See, I told you this was exciting.
Last night, the Cardinals rallied past the Red Sox in the top of the 7th inning, thanks to a series of defensive miscues by Boston and timely clutch hitting by Carlos Beltran. (Glad to see that he’s capable of playing and helping out, as opposed to skulking in the dugout with a nasty rib injury.) However, the story of the night, or the one that the media would want to frame for you, is that Michael Wacha is the best thing since sliced bread.
Which, to be fair, he may be, but then again, he may not. (By the way, who gives a f^$& about an Oxford comma?)
Key points from last night’s game:
1. Defensive mistakes
often WILL come back to bite you in the ass in high stakes competition.
Tonight’s edition of “Which Way Did The Ball Go?” was brought to you courtesy of the Boston Red Sox. Let’s go back to the top of the 7th (the key inning of the game) and walk our way through what happened there. Important to note, at this point, the Red Sox led 2-1 off of a David Ortiz 2-run homer.
- Allan Craig strikes out on three pitches from John Lackey; Craig doesn’t even bother to swing at the third pitch, because apparently he didn’t want to offend it?
- David Freese, the guy who saved the World Series in 2011, walks on 8 pitches.
- Jon Jay singles to right, moving Freese to 2nd. Still only one out.
- John Farrell pulls Lackey from the game in favor of dominant-to-this-point Craig Breslow. Because NL managers are dastardly fiends, Mike Matheny pulls David Freese and replaces him with the faster Pete Kozma at second.
- With David “Nobody Will Remember Me In Five Years” Descalso batting, a double steal happens. This was the most obvious sports move since Jerome Bettis ran for the Pittsburgh Steelers (“Hey, Bettis is in! Maybe they’ll pass – OH GOD MY FACE, HE RAN OVER MY FACE!”), although it was mostly given away by Kozma’s aborted steal attempt on the prior pitch, where he went 1/3 of the way, suddenly turned around, and dived into the bag, all while Breslow stared at him as though he were turning green. He failed to notice me in the bar screaming “He’s going to steal! The next pitch! They’re both going to steal! Do something!” Sure enough, on a high fastball, Kozma took third and Jay took second. This turned out to be key.
- Descalso walks, loading the bases.
- A Matt Carpenter fly to left turns into the second out. Kozma takes off from third as Jonny Gomes delivers the ball to the plate. The throw is wayward and Jarrod “Spell Check is for Wimps” Saltalamacchia is unable to corral the throw. As it squirts behind him, Jay takes off for 3rd. Breslow has wisely backed up the plate and sees Jay sprinting into third. Sensing an easy way to get out of the inning, Breslow calmly clutches the ball and air-mails it into the 3rd base stands. Jay scores, and Descalso takes 3rd base. 3-2 Cardinals.
- Because he just can’t get enough, Beltran dumps a single into right, scoring Descalso, and driving Breslow from the game. 4-2 Cardinals.
- The new pitcher, Junichi “I’ve Been Here All Along, Guys” Tazawa, induces a ground out from Matt Holliday. End of the inning.
So, taking the above into account, we can determine several things: Farrell left Lackey in too long, which isn’t always obvious, but in hindsight is crystal clear; Jonny Gomes cannot throw a ball to save his life (Which you’d only know if you followed the Reds in 2010); defensive mistakes can, and will, cost you the game in October.
Just like that, Pete Kozma is redeemed for his errors on Wednesday night, and the new goat is a mixture of Gomes, Saltalamacchia, and Breslow. (Gomesaltalamaccilow!)
Michael Wacha is really, really good at a really good time to be really, really good.
The win is an overrated statistic in baseball…except when it’s not. October wins aren’t cheap and are bought and paid for with blood, sweat, and all the firstborn of Egypt. It takes 11 to win a World Series in this day and age, and none of them come cheap. (Unless you’re Randy Johnson in 2001, in which case, the playing field is tilted in your favor.) With this in mind, let’s take a second to admire Michael Wacha.
To this point, the Cardinals have won eight games; three in the Division Series, four in the LCS, and one last night.
Wacha has four of those wins.
If you put his line together, it looks something like this:
4 – 0, 1.00 ERA, 27 IP, 28 K’s, 8 BB, .122 avg
Just to put this into a little better perspective, here are Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling’s postseason lines from 2001, arguably the last example of truly dominant playoff pitching from beginning to end.
Randy Johnson: 5 – 1, 1.52 ERA, 41.1 IP, 47 K’s, 8 BB, .171 avg
Curt Schilling: 4 – 0, 1.12 ERA, 48.1 IP, 56 K’s, 6 BB, .150 avg
Now, those were two big game pitchers who are among the best postseason pitchers ever, let alone the best strikeout pitchers of their generation, men with unhittable stuff who wanted the ball in big games, and weren’t afraid of the limelight. They were able to pitch deeper into games than Wacha because they’d been around for years, they were part of a different upbringing and mindset about the use of bullpens, and they were far more experienced.
Now, let’s remember that Wacha is a rookie. He’s pitched 9 regular season games.
The kid is good.
The mid to high 90’s fastball is potent enough, but is offset by the 82-84 mph change-up, delivered with the same arm action and in the same arm slot. The result is effectively as if the pitch drops dead in mid-flight, causing the best of hitters to flail at it weakly, as though they were swatting at a falling leaf on the wind. The result is either a lot of swings and misses or ineffectual foul balls that turns into ground outs and weak pop ups. The only negative right now is that Wacha is vulnerable to Boston hitters driving up the count – Wacha threw a career high 114 pitches through 6 innings, which is why his IP is much lower than those of Messers. Johnson and Schilling. Then again, in this day and age, to be a World Series team is to have a dominant bullpen, which the Cardinals do, so asking three innings of Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal is nothing. If anything, the deck is stacked against the Boston line-up.
David Ortiz is hitting like it’s 2004. The rest of the line-up is hitting like it’s 1967.
Papi’s home run last night was the 17th of his postseason career. He’s currently hitting .667 with 2 home runs and 5 RBI’s in the series. Unfortunately, the rest of the line up has yet to really hit their strides; the only regular above .200 is Dustin Pedroia, Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino have yet to obtain hits, and crucial cog Jacoby Ellsbury is hitting .143. Granted, this is after two games, and they just faced Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha, but if Boston wants to have a wing and a prayer in this series, the hits need to come from somebody not named David Ortiz.
On the other side of the field, the Cardinals are sprinkling hits throughout their line-up. No hitter is truly dominating, but they don’t need to if they keep having productive innings like the top of the 7th last night. Timely hitting from throughout the lineup is what wins games in October, and from where it sits, the Cardinals are looking a better shot to keep producing runs, especially as the series turns to Busch Stadium.
The loss of the DH hurts Boston, because they either have to lose Mike Napoli or David Ortiz in any game. (And you don’t want Ortiz playing first; nothing against Big Papi, but he fields like a sack of potatoes was told it was on fire and had to extinguish itself without spilling a single potato. I realize that’s an unusual metaphor, but if you’re questioning it, go look up some footage of Big Papi fielding ground balls. You’ll understand.) On the other hand, they won’t have to face Wacha again until at least Game 6, if the series even goes that far.
Tomorrow night, Jake Peavy, he of the sour Game 4 ALCS start, faces off against Joe Kelly, who has lost 2 of his 3 starts this October. In short, nobody knows anything.
Except that this Wacha kid is really really good.