Tag Archives: Jim Edmonds

Happy Trails, Tony La Russa

What a way to go out. For Tony LaRussa, it was probably the best managing job he’s ever done. Over 10 games out in August, rallying to make the playoffs on the final day of the season, beating Philadelphia in 5 games, beating Milwaukee in 6, and then playing what is very likely the best World Series game in history, before clinching his third World Series Championship in Game 7 against the Texas Rangers.

To top it all off, the Monday morning after celebrating the World Series Championship, he decided to call it a career.

33 years

2,728 career wins

3 American League Championships

3 National League Championships

3 World Series Championships

Oh, and 7 NL Central Championships in the last 16 years as the Cardinals’ manager. It’s safe to say that it has been the most successful run in franchise history where the Cardinals were never far from the front.

I wasn’t quick to write this post because I really wanted to take a different angle on it, but I had no idea what I wanted to write. Sure, anyone can reiterate statistics of what the man has done. This year will go down as his greatest managerial performance ever. Perhaps he deserves some credit for it, but I think his desire to retire changed his perspective and I think that had a great impact on exactly how the team developed this season.

In previous seasons it was a complaint of mine and many others that the team played tight. This year, it was the Rangers that looked tight when crunch time came. The Cardinals on the other hand, they were having a good time and enjoying themselves. It was accompanied by performance on the field.

It was an attitude that we saw in the Cardinals down the stretch. And to Tony’s credit, he embraced it.

This team was different than any other team and performed unlike many other teams would have.

In Spring Training the Cardinals lost their ace. Rather than working out away from the team, Adam Wainwright was a fixture on the Cardinals’ bench during home games. He traveled with the team in the playoffs. He became the team’s cheerleader. His job was easy, keep the guys up on the rail cheering their teammates on. Certainly a difference from other teams who failed down the stretch who had allegations of guys hanging out in the clubhouse rather than cheering their teams on.

Injuries slowed the team. The team that ranked near the bottom of minor league farm systems found themselves in great need of it. Guys like Allen Craig, Jon Jay, and Fernando Salas, who Cardinals fans knew of, stepped up big when given their opportunity to play. Then there were new guys like Daniel Descalso, Tony Cruz, Lance Lynn, and Eduardo Sanchez who played big roles.

The team had weaknesses. By the end of April, the Cardinals had no closer and no left handed relievers capable of getting reliable outs. By the end of May, we began to wonder if we needed a better defensive short stop and another starting pitcher. At the trade deadline, John Mozeliak went and got them everything they needed.

The team’s persona changed. The addition of Lance Berkman was the big move, in my opinion. He gave the Cardinals a veteran with clout who is the type of leader people think of when they think about a good leader. It was a figure this team had really been missing since Jim Edmonds was traded. When you watched games, he talked it up on the bench with veterans and rookies alike. While Albert Pujols keeps mostly to himself and only a few, Berkman did what was was needed, making some of the younger players feel accepted and relaxed.

If this season doesn’t illustrate that it’s a total organizational effort to create a winning team, I don’t know what does.

To me, the move to retire wasn’t a surprise. He changed through the course of the year. It’s funny how your perspective changes when there’s an end date in mind. And I saw his wife on the post-game coverage on the MLB Network. I can’t remember ever seeing his wife before. He seemed relaxed and enjoying the moment.

LaRussa embraced the change in the team persona and because of that the team excelled. That’s reason enough to give him the credit for it.

I’m not the biggest Tony LaRussa fan, but I sure hope he enjoys retirement. That elephant keeper job sounded like fun.

Freese keeps the champagne on ice

Four times the Cardinals tied up or took the lead in the game. Four times the Rangers followed in their next half inning by taking it back. When Jake Westbrook came in to pitch the top of the 11th and held the Rangers off the board, that was the first time that the Rangers hadn’t come back immediately to take the lead. And it was just what the doctor ordered… Doctor Freese, that is.

After tying up the game with a two-out, two-RBI triple in the bottom of the 9th on a 1-2 count, David Freese came to bat to lead off the bottom of the 11th in a tie game.

