For a couple of weeks now I've been considering writing of my concerns about the Cardinals and their problems in playing up to their full potential. It is hard to assert a case for such a concern, but in watching them so far this season, the days on which they have truly achieved such a compelling potential have been few and getting fewer.
Then came their "Game 5" win against the Boston Red Sox Monday night and I fell for the announcers' routines that this was a real team-effort win in which that potential was achieved. The Cards' 7-1 over the world champion Red Sox was indeed a thrilling victory that featured some inspired play, but after reflecting on the game I'm still not satisfied that this was a good indicator of the overall quality of this team.
First, the good news. Matt Morris, he of the spotless 7-0 record, pitched a whale of a game. With sweat dripping from his brow and hat, he pitched like a man determined to rid himself of the demons that haunted him during his World Series Game 2 disaster. The difference between that frigid October evening and last night's effort demonstrated once and for all that the Matt Morris we saw in 2004 was damaged goods and that he is the Morris we've known for years. What a gutsy and determined performance he provided to the appreciative standing room only crowd! Have we crowned a new stopper?
Mark Grudzielanek is making Walt Jocketty look like an absolute genius. There is no way Jocketty or anyone else could have known that Grudz would be this good in every aspect of the game. He literally owned the real estate between second and first bases and defied all comers. His fourth inning snag behind second base and astounding arm strength in getting the ball to first was a turning point in the game. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Walt and Co. need to be negotiating with this guy to keep him here with shortstop David Eckstein at least for the next 2 years. Second base is the last open position after this year and a contract extension for Grudz would lock up the entire infield at least through 2007.
A tip of the red cap, too, to all those fans who gave Edgar Renteria a standing ovation and drowned out the boo-birds. That kind of class defines Cardinal Nation and is what makes St. Louis a destination of choice for free agent players who want to perform before the best. That said, how about that David Eckstein!?
So why am I complaining after a glorious win? Well, the Cardinals won it without a hit from the most potent part of their line-up, the middle of the order. Redbird baserunners were stealing bases faster than Lou Brock, but those steals and advances on passed balls and wild pitches were against a dysfunctional knuckleballer who struggled to find the backstop, let alone the strike zone. Even then, Red Sox pitchers only gave up four earned runs the entire game. Had Edgar Renteria not booted Morris's 2-out grounder in the bottom of the 8th inning, the score would have still been 5-1 going into the 9th.
Look, I'm pretty well known as an optimistic sort and able to see the best in situations, but after reflecting on the proverbial Game 5 and sleeping on the results, I came to the conclusion that despite some brilliant play we still haven't seen that full Cardinal potential on display. Perhaps that will come tonight or tomorrow night when the big bats thunder and the suffocating defense smothers the Red Sox offense that is able to get past solid starting pitching and an effective closing effort.
The 2005 Cardinals should be capable of a sustained drive of this caliber over several games, not just in spurts and starts and stops. Once this truck gets rolling, there could be no stopping it. It just has to get in gear and build up that momentum that will carry this team and all of us into the 2005 fall classic in October.
You can write to Rex Duncan at email@example.com