This weekend's match-up between the Cubs and the Cards was a montage of seemingly rare occurrences. It was as-if the baseball gods were sending down reminder after reminder that you can never take things for granted when it comes to Major League Baseball. Everything can change in a heartbeat, and this weekend, it did. Here's a collection of random thoughts from the weekend's games between the National League Central Division archrivals:
Sometimes pitchers look sharp in their opening warm-ups where that ball really seems to be accelerating into the catcher's glove. Despite a horrendous history outside the Friendly Confines, Cubs rookie starting pitcher Sean Marshall looked like he brought his A-game to Busch Stadium Friday night. He broke the mold proving he can pitch in hostile territory and scattered eight hits and just two runs over the course of 6.1 innings pitched.
Albert Pujols has
what seems like the most perfectly balanced swing. It's impressive just to see
him fan at a pitch. And fan he did Friday night. Pujols was an uncharacteristic
1-for-6 at the plate with a walk and a very rare hat trick in strikeouts. The
Cubs have had his number recently for some reason.
The entire game I kept thinking how different the Cardinals lineup is without Jim Edmonds. It's nowhere near as formidable. With Juan Encarnacion continuing to struggle, once you get by Scott Rolen in the number four spot of the order, you feel fairly safe.
I swear it felt like every time I looked up at the Cardinals batting order coming to the plate, it was Hector Luna leading off an inning with Pujols and Rolen following. What exactly does that mean? David Eckstein, who has had a knack for being a Cub-killer (remember that suicide squeeze last season), just didn't get the job done Friday night. He led the team with eight men left on base. In rare form, Eckstein somehow made the final out in the fifth, eighth, tenth, and twelfth innings; the last two of which happened with the bases loaded. He even struck out once, which has only happened 14 times this season.
In the twelfth inning with runners on first and third and only one out, the Cubs decided to intentionally walk Aaron Miles to bring up the pitcher spot. With roster spots tied up in a sick Scott Spiezio and an injured Jim Edmonds, La Russa didn't have many options outside of sending the pitcher Josh Hancock to the plate. Apparently he was instructed not to swing the bat. It was a strange situation to say the least. He ended up working a full count and then struck out looking. La Russa figured if Eckstein could get a chance at the plate, the Cards had some good odds working for them. With a speedy Juan Encarnacion at third, I didn't understand why they didn't at least have Hancock try to lay a bunt down to see what would happen.
In the seventh inning, the Cubs intentionally walked Pujols with two outs and first base open. Scott Rolen might have had a better recent track record against the Cubs, but in my opinion, you make Rolen beat you, not the National League's best player. Rolen ripped a two-run double, but it was still the correct decision by Dusty Baker to walk Pujols.
Timo Perez, who got his fame by pestering the Cardinals like a gnat in the 2000 NLCS, made his first appearance in a Cardinal uniform this season. In his first at-bat, he crowded the plate a-la Fernando Vina and leaned into a floating curve ball that seemed to hover in mid-air before plunking him in the helmet.
Michael Barrett might be perceived as a Cardinal-killer, but in a three-hit night he didn't score a single run or drive any home.
In the most bizarre of all happenings during the weekend, a routine grounder that was a tailor-made game-ending double play went through the Scott Rolen's legs like he was Bill Buckner. That just doesn't happen. Maybe in the second inning of a game when the Pirates are in town, but not in the ninth inning with the bases loaded and the Cubs in town. He probably makes that play 99 out of 100 times if given the opportunity. Perhaps Jason Isringhausen's deliberation between pitches and difficulty throwing strikes had an impact on Rolen's focus. The All-Star and six-time Gold Glover not only gave the Cards the lead in the game, but he's saved a countless number of runs by making web gem after web gem at third base. The radio media really ripped Rolen after the game. What short memories they have. Shame on them.
And in a rather strange moment for Cubs fans. They won the game after several agonizing, stressful extra innings. Juan Pierre shocked everyone by lifting a fly ball over the outfielders' heads for a leadoff double in the fourteenth inning. He would eventually score the winning run on a Todd Walker groundout. After all that drama, the winning run didn't even score on a base hit.
First and foremost, Albert Pujols pulled up lame on a bloop line drive in the second inning that fell foul just over his left shoulder. He stayed in the game to finish the inning, but after some time on the bench, he didn't come out to play the field in the third. We now know he strained an oblique muscle in a play that didn't really look all too awkward when it happened. He's on the disabled list for the first time in his career. History has shown that injuries like this keep players out 4-6 weeks pending on how severe it is and if they try to come back too soon. It's amazing how things can change in a heartbeat. Just ask Derrek Lee and the Cubs.
They might not admit it, but the Cards seemed visibly affected by Pujols' injury and unknown status at the time. In the fourth inning the Redbirds committed three strange errors. David Eckstein launched a throw on a routine grounder way over Hector Luna's head at first base to start the inning. That rarely happens. Scott Rolen then booted a ball and committed his second error in as many nights, which virtually never happens. Following Aramis Ramirez's grand slam, which capitalized on the errors, So Taguchi bobbled a ball in the outfield to allow another run to score in the inning.
Glendon Rusch, who was making his first start in weeks and had an ugly 7.05 ERA heading into the contest pitched a solid game against the Cardinals limiting their opportunities. Sure, Pujols only batted once during the game, but in that lone at-bat, Rusch struck out the slugger.
Going off my previous mention of how some pitchers just look like they're on during warm-ups, I can say that Mark Mulder did not on Saturday. And it showed as the Cubs rocked him for 12 hits.
Roberto Novoa, who has been anything but stellar the past couple seasons for the Cubs out of the bullpen, looked like an All-Star against the Cardinals. He pitched three scoreless innings in relief. As if that wasn't enough to shock the Cub Nation, he flabbergasted everyone, including Mulder, by launching an RBI-ground-rule double to deep right center field in the seventh inning. That will never happen again.
Yadier Molina was 2-for-4 with three RBI at the plate on Saturday. He's now batting over .200. It was definitely a rare day for the Cardinal catcher, and it's not looking like the sign that he's finally going to pull out of this slump.
Greg Maddux on the hill for the
Cubs and Albert Pujols out on the disabled list, the Cubs were in line for a
potential sweep in
Edmonds was back in the lineup. Not putting him on the DL paid off. He was
playing first base, supposedly the only position he was eligible for with his
strained abdominal wall. He went 3-for-3 on the afternoon and was clutch with 2
RBI and 2 runs scored. His injury is reported to be at its worst when he runs,
and that was apparent as he labored around the basepaths. But you have to wonder
Juan Encarnacion ripped two line drives over Matt Murton's head in left field. That's fairly strange considering his struggles this season. Perhaps, he's trying to step things up a notch in Pujols' absence.
The Cubs, who had been doing everything right in this series and catching all the breaks, didn't find the same luck on Sunday. They left 21 men on base.
Jason Marquis proved once again that you don't need to have your best stuff to earn a W. He lasted just 5.0 innings, tossing 104 pitches and giving up five runs on five hits and five walks.
In a game that saw 15 runs score, not a single home run was hit. These things happen with Derrek Lee and Albert Pujols on the disabled list.
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