Flashback to the 2004 when in Game 6 it was Jim Edmonds hitting a 12th inning home run into the St. Louis night to take the series to Game 7. Coincidentally, it was Jim Edmonds who was traded to San Diego for David Freese. So when Freese came to bat in the 11th, the allusions were made.

While Edmonds’ shot was just that, a shot. Freese’s had a little more doubt as he hit to straight away centerfield and dropping it just a few feet beyond the fence.

Because of the home run and the triple, Freese will get all the attention as the savior of the game. Well deserved attention too, but let’s not forget the rest of the crew that played pivotal roles in this come back.

After being injured diving back to third base on a pickoff play by Mike Napoli, Matt Holliday re-injured his finger and was forced to come out of the game. That put Allen Craig into it and the next time Craig came up to bat, he parked a curveball in the left field bleachers. It brought the game within 2 runs and was largely unheralded. Considering that Matt Holliday has hit just one home run since September 7th, over 50 days, it’s safe to say that Holliday would not have gone deep in that situation.

Next would be Daniel Descalso and Jon Jay, both left handed batters, leading off the bottom of the 10th inning against left handed reliever Darren Oliver. Descalso doesn’t hit left handers very well at all, hitting just .190 against them in the regular season. Jay lacks the split as badly, but had just 1 hit in the World Series (hitting .059) coming into that at bat. Both players would single and set the Cardinals up to make another rally back into the game.

Then Kyle Lohse got a chance to bunt in a double pinch-hit situation. Edwin Jackson pinch hit for Motte in the bottom of the 10th, but before he got a chance to take any pitches, LaRussa pulled him back and sent Kyle Lohse out for the bunt. And Lohse’s bunt, while horrible, did exactly what it needed to do, and nearly more. He advanced Desaclso and Jay to second and third which allowed Ryan Theriot and Lance Berkman to drive home those two runs to tie the game back up. The bunt was far enough though, that he nearly made it on base himself. How that would have changed the complexion of the game.

Then calling on Jake Westbrook who had been relegated to bullpen duty this postseason, surely a tough situation for a longtime starting pitcher like him. But he threw his second scoreless inning of relief in the postseason in a moment where the Cardinals needed it the most. Allowing them to recapture some momentum and for David Freese to play the hero.

It was a rough game for Cardinals fans who would see their team take a step forward, only to take two steps back. To the lead, back behind. And they weren’t helping themselves on the field either.

For both teams, the game was a seeming comedy of errors. The two teams generated 5 errors between them and numerous misplays that didn’t get tagged as such. For 8 and a half innings it was going to go down as the Cardinals handing away the World Series, much like the Detroit Tigers did in 2006.

And they weren’t even tough errors. No, a misplayed fly ball to left field caught Rafael Furcal and Matt Holliday failing to communicate and the ball dropped. Then you had David Freese dropping a routine pop fly to third base.

Needless to say that it would be difficult to overcome all those obstacles again. So the Cardinals need to not do it again.

Game 7 will be tonight in St. Louis with the World Series on the line. In the last 30 years, the home team in Game 7 of the World Series is 8-0.

The last time a home team failed to win a World Series Game 7, 1979, when the Pirates beat the Orioles 4-1.

It will be an interesting game for both managers after an extra innings thriller that saw both bullpens do a lot of work.

For the Rangers, Game 7’s expected starter Matt Harrison along with Michael Gonzalez and C.J. Wilson were the only three pitchers that weren’t used in Thursday night’s contest.

The Cardinals are in slightly better shape. Three starting pitchers for the Cardinals went unused in pitching situations. Edwin Jackson and Kyle Lohse both made pinch hitting appearances (sort of, Jackson pinch hit and then Lohse pinch hit for Jackson before there were any pitches thrown). Not to mention, Mitchell Boggs went unused and you have Chris Carpenter available on 3 days rest.

Each team also has some injury decisions. Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz strained his groin during his final at bat.

Also, the Rangers’ leading candidate for series MVP, Mike Napoli, who rolled, and likely sprained, his ankle on a botched slide attempt into second base. He played the rest of the game, and his xrays were negative, but swelling could be an issue.

