RIP

You stood for Stan.  Now please Vote for Stan

Baseball’s Perfect Knight

We all knew this day was coming, even if we didn’t want it to.  Stan Musial, Greatest Cardinal of them all, one of the ten best hitters ever (by WAR), passed away of old age on Saturday.  He was 92.

How good was Musial?  Mediocre players don’t win 3 MVP awards, 7 batting titles, or get voted onto 24 All-Star games.  Here’s something to think about:  When he retired the all-time HR list looked like this:  Babe Ruth 714, Jimmy Foxx 534, Ted Williams 521, Mel Ott 511, Lou Gehrig 493, Stan 475.  Through the end of the 1963 season, Mickey Mantle had hit 419 HR, Willie Mays 406, Hank Aaron had only 342 HR, Frank Robinson 262, and Harmon Killebrew 223 HR.  The power surge since the 1960s has relegated Musial to 28th on the all-time list and help obscure how dominant he once was.

In case you needed more proof, here’s this: only Aaron and Barry Bonds collected more extra-base hits than Musial.

He was idolized by fans of the team.  Stan Musial was my father’s favorite Cardinal.  Years later, when I met my wife, I discovered her father, who grew up in Cubs country, was a Cardinal fan.  Guess who his favorite player is.  I don’t believe my story is unique.  I never saw him play – my favorite Cardinal growing up was Lou Brock – but I have a signed Musial photo, a signed Musial baseball, and a 1961 Topps baseball card of The Man in my office.  The room would be drab without them.

One could argue he has a supernatural pull with the local populus.  How else to explain the Blues dismantling Detroit 6-0 last night?

It is difficult to come to grips with the death of someone you care about.  Obviously the next few days will be extremely difficult for the extended Musial family.  It will be less difficult for us, the extended Cardinal family.  Stan played his last game in a Cardinal uniform 50 years ago.  Most of us never saw him play; we heard about his exploits from those who did, or saw old footage of him hitting somewhere.  There will be an outpouring of respect and love for the man, which will hopefully make their loss a little less painful.

We will see, and read, multiple eulogies of the man and his baseball legacy, and there will be tears because he’s gone.  It is sad he’s gone.  But he lived a rich, full life.  I would hope that all of us get to live until we are at least 92 years old.  And his legacy, the memory of the player he was – the man he was – will live as long as we remember him.

RIP Stan Musial.  You are gone from this Earth, but you will never be forgotten.

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Stand Down

I'm the runt on the left...

With the World Series over and the parade cleanup complete, the off-season starts in earnest. Every club and player takes a moment to reflect on the season past, the challenges of tomorrow, and their place in it. The Cardinals front office has already started that process and declined to exercise their options for Rafael Furcal and Octavio Dotel. Tony LaRussa began his reflection back in August and announced his retirement yesterday. There are more changes to come for the ballclub.

There are changes coming here too. This is the last post of Stan Musial’s Stance.

I started the blog in 2006, when the Cardinals went on an unexpected playoff run and won the World Series. Apropos that it ends now, after the Cardinals went on an unexpected playoff run and won the World Series.

It’s easy to be a fan. It’s relatively easy to be a fan and a writer. It’s difficult to be a fan and a good writer. In order to do it right, one has to not only read what’s going on with the team but actually watch/listen to the games. I can find the time to read what’s going on via the Post Dispatch, Twitter, and the United Cardinal Bloggers, but unless the game is nationally televised I don’t have the free time to watch or listen to it. You’ve no doubt noticed that; if you laid a schedule down next to the dates I published something, the dates would almost exactly correspond to when the Cardinals were on ESPN, FOX, or in San Diego.

And the time is the issue. Geoff Young of Ducksnorts recently hung up his spikes, and he said something that resonated with me: “The sacrifices and compromises one is willing to make in life at age 42 are different from those one is willing to make at age 28.” I’m closer to 42 than 28. My children demand my attention. My wife deserves my attention. It’s not fair to plop down in front of the TV at 5pm Pacific, spend 3 hours watching the Cardinals, and deny them that. You may disagree, and that’s cool. Everyone’s got to live their life the way they think is right.

I close this chapter with no regrets. I’ve had a lot of fun doing this. Blogging about the team my father and I rooted for has literally changed my life for the better. I’ve had the opportunity to do things I never thought I would experience, and I have met some tremendous people along the way. The people list is an All-Star team of Cardinal writers. Dan Shoptaw. Nick at Pitchers Hit Eighth. Bill Ivie. Bob Netherton. Matt Philip. Derrick Goold. Matt Leach. And many others I should mention but won’t in the interest of brevity. Thank you all for your help, your kindness, and your friendship.

