 2/3 innings or get smacked around for 1 1/3, it doesn’t matter–you feel helpless, vulnerable.
With two on and two out in the top of the fifth inning, Wednesday, St. Louis Cardinals skipper Tony Larussa trotted out to the pitcher’s mound, lifted his finger, signaled to the bullpen, and sent starter Mark Mulder down the lonely, shameful walk to the clubhouse.
But Mulder didn’t look shameful. He didn’t even look disappointed. He looked detached, emotionless. As if it was the first spring-training game of the season, Mulder just methodically marched back to the dugout, seemingly oblivious to the thundering reverberations of the roaring Houston crowd.
But I bet he felt shameful, disappointed…but certainly not detached. He knew what had transpired. He knew he let his team down and couldn’t do a darn thing about it–it’s the worst feeling in the world.
The St. Louis Cardinals should’ve beaten the Houston Astros. But they didn’t–they didn’t pitch as well, they didn’t hit as well, they didn’t play as well.
Simple as that.
The 100 game-winning Cards should be prepping for the Cinderella White Sox. But they’re not. Instead, the team with the lineup that “can’t produce runs” is representing the National League in the World Series. The team with two “aging” superstars and one “over-hyped” out-fielder is moving on, and the club stacked with demons of strength and muscle is sent home with nothing but a goody bag and a pat on the back.
Simple as that.
The Cardinals ranked in the top 10 in hits, runs scored, home runs, RBI’s, and placed second in batting average in the NL in the regular season…they also have a pretty talented guy named Albert Pujols. The Astros, on the other hand, were ranked a modest 11th in runs scored and 13th in team batting average in the NL, out of 15 teams.
When you think of the Cards, just picture death row: you knock one guy off, there’s still an uncountable amount of rancid pigs waiting in line.
But in the LCS, you’d think the Astros were hurling jello-molds instead of baseballs: the Cards hit a meek .209, while the guys that “can’t produce runs” accumulated a .278 batting average.
Also, the Cardinals’ pitching staff achieved a lower ERA than the Astros’ in the regular season–but in the LCS, Houston’s ERA punched in at 2.72, while the floundering Cardinals’ ERA clocked in just under 3.00.
Houston out slugged a slugging team, out jacked a mighty jacked up team, and out witted a usually perceptive team.
Simple as that.
Not only did the Astros win the battle of the bats, they dominated the battle of the arms. In the regular season, Houston pitchers baffled and befuddled almost every club they faced. 43 year old Roger Clemens had perhaps the most electrifying season of his sensational career, and undoubtedly the most infallible for a pitcher over 40 in recent memory–Clemens’ simmering 1.87 ERA led the majors by almost a full point.
And Andy Pettite and Roy Oswalt weren’t too shabby either. Pettite posted the second best ERA in the league at 2.39, and Oswalt wasn’t far behind with a 2.94 ERA. Oswalt also won 20 games for the second straight season.
Having three sizzling, sensational, and kinda sexy (not to be interpreted the wrong way) starters anchoring your rotation is the quintessential formula for success in the playoffs.
And while Houston’s starting staff is rock-solid, their bullpen is equally as asphyxiating. Headed by the pine-splitting, shoulder-tearing, fastball/slider combination of Brad Lidge, Houston quickly gained a reputation for having one of the most daunting bullpens in baseball.
If the imposing physique of 6-5 Brad Lidge doesn’t stain your pants, his 97 mph fastball is almost guaranteed to. When Lidge is on his game, quite simply, he’s un-hittable. Literally. Getting ahead of the hitter is the key, though. He’ll usually try to blow a first pitch fastball by you to jump ahead in the count. Then, 0-1, Lidge might try his sharp-cutting slider. Or he might try to sneak by another fastball. If he has a hitter down 0-2, forget it. That’s when he earns his $500,000 paycheck. With the hitter on his heels, worrying about swinging late on the fastball, Lidge will usually drop a slider diving out of the zone–and, yes, the hitter will most likely chase the pitch and miss horribly, resulting in an embarrassing walk back to the dugout.
And it’s not just Lidge: the Astros are one of the few teams who have versatility in the bullpen–from Dan Wheeler (2.21 ERA) to Mike Gallo (2.66 ERA) to Chad Qualls (3.28 ERA), the Astros are oozing with talent in the bullpen.
The Cardinals-Astros series had all the makings of an October-thriller–a grudge match between a potent lineup and a menacing pitching staff. But, sadly, the series didn’t live up to expectations. The Cardinals looked anything but potent, and the Astros seemed to be a step ahead the whole series. The Astros dictated the tempo, pitched economically, and uncharacteristically whacked the crap out of the ball.
Simple as that.
One reply on “"Flipping the switch"”
Leadership Good article. I think that part of the problem the Cardinals had was they took the persona of their stoic manager. They just don’t seem that excited–ever. Where as the Astros seemed more like a tight knit unit. Perhaps leadership was lacking in St. Louis? Just an opinion. Really liked the article.