For the Cardinals, Matt Holliday’s finger is a major question mark. There were reports that it was bothering him more than he was letting on and that could be seen at the plate, and I think in field early in that game when he let Furcal call him off of a fly ball that should have been the left fielder’s.

How will Game 7 finish out? That remains to be seen, but I thoroughly expect another nerve-wracking game. I don’t know if my heart can take it!

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Rangers steal Game 2

As I said after the game on Twitter, I expected the Cardinals to lose this one. Just not the way they did.

By all accounts Jaime Garcia should have been lit up by the Texas Rangers offense that can be easily considered to be the best offensively producing team against left handed pitchers in the entire major leagues this season. Instead, Garcia turned in what was probably his best pitching performance since a two-hit complete game shutout that he threw on May 6th against Milwaukee. It was probably in the top-3 of his pitching performances of the year, and if you consider the circumstances around it, quite possibly the best.

In his 7 innings on the mound, Garcia held the Rangers at bay with just 3 hits and a walk, along with 7 strikeouts.

He issued a leadoff walk to Ian Kinsler in the top of the fourth that nearly came around to bite him, but he caught Adrian Beltre swinging on strike 3. In fact, Kinsler, who walked and then made it to third on a single by Michael Young, was the only Rangers player to make it past first base until the 9th inning.

Cardinals fans felt like they had to be watching a replay when in the bottom of the 7th of a tie game, Tony LaRussa brought out Allen Craig to pinch hit. Ron Washington, going with the definition of insanity (repeating the same process and expecting a different outcome), brought out Alexi Ogando who Craig singled off of to drive home the go-ahead run in Game 1. With Freese on third this time and Punto on first after a pair of singles, Craig singled to right field again, scoring Freese for a 1-0 Cardinals lead.

At that moment, I felt like Craig had virtually clinched a shot at World Series MVP, if the Cardinals won the series, in just two at bats. It was going to be tough to beat a guy who was 2-for-2 with 2 game winning RBI.

Fernando Salas struck out Mike Napoli in the Rangers half of the 8th. Then Marc Rzepczynski came out and struck out Yorvit Torrealba (potentially ending the talk that he was the better option in Game 1?) and then faced Esteban German again, who grounded out to Albert Pujols.

In the bottom of the 8th, the Cardinals threatened to add an insurance run to the board. Mike Adams got Jon Jay and Albert Pujols to fly out to start the inning, but Lance Berkman followed that up with a single before Matt Holliday walked. Up to the plate came Daniel Descalso, who had been one of the Cardinals’ best clutch hitters earlier in the season, but Adams got Descalso to ground out to second base.

With the 1-0 game, Tony LaRussa went to Jason Motte once again. Once again back in the no-doubles defense (a throwback to the 2009 NLDS Game 2 where Holliday misplayed a ball that resulted in a Dodgers rally and victory), Ian Kinsler popped one up. It was just out of the reach of Furcal as he ranged back and Holliday was a few steps short of catching it. Had he been playing regular depth, Holliday catches the ball without an issue and we have 1 out in the 9th. Instead, Kinsler is standing on first base.

While the next batter Elvis Andrus looked at bunting, Kinsler took off and stole second base. That took the bunt off and Andrus wasted no time in hitting a line drive to Jon Jay for his own single that put the tying run in Kinsler at third base with no out.

On the same play, Andrus was able to advance to second on the throw after a couple miscues by the Cardinals that have resulted in a bit of a furor about it. Jon Jay’s throw was wide of the plate and Pujols had a chance to cut off the play and keep Kinsler at third and Andrus at first, but he missed the ball and it ended up rolling the rest of the way to Molina. More on the furor later.

That misplay ended up being the key ingredient in the Rangers win.

LaRussa went out to the mound to bring in Arthur Rhodes to replace Motte to face the left handed Josh Hamilton. Hamilton hit a sacrifice fly to Schumaker in right field that scored Kinsler and advanced Andrus. 1-1, tie game.

LaRussa went back to the mound to bring in Lance Lynn for his first World Series appearance. It was a good move considering that Lynn is far more of a strikeout threat than Rhodes and you don’t want them hitting the ball and scoring the go-ahead run. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Michael Young did. He hit a sacrifice fly to Jon Jay that allowed Andrus to score on the tag up.