To those reading this – thanks. Thanks for making this blog an occasional part of your week. Thanks for your feedback and comments. I am not disappearing altogether from the internet. I will continue to write. I will do a weekly article for I-70 Baseball as long as Bill Ivie will have me. I also plan to focus on the San Diego Padres, the local team in my time zone, as well as provide sage observations via Twitter on a wide variety of things. Perhaps our paths will cross again.

Cheers.

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Filed under Annual Petco trip, General Baseball, Off-Season Moves, San Diego Padres, St Louis Cardinals

World Series to St Louis

I guess we all hoped it would end this way. I’m not sure we really believed it would.

Before the 2006 season I had only seen the Cardinals win one title. Now they have won two in six years. Those two have been studies in contrast. The 2006 team limped in with no spark and somehow ignited. This team entered the post-season riding a wave of emotion and belief and refused to be denied. If the those two post-season runs don’t conclusively prove the playoffs are a crapshoot for people those people will never be convinced.

The Cardinals did this while Pujols was a non-factor for 6 of the seven games. Other than his 3 HR Game Three, and one out double in the ninth inning of Game 6, the Rangers kept Pujols in check. The hitting stars were Allen Craig (3 HR), David Freese (5 clutch RBI in Games 6 and 7 alone), and Lance Berkman (.430 Series average). It doesn’t matter if those stats are old school. Berkman was constantly on base. Freese was deadly with runners on. That offensive balance allowed this team to succeed even while Pujols struggled and Matt Holliday gamely played hurt.

Then there is Chris Carpenter’s night. Did you notice he allowed only 3 hits after Michael Young’s RBI double in the first? The first 4 Rangers reached. Carp throttled them after that. Cal Eldred pointed out that Carp started throwing curveballs after Dave Duncan visited the mound in the second inning. That pitch enabled him to keep the Texas hitters off balance the rest of the game. The usual parade of reporters did the rest.

I’ve been a Cardinals fan since I was 7, but had never been in St Louis when the won the Series. In 1982 my family lived on the West Coast. In 2006 I was on active duty. This year thanks to the rainout Game 7 moved onto my Mom’s birthday. The flight out of San Diego yesterday was speckled with fans in varying degrees of Cardinals gear, from the modest hat to the couple wearing Pujols and Musial jerseys. The mood was upbeat and expectations were high. I noticed that same mood everywhere I went in the city yesterday.

And last night, after it was over, those knuckleheads among us that went to Sports Authority in search of World Series gear were well behaved and happy.

The 2011 Cardinals should call their team video “Phoenix”. They rose from the ashes of a 10.5 game deficit and won the World Series. It’s been a great ride these last two months. I’m sad this season had to end because these guys are fun to watch.

Congratulations to the 2011 World Champion St Louis Cardinals!

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Game 6 to St Louis

My slightly more cogent thoughts will appear at I-70 Baseball later today.

Unbelievable. Best Cardinal playoff game since 2004 NLCS Game 6. If David Freese makes a diving catch in CF tonight to kill a rally, I fully expect him to pull off a face mask and reveal Jim Edmonds.

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Game 5 to Texas

At least St Louis fans will see a World Champion crowned in person.

I see the Rangers left only two fewer guys on than the Cardinals did.  Texas was 2 for 7 with RISP; St Louis was a mind-boggling 1 for 12.  Five of those 12 at bats were taken by Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker.  At least Skip drove in a run; Punto struck out twice, once looking with one out and a man on second.  Punto wasn’t the only guy to blame, however; Craig struck out in the fifth with one out and runners on second and third.  Then there’s the abortion of a seventh inning, where the Cardinals got a single and three walks and yet failed to score.

Should they lose this series, I believe last night’s futility will replace the Game 2 ninth-inning meltdown as the turning point.  As a segue, isn’t it funny how often a team follows an offensive explosion with an inability to score?  Since hanging 16 on Texas in Game 3 St Louis has scored two runs in 18 innings.

Looks like Mike Napoli is the MVP favorite for the series.  (I can hear Angels fans grinding their teeth right now.)  He would not have had the opportunity to send a ball to the track in RC had Rzepczynski fielded David Murphy’s ground ball cleanly.  And what the heck was Tim McCarver talking about – that ball was hit too slowly to turn a double play?  Really?  If Scrabble fields it cleanly it’s 1-6-3 and the inning is over.  If he was talking about after Marc tipped it, well DUH – it was deflected, taking a lot of the kinetic energy away from the ball.

None of that matters if the Cardinals can drive a run in scoring position earlier in the game.  Napoli’s RBI double probably just draws the Rangers closer (or ties it) vice giving them the win.  Assuming the rest of the game played out the way it actually did, which as we noted after Game 3, is a bit of a stretch.

