I-chi-ro! I-chi-ro! I-chi-ro!
The final game of the World Baseball Classic was everything a baseball fan could ask for. Even going into extra innings, just in case you needed a little more nail-biting baseball.
I had no favorite. I had no pick. I felt Korea’s hope rested on their starting pitcher, Bong, who had been successful against Japan in this tournament. Japan’s success would rest on what kind of night Ichiro Suzuki had. On rare occasions, my instincts are spot on.
Most people live for the long ball. They are nice, but I live for sparkling defensive plays. The kind you put a star by on your score sheet. Japan had a beautiful outfield assist to get the runner at second, and they executed a perfect strike ’em out, throw ’em out double play.
Not to be out done, Korea’s second baseman dove for a line shot, getting the out and keeping the runner at second. They also turned a very long 5 – 4 – 3 double play, which ended the inning and negated the run scored from third. No easy feat against the speedy Japanese.
In the end, it would come down to Ichiro Suzuki at the plate in extra innings with two runners on. Japan could not have asked for more. Ichiro’s stance at the plate is intimidating. He lifts his bat as if to say “en garde”. He seems to use the motion to balance himself and prepare for battle. He stakes out his territory on the left side of the plate where he will make his stand.
It is not that he is going to take the ball deep, but he will often find a way some way to do some damage. Maybe, he runs out a little infield single and then steals second. Maybe, he pokes one down the line. This time, it was a nice shot up the middle. Two runs score. Very clutch.
Japan held on to the lead to win their second World Baseball Classic title. Once again, Daisuke Matsuzaka was named the tournament’s MVP, with a 3-0 record and a 2.45 ERA. But, it was one of those games where it was a shame that anyone had to lose.
It is no secret I love this tournament. The global competition. The various styles of play. Seeing heroes emerge. It is intense. It is quality baseball.
One of the things I am taking away from this tournament is the joy of discovering players I should know and getting reacquainted with others I have known. As a Cardinal fan, I live with blinders on. I know the Cardinals well. I know their division rivals pretty well. I am familiar with most of the National League outside the NL Central. You bring up the American League, well, that is where things get a little hit and miss.
I had no knowledge of Brian Roberts when he burst on the scene for Team USA in Round Two. His performance in the tournament was unforgettable. I could have told you Ichiro Suzuki played for the Mariners, but I had never really watched him. Now, he is on the list of people that if I see him at the plate while flipping through channels, I will stop to watch.
I have not enjoyed seeing Carlos Beltran play since the time we both called Kansas City home. Oh, I still see him once in a while, but it is against the Cardinals so I cannot really enjoy it. Although I love new Cardinal shortstop, Khalil Greene, I loved Cesar Izturis, too. The Classic gave me the opportunity to reconnect with these old friends. My list of players could go on and on.
The arguments of where, when and how this tournament should be played will continue for the life of the World Baseball Classic. We have been playing the World Series for over a century, and we still argue about that. There are no perfect contests. Only perfect moments within the contest.
The devastating curve ball that freezes the batter. The fast ball that gets turned on and drilled. The throw that is just in time. The slide that narrowly avoids the tag. The 6-4-3 that is like a sigh of relief or a punch in the gut. Stretching a single into a double, a double into a triple. The perfectly timed jump at the wall to snag a ball that was gone. The clutch RBI single. The diving catch. And, the walk-off anything. Isn’t this why we watch? Regardless of the details, this is why we watch.
So, this will be my last World Baseball Classic post until 2013. It has been a good run. I will miss it next Spring. When the WBC comes back around, I hope to find myself in the stands cheering on Team USA and good baseball.
In the meantime, we can turn our attention to our respective teams. Go Cardinals!
Six innings. 72 pitches. 47 strikes. 25 balls. 1 run. 5 hits. 1 walk. 4 K’s. Batting 3 for 5 with 1 RBI and a run. And, most importantly a win.
Going up against his boyhood home team, the Atlanta Braves, Adam Wainwright gave us far more than we could have asked for or expected from a guy coming back from the DL. Seems like he was trying to make up for lost time. Or, trying to make the Braves question once again, what were we thinking when we traded Adam Wainwright to the Cardinals.