Lynn then got Beltre to ground out to third base, but the damage was done and the Rangers were up 2-1 with Molina, Punto, and Schumaker due up in the bottom of the 9th with Berkman and Freese already out of the game.

With Rangers closer Neftali Feliz entering the game with his 100 mph fastball, the Cardinals spent the entire inning struggling. He initially struggled to find his command though, walking Yadier Molina. Watching the inning, I felt that Feliz never really regained his command, but despite that, struck out Nick Punto (who failed twice to bunt) and Skip Schumaker. Feliz would then get Rafael Furcal to fly out to right field to end the game and let the Rangers notch one of their own in the win column.

According to MLB.com, Feliz threw all fastballs in that 9th inning, none slower than 97 miles per hour. He is a true flamethrower.

After two games, the series will head to Texas and the Ballpark in Arlington where it’s now become a Best of 5 and the Rangers have home field advantage. The Rangers are the second best home team in baseball and the Cardinals are the second best road team in baseball. Arlington also happens to be an extremely hitter friendly park, so it’s safe to say that we’ll probably see more offense over the next three games than we have.

Finally, to discuss the aftermath of the play in the top of the 9th. This morning Jeff Passan wrote a piece about Pujols’ leadership after the loss, or lack thereof. Apparently by the time the St. Louis Cardinals’ clubhouse opened up to the media, Pujols had showered and left. So had Berkman, Holliday, and Molina. The four of them leaving their younger teammates to answer questions about what went wrong in a heartbreaking ninth inning collapse.

This experience illustrates exactly what I’ve been saying about Pujols and the Cardinals for the last few years, really since the 2009 season. Pujols is not a leader, well maybe a (9, 1) leader on the managerial grid. He is very much let’s his work ethic and on field performance speak for him. He’s not the type of leader who will help motivate the players around him. There are stars in sports who are great players, and then there are stars in sports who elevate those around them. Pujols is the former. A guy like Peyton Manning is the latter.

But the issue becomes as well, that as long as Pujols is a Cardinal and as long as he is the highest paid and longest tenured player on the roster, nobody is going to potentially step on his toes and step up to take that role. As we heard during the 2006 run to the playoffs, it was Jim Edmonds who stepped up to motivate the team. Edmonds was the veteran, he had the paycheck and the tenure to do it.

The second thing is that there is a seeming divide between the veterans and the younger players. Colby Rasmus was a big illustration of this to me. Pujols was quoted as saying that he’d talked to him maybe 2-3 times the entire time they played together. So basically, what Pujols just said is that he spends at least 162 days a year with 12 guys, they played together for two and a half years (almost 450 games) and they only talked 2-3 times? I know Rasmus keeps to himself, but really?

I have zero problem with Pujols snubbing the media. As many have said as we’ve had fan forum debates on it that the players owe the media nothing unless outlined in Major League Baseball rules.

Where my problem lies is that he left his teammates holding the bag, and it’s not the first time we’ve heard this story about Pujols.

My problem is that you can bet your tail that if Pujols had hit a walk off grand slam that he would have stayed to make sure every reporter’s questions about it got answered while he basked in the glow of success with that trademark grin on his face. On the other hand, when he fails and a misplay by him ultimately costs the Cardinals the game, he cuts out early and leaves his teammates to answer questions about the tough loss.

When you don’t have players who have each other’s backs, you create poison in the locker room. This sort of thing is the #1 reason why I feel the Cardinals have underperformed over the last three years. Team psychology during the season, and even more so the playoffs, is a critical thing. Passan asked a remaining Cardinals’ player about why Pujols left and he shrugged his shoulders and dodged the question about how he felt about it. I have a feeling his response would have been something to the effect of, “It is what it is.”

This kind of thing can be the catalyst that breaks a team. And if it does, that is all on Albert Pujols for hanging his teammates out when he should have been the one to accept his failures and man up to them to set the example for the rest of his teammates. That’s what being a leader and a man is all about.

I hope the team proves me wrong on Saturday night by going out and getting another win.