The Five Hole with Chris Gift

Before I get started: The biggest "Hell's Bells" congrats possible to Padres closer Trevor Hoffman on breaking Lee Smith's career saves record.

About eight years ago a few buddies of mine and I ran into Hoffman at a bar here after a game. We bought him a beer and he returned the favor. Hoffman is a class act and if Cooperstown keeps him out, the system is more flawed that we ever thought it was. Again, congratulations, Trevor on a job well done.

When I was a kid, every morning before school I would eat breakfast and read the sports page. I guess I was about seven or eight when this started.

My family subscribed to the Globe-Democrat until it folded, and I started reading Rob Rains' columns (not knowing what half of the words meant) about the Cardinals, since my bedtime was usually around the time the sixth inning started.

Reading Rains' columns, then Rick Hummel's, and to a lesser extent Jeff Gordon's about hockey and Bernie Miklasz's and Jim Thomas' about the Big Red, made me think how cool it would be to be a beat writer for the Cardinals. To have people read what I write about a team that I have an extensive knowledge of and that (most importantly) I love seemed like something I'd like to do and sounded pretty easy.

When we decided to make Game Time a baseball and hockey publication, I figured that churning out a column once or twice a series, helping out with the stats and simply typing some of the random thoughts I had for each series would be simple, and fun.

I figured that while I've loved the Blues as far back as I could remember, and writing for this past season was a tad challenging at times to say the least, my love for the Cardinals is second to none. This, 2006, was going to be the season for the team, for the new ballpark, and I was lucky enough to be covering an exciting team to watch and easy team to write about.

I couldn't have been more incorrect.

I just don't know where to start. The Post-Dispatch's Bryan Burwell said a few years ago that every journalist dreams that the team he is covering is either really, really good, or really, really bad. This team has managed to be really, really bad, but still win, and that just annoys the hell out of me.

This team is absolutely a disaster to write about.

The manager is about as personable as Mike Keenan was when he was here. Tony La Russa is completing his 11th season here and will probably (after watching the Houston Houston series, the word probably can't be emphasized enough) make the postseason for the seventh time, but he is still loathed more than loved.

The first baseman, third baseman and ace pitcher are all great guys (on the surface, remember we all thought Kobe Bryant was a good guy until he stayed a night in Colorado) but extremely unquotable.

The team has a hot rookie that the loathed manager refuses to play against left-handed pitching. You'd think that after all these years of being Dave Duncan's son, Chris could get a tip or two from his dad on how to hit a southpaw.

Two all-stars, David Eckstein and Jim Edmonds, have been hurt for a good part of the season and the team's performance has suffered. Add an overpaid set up man (Braden Looper), another injured All-Star closer, and also-rans such as Jorge Sosa, Josh Hancock and Jeff Weaver and that makes the bullpen a disaster as well.

So this team, which appears to have the least talent of any of La Russa's seven playoff teams, is headed into yet another installment of "Red October". Probably.

The kid sitting at the kitchen table reading the sports page in me thinks that anything is possible in the postseason.

The St. Louisan in me wants the Cardinals to do well and maybe, just maybe, pull a series victory or two out and see what happens.

The journalist in me can't wait for the regular season to end, so games that fans, players, and management all agree matter can be played.

But for some crazy reason, for the first time in my life, I just don't care what the outcome is.


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