He could have gotten a win with only four Cardinal runs on the board, but the Cardinal bats were hot-hot-hot, putting up 18 runs on 26 hits–most hits for the Cardinals since 1929.
When we faced the Braves in Atlanta, we took three out of four, but they were missing two of their best: Chipper Jones and their fine young catcher, McCann. Although they are a team that has struggled this year, I would never have guessed that a score this lop-sided was possible, especially with those guys back.
It was one of those nights when the stars seem to align and everything the Cardinals touched turned to gold. All they had to do was make contact, and the ball would fall. Nothing fancy: a bunch of singles, few doubles and quite a few walks.
Molina led with 4 RBIs. Pujols and Ankiel had 3 a piece. Schumaker and Ludwick both had three runs. Molina and Izturis both hit 4 singles a piece. The only extra base hits were doubles hit by Pujols, Glaus, Mile, Lopez and Joel Pineiro–who got in on the hitting fun when he came into to finish out the game for Wainwright, pitching 3 innings and getting the save.
By the same token, the Braves couldn’t get a break. The Cardinals defense was a nearly impregnable fortress. The only bright spots in their day were a pinch hit solo home run by Norton, a little 2-run surge in the 9th, and the arm of their catcher, McCann, who caught two Cardinal runners in a row trying to steal 2nd.
There’s been much discussion about what Wainwright’s role will be in relationship to Carpenters availability. Tonight, Adam made a very strong case that he is a starter.
The Cardinals traveled to Miami to take on the hard hitting Florida Marlins team. They took 3 out of 4 in front of a sparse crowd at Dolphins Stadium. It’s rather a shame that the winning Marlins can’t pack in a crowd in a city the size of Miami. However, except for the Marlin fans that stuck out the rain delay in game three, the fans that did show up this series would be disappointed.
8/11/08 Cardinals 4, Marlins 2
Well, ya’ll were going to figure it out sooner or later, so I might as well come clean. If the Cardinals are my favorite team and catching is my favorite part of the great game of baseball, then it’s no surprise that the Cardinal jersey I own has a number 4 on the back.
Yadier Molina. There are so many things I love about this player. From his work ethic to his enthusiasm, he’s the type of player that makes the game great. As a great contact hitter, he doesn’t get very many homers. So, I loved watching him get his 2-run dinger tonight. Not just because it was the difference in the game, but because hardworking, good defensive, catchers batting over 300 just don’t get as many moments in the sun as power-hitters. And, no one deserves the spotlight any more than Molina.
You cannot over-estimate what Molina brings to this team, especially in terms of leadership and game-calling.
I enjoyed the homerun for him and for the team, but the part I loved the most was watching him catch Uggla stealing second…twice. Uggla must be a slow learner. It will be fun to see if he tries it again in the series. Helping Molina gets those plays was Aaron Miles, my favorite utility player, who finally got the start at 2nd tonight.
Great to see Ankiel back in the lineup, and contributing offensively. It looked like he was a little rusty in the outfield scoring to E’s on one play. Brutal. But, it didn’t matter because….
…Kyle McClellan got three outs stranding the runner on third. Great bullpen pitching tonight between McClellan and the closer, Chris Perez. Oops, did I call Perez, “the Closer”. I mean, if you hear the door slam, somebody must have shut the door, right? I don’t know if we’ll ever get LaRussa to call Perez, the Closer, but I guess as long as he’s closing, I don’t care. It was great to see him do well in basically his hometown in front of family and friends.
Wins have not come easy for starting pitcher, Joel Pineiro this year, often being a victim of the no-decision, but tonight Pineiro got it done and got the win to show for it.
Finally, how about that Joe Mather, pinch-hit homer? Pretty sweet.
8/12/08 Cardinals 3, Marlins 4
Field got wet; bats got dry.
8/13/08 Cardinals 6, Marlins 4
I believe I saw somewhere that LaRussa called this one a real “grinder”. I can’t think of a better word.