All right.  This Cardinals team has not done anything the easy way yet this season, why start now?  Let’s take a look at how the franchise has done historically in these situations.

In the 40 years that Busch Memorial Stadium II existed (1966-2005), it hosted a World Series clinching game three times:  1968 Game 7, 1982 Game 7, 2004 Game 4.  Cardinals lost two of those three games.  In the six years Neo-Busch has existed, it will see 2.  St Louis won their only opportunity six years ago.  So there’s that.  The last time the Cardinals went home down 3-2 in the World Series was that 1982 championship; they blew Milwaukee out 13-1 in Game 6 (a game lengthened by rain; seems relevant based on the weather forecast for tomorrow) and won the finale 6-3.

The last time they were down 3-2 in any post season series was 2005.  They came home down 3-2 to Houston in that NLCS, two days after Pujols’ legendary blast off Brad Lidge.  Roy Oswalt shut them down, leading Houston to their only NL pennant. 

Distill all that down into these two facts:  (a) anything can happen over the final two games; (b) based on his Game 2 start Colby Lewis is every bit as nasty as Oswalt was 7 years ago.  St Louis has their work cut out for them as they try to extend this series to a Seventh Game.

I’ve given up trying to predict what will happen.  All I know is the roller coaster ride that has defined the 2011 season is almost over.  When the playoffs started, I was just happy to see this team make it.  Now that they sit two games away from the prize, I’d like to see them complete the journey.  There can be only one.

UPDATE/Full Disclosure:  Um, yeah.  I turned the game off right after Napoli cruised into second, so I missed all the relief pitcher nonsense that took place after his hit.   That’s why there’s no reference to it above.  Now that I know what happened, well, the Cardinals played like Arlington had been sucked into The Twilight Zone, so a relief pitcher SNAFU blamed on a bad phone connection doesn’t surprise me.

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Game 4 to Texas

Two men reach second.  One leadoff man reaches and is erased by a double play.  Eight and one-third shutout innings.  Derek Holland dominated last night.  He gave the worn-out Texas bullpen exactly what it needed – a day off.  The only guy called upon by Ron Washington to pitch out of the bullpen last night was Neftali Feliz, who happened to be the only bullpen guy that didn’t pitch in Game 3.

The Cardinals, based on their quotes post-game, were very complimentary of Holland’s effort.  There was some grousing amongst fans about the strike zone, fanned by Holliday and Freese’s reactions when they were called out looking on a pitch that may have been inside, but that wasn’t a topic of discussion post-game from the participants on the field.

Edwin Jackson worked a high-wire act for the first five innings, allowing three hits but five walks.  He made enough pitches to limit the damage to one run through those 5 innings.  Jon Jay got a workout in CF, however, retreating to the track or banging into the wall to make 3 or 4 good plays and keep the game close.  But, as with all tightrope walkers, one misstep can be fatal.  Jackson didn’t take that final step, Mitchell Boggs did; Mike Napoli’s 3-run HR basically ended the drama.

So that’s that.  Moving on.

Of course all games this deep into the post season are huge.  Game 5 will be yet another one.  CJ Wilson pitched well in Game 1, if you remember; the Cardinals turned a HBP, double, and single into the two runs they got off him.  Not to mention, he’s due for a superlative performance this post-season.  Many Cardinals fans believe St Louis has a distinct advantage in this game because of Chris Carpenter.  While I agree Carp is the more accomplished starting pitcher, I don’t believe there’s that large a differential between the two hurlers; and what difference there is will be mitigated by this game occurring in Texas. 

Of course there’s no other Cardinal pitcher I’d rather have on the mound for this game.  Carpenter gives the Cardinals their best chance to return to Busch up 3 games to 2.  It goes without saying both managers should approach this game like it’s game 7.  For the Rangers, they have their most clutch post-season pitcher on tap for Game 6 in Corey Lidle Colby Lewis.  For the Cardinals, they return home and have Jamie Garcia, who threw a gem at the Rangers in Game 2.

The best Game 5 I’ve ever seen was Andy Pettite’s 1-0 shut-out win over Atlanta in 1996.  Note that he won that game on the road.  Here’s hoping tonight’s game lives up to that one.

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Game 3 to St Louis

As I tweeted last night, I came to watch World Series Game 3 and a softball game broke out.  Cardinals scored in every inning but the second and third and mauled Texas to retake the series lead and home field advantage.

Three story lines stick out from last night’s action.

1.  Ron Kulpa’s blown call.  As you likely know by now, Holliday should have been out on the Mike Napoli tag.  Kulpa blew it.  There’s no other way to say it.  Somewhat during, and definitely after the game, folks talked about how that call was critical even though the Cardinals won by 9.

