Cards in Crisis - Ain't All Bad

Confucius says "A Wise Man Would Not Bet Against the Injured Riddle Cards"

As the Cardinals' disabled list has grown to the dimensions of a grocery shopping list for an NFL team, no knowledgeable fan can help but to be concerned about their ability to hold on to this lofty National League Central Division lead until the "A" team can return to action. Despite the nice win in San Diego last night, the rumor mills are awash in talks of collapse and/or pending huge trades. In other words, as the injuries have mounted, are the Cardinals finding themselves in crisis?

The word "crisis" is an interesting one. In our language, it implies pending doom or some near future undesirable outcome. It is strictly negative in its meaning to us. Perhaps this would be a good opportunity to consider the two-fold Chinese translation of our word "crisis", for that meaning is much richer, wiser, and applicable to the Cardinals.

The Chinese would consider our word "crisis" to describe a situation with elements of both danger (the English perspective) and also opportunity (which should be the Cardinal perspective). The disabling of so many starters is certainly a frightening prospect and one that no one wants, but now that it is here a tremendous amount of opportunity is offered to those who will accept it and continue this team on its path to the play-offs.

When Scott Rolen first went down in May with his shoulder injury, the relatively unheralded Abraham Nunez, late of the Pittsburgh Pirates, took over at the hot corner and has firmly established himself as a very skilled fielder, an offensive threat, and a welcome addition to the Cardinal line-up. When opportunity came calling, Nunez was there and made the most of it.

Rolen's shoulder injury also brought us Scott Seabol from Memphis. Seabol played a solid third base, some capable outfield, and in one of the most dramatic moments at Busch Stadium this year clouted a game-winning home run against his old team the New York Yankees on a sold-out Sunday afternoon. Sent back to Memphis a couple of weeks later, he is back again and giving it his all.

When Molina sustained the slow-healing broken hand in Arizona just before the All-Star break, up came Mike Mahoney from Memphis. Mahoney hasn't been the offensive threat that Molina was, but he has shown himself to Cardinal management to be a competent receiver, a quick learner, and a guy who will do anything to help his pitcher.

Then, after Reggie Sanders cracked his fibula in the scary collision with Jim Edmonds, up came the heralded John Rodriguez from Memphis. J-Rod had been bashing the ball at a prodigious rate in Memphis and he continued his hot hitting under the sweltering heat at Busch. Perhaps the most intriguing call-up of the year, Rodriguez may just stick with the team and, if he can continue to deliver at the plate, might just be that fourth outfielder that some believe the Cardinals are in need of.

Lastly, and by God finally, when Larry Walker was disabled due to his ailing neck, John Gall got the call that he so richly deserved and had been waiting too long for. After two years of being denied the opportunity to play for the Cardinals out of Memphis, denials that were despite robust offense and attributed to curiously-unfounded defensive deficiencies, Gall made his major league debut last night and collected two hits in four plate appearances. He scored the first run of the game. I rejoiced with his first hit, an ugly little bloop double in the second inning. The pride swelled a little more when he collected a sharp single later. Gall was justified, and La Russa perhaps wondered what he had been thinking in not bringing him up sooner.

I've been one of those who always thought John Gall had what it takes to play at the major league level. Having seen him several times in Memphis, I was impressed with his stroke and contact, and mystified by those who questioned his defense. I could never recall seeing him commit an error or in any way look uncomfortable at either first base or in the outfield. He still has much to prove and there will be difficult days ahead, but I wish him well and have great confidence in him.

With the spate of injuries experienced so far, this team could be in a world of trouble. But through the adversity of the 2005 season has come a group of young players who have answered the call, risen to the occasion, and shown that perhaps they are finally ready for the big show. Given the opportunity, they have made the most of it and impressed Cardinal management, fans, opposition, and maybe themselves.

Is there danger? Certainly, but as I watch veteran Nunez and the Memphis transplants strut their stuff my fears diminish. Is there opportunity? Oh, yes, by the ton, and Scott Seabol, Mike Mahoney, John Rodriquez, and John Gall have accepted the challenge and are having a ball to the great delight of Cardinal Nation.

You can write to Rex Duncan at __________________________________________________

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