Nothing came easy. Lots of hits producing a few runs. No homers for either team. Pitchers getting out of tough innings. In the end, we had more runs than them, and that’s all that matters.
Looper pitched an excellent 7 innings only giving up two runs. Hats off to him for keeping all the Marlins in the park. That is huge with this team.
McClellan struggled, but Perez once again closed the door coming in to a mess in the 8th. In the 9th, he had to get four outs to do it with Baker advancing to 1st on a strike out/wild pitch.
Runs did not necessarily come from the usual suspects. Adam Kennedy racked up two RBI’s on two sac flies. Backup catcher, Jason LaRue, got a 2-RBI double. Schumaker scored Kennedy. Glaus scored Lopez that had a big triple in the 9th. Glaus reached base all 5 times with 3 singles, 1 double and an intentional walk
Defensively, Joe Mather saved a big inning by climbing the wall to get an out. Albert Pujols tracked a foul ball that spun fair. The batter didn’t even really run, but Pujols stayed with it and got the out. Glaus had a big double play at 3rd and 1st to end the 8th.
8/13/08 Cardinals 3, Marlins 0
TODD WELLEMEYER. The longer he pitched, the better he got. He gave up a hit a piece in the 1st and 2nd. His pitching seemed to go a little crazy, walking 3 batters in the 3rd, hitting one in the 4th. But, maybe he was crazy like a fox–he walked some serious home run hitters. After that, he settled in for 14 outs in a row.
Welly got in a bit of bind in the 8th, but Russ Springer came in and struck out Cantu for out three. Ron Villone and Ryan Franklin took out 3 batters in the 9th to finish the shut out.
There’s been a lot of talk about Cardinal pitching this year, much of it negative. But, tonight they showed what they were capable of. Wellemeyer went 8 2/3 innings– his longest start of the year. Then the bullpen got the job done. Maybe, the pitching staff is starting to peak…just in time for a playoff run.
Runs were hard to come by. Cesar Izturis’ hot streak continued. He singled twice and Ryan Ludwick knocked him in both times on a double and a homer. LaRussa put up an unusual lineup with a lot of power at the top. There could be arguments about the effectiveness of the lineup, but Ludwick and Izturis were definitely batting in the right places. Ludwick now has 90 RBI’s
I run into a lot of Braves fans down here in Oklahoma. Much of that is owed to fact that the Braves used to be on cable TV all the time. My grandpa watched them every night while listening to whatever other game he could get on the radio. I was looking forward to seeing the great Chipper Jones, although we were probably better off with him on the DL. I hadn’t heard the good ol’ “tomahawk chop” in years. I still think it’s one of the best battle cries ever.
With Chipper on the DL, the All-Star catcher McCann’s head still spinning from a collision on Sunday, big hitter Teixeira traded to the Angels after the first game and the long awaited return of Cardinal ace, Chris Carpenter, this was a series with a lot of potential.
7/28/08 Cardinals 12, Braves 3
There’s nothing like winning the hard fought close game. Unless of course you’re coming off a string of hard fought close games coupled with some disappointing loses. Then, a blow out is a welcome relief for both the players and the fans.
Yadier Molina and Joe Mather teamed up for a single and a homer to get 2 runs in the second. The rookie, Joe Mather, had a big league night where he was one-oh-so-elusive-triple short of the cycle.
In the third, Troy Glaus knocked in Skip Schumaker who had walked (always bad news to walk the lead off guy). Then with Pujols on with a walk and Glaus on with a force out, Molina hit an in-the-park 3-run homer. OK, fine. It was technically a 2 RBI double, with Molina scoring on a throwing error, but the effect was the same and it was just as exciting. All those runs were two out RBIs. Very clutch.
It was great to see Izturis reach on a walk, 1B and 2B, picking up an RBI. Pujols picked up 3 RBIs. Miles got on and scored twice. Ludwick went 3 for 5 with an RBI. Wveryone was having a good night.