And you know what?  They’re right.  If Harrison is pitching to Berkman with no one on and two out, he may have approached Lance differently.  He may have attacked Freese differently.  And the Cardinals may not have scored at all.  However that’s not the end of the story.  The bottom of the fourth unfolds differently too.  Lohse had to sit for 25 minutes while watching the Cardinals score 4 runs.  He came out and got absolutely hammered – home run, single, home run, single, pitching change.  It seems to me that folks assure us the top of the fourth would have been different and the Cardinals maybe up 2-0 vice 5-0 after that inning, but they assume the bottom of the inning unfolds exactly as it did.  I don’t see how you can say both.

Lohse may very well have gotten mauled in the home half of the fourth.  He’s a ML starting pitcher, so sitting around during a long inning is not unfamiliar to him.  But it might not have.  And yes, the whole game is different.

You may know that Kulpa himself hails from St Louis.  During and after the game this became the topic for some grumbling, and you can guess the context.  Kulpa threw the game because he’s a STL native.  What a bunch of crap.  If Kupla was REALLY trying to throw the series for the Cardinals Ian Kinsler is out stealing second base in Game 2.  That play was significantly closer than the play at first last night; Kulpa could have easily justified the call, and there would not have been much grumbling at all.  Note that he didn’t, and he got the call right.  No, I think Kulpa didn’t see the tag because Napoli’s glove caught Holliday on the back of the head and Kulpa just didn’t see it. So can we lay off the umpire?

To his credit, Ron Washington refused to blame the ump post-game for the meltdown, correctly noting that if Napoli makes the throw home accurately the Cardinals have the bases loaded, two out, and Theriot at the plate.  Texas might have escaped that inning with a lot less damage.

2.  Albert Pujols hits 3 HR.  It is special because it is only the fourth time ever it has been done in the post-season.  It is special because he is the first National League player to do it.  It doesn’t matter what the game situation was.  Plenty of guys have hit 3 HR in a regular season game.  That fact alone doesn’t make it remarkable.  The context, and the stage, do.  Not to mention the 3-run shot he hit off Ogando deflated Ogando, the Rangers dugout, and sucked all the air out of Arlington.  Before that swing I felt it was only a matter of time before Texas forged into the lead in Game 3.  After that swing I knew Game 3 would go to St Louis.

Ruth is the only man to hit 3 HR in the World Series twice.  Both times he did it against the Cardinals.  Here’s the particulars:

  • 1926 Game 4 (10/6/26) – first inning off Flint Rhem (1-0 NY)
  • 1926 Game 4 – third inning, off Rhem (2-1 NY)
  • 1926 Game 4 – sixth inning, off Hi Bell (9-4 NY).
  • 1928 Game 4 (10/9/29) – fourth inning off Bill Sherdel (tied 1-1)
  • 1928 Game 4 – seventh inning, off Sherdel (tied 2-2)
  • 1928 Game 4 – eighth inning, off Pete Alexander (7-2 NY)

Both those games took place in St Louis.

Reggie hit 3 HR in the Bronx, 18 October 1977 (Game 6) against the Dodgers.  His victims were Burt Hooton, Elias Sosa, and Charlie Hough.  If you’re looking for a bridge from Ruth’s exploits to Pujols’,  here’s my shot at it:  Hooton’s from Texas.  Sosa pitched for the Cardinals in 1975.  Hough pitched for the Rangers from 1980-1990.

3. Will the Rangers Quit?  Not bloody likely.  St Louis absorbed a gut-punch of a loss in Game 2 and came back to score 16.  I expect Texas will be just as resilient tonight.  This series remains a long way from being over.

You know, St Louis is one ninth inning meltdown away from leading this Series 3-0.  Just thought I’d point that out.  And, for all of Texas’ offensive brilliance this year, they’ve led a World Series game for exactly one inning (that ninth inning in Game 2).  I saw someone write that this Series was starting to look like some recent ones, in that the better team loses.  I don’t see how anyone can say that seriously.  Through 3 games, and setting all the managerial comparisons and nonsense aside, the Cardinals have out-played Texas.  This series may still turn in Texas’ favor.  However, I thought it was vital the Cardinals win Game 3.  Lohse is by far their weakest starter of the 4 LaRussa has used in the post-season.  Edwin Jackson is a power pitcher with movement; while not as accomplished or polished as Chris Carpenter, he has the same stuff in his arsenal.  In a series as even as this one, the Cardinals ran out their weak link and won the game.  The starting pitching edge tips back in the Cardinals favor, with Jackson/Carpenter/Garcia scheduled to go in the next 3 games.

Texas faces a must-win game, their first since trailing Tampa Bay 1-0 in the first round.  Should be a good one tonight.

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