Looper put in one of the best starts we’ve seen in a while. Seven innings, 2 runs. With no walks and only 3 strikeouts, he had help from a solid Cardinals defense. Ron Villone got two outs, got in trouble, gave up a run, but was relieved by Russ Springer who with the help of centerfielder Skip Schumaker, pitched a perfect 1/3 of an inning. Flores faced three batters in the ninth giving up a hit, but getting his third batter to ground into a good old 6-4-3.
7/29/08 Cardinals 8, Braves 3
There’s nothing like winning the hard fought close game. Well, it was a hard fought close game until the Cardinals put up 5 runs of insurance in the ninth.
It was a game with a little bit of everything. Good pitching. Good hitting. Good plays. Bad plays (2 errors a piece). For Wellemeyer’s second time out he’s proved that if you just hang with him and have a little faith, he’ll finish stronger than he started and keep his team in the game.
Favorite play of the game: With Brave runners at 1st and 3rd, Wellemeyer throws a K for out number two. Yadier Molina fakes a throw to 2nd and gets the runner at 3rd to bite. Then, he throws to 3rd and the Cardinals get Kotsay in the run down. It was a HUGE play to end the inning in a 2-2 game with two runners on.
Second favorite play of the game: Albert Pujols hits a big lead off double at the top of the 8th. Then he steals third base and scores when the Braves catcher’s throw went to left field. In the 6th, Pujols led off with a solo home run. Pujols is a great player, but geez does he have to do it all himself?
Both of those plays are the epitome of why I think having a great defensive catcher is so important. We are so fortunate to have Yadier Molina, and Jason LaRue for that matter.
7/30/08 Cardinals 8, Braves 2
Just like old times. Carpenter on the mound. A Cardinal win. Life is good.
Since April, 2007, most conversations about the Cardinals that go beyond the depth of “how ’bout them Cards’ have included phrases like, “when Carpenter comes back” or “if we could just get Carpenter back” or “have you heard how Carpenter’s doing?”. To say his return was much anticipated would be an understatement.
Everyone in Cardinal’s country from the front office to the coaches to the players to the fans to Carpenter himself was filled with excitement and anticipation as he took the mound. We all wanted him to succeed so badly because he’s worked so hard to get there, and we need his ace arm and his leadership.
There were no disappointments. Other than maybe Carpenter’s that he wasn’t allowed to pitch longer, but he knows realistically that he shouldn’t push it. It was a fine outing, giving up only 1 run, getting out of tight innings and the most important thing: giving the Cardinals a good chance to win. Is Carpenter the best he can be? No. But, he’s still one of the best out there, and he’ll be even better next time.
Carpenter seemed to be fuel for the fire that has been building in the Cardinals. Everyone seemed to up their game last night. Great hitting, great defensive plays and a bullpen that delivered. And, now we’re looking forward to seeing him again in just a few days against the Dodgers.
Two nights ago, I loved the lineup with Mather behind Molina. I was excited to see it again tonight. Often, Molina often gets on base without a power hitter behind him to knock him in. On Monday, Molina and Mather tag-teamed with a Molina single and a Mather home run. They did it again tonight. If a LaRussa line up basically has two leadoff hitters, it seems like it should have two cleanup hitters, too.
7/31/08 Cardinals 4, Braves 9
Trade deadline day. I wonder if Griffey will get a world series shot with the White Sox. I wonder if California is big enough for Manny’s ego. I wonder how many catchers the Yankees need. But, I know I was happy to see the trade deadline come and go without the Cardinals making a major league move. In my humble opinion, I believe with everyone healthy, we have all we need to make an October run, although it may not have looked like it tonight.
The last three games were those magical nights when everything comes together: hitting, starter pitching and relief pitching. Tonight was one of those nights that it magically comes together for the other team.
Yes, we gave up way too many runs, but with Schumaker, Ankiel, Glaus and Molina not in the starting lineup? Well, that’s a lot of bat left on the bench. Even so, the Cardinals got the four runs that would have won any other game in this series.
Cesar Izturis deserves a big hand. He did a great job of holding down the lead off spot tonight going 3 for 6. It’s so great to see him getting hot.