In Review: Week 5
Being late to the party, as far as popular culture goes, is one of my specialties. So when I tell you that I'm just now watching season one of The Wire, please just nod your head indulgently and follow along.
Ryan Franklin, struggling this weekend against one of his former teams, reminded me of D'Angelo Barksdale, a low-level gangster who isn't quite comfortable in his skin. In one scene, he is trying to treat his baby-mama to an evening of the good life – a life he knows almost nothing about. Preparing to dine in some high class joint, he feels utterly transparent, that everyone around him knows that he's a sham, that his temporary status is ill-gotten. "Do you ever get the feeling," he starts to ask his dolled-up companion, "that some [stuff] just sticks to you?"
The trouble with being mid-level, being a journeyman, isn't what you think, it turns out – you're perfectly average, and you make far better money than anyone ought to for just playing a game. You get some thrills, then settle down and start remembering stories that you can tell and retell about the legends you played alongside. The greatest storytellers aren't the ones with the glory, they're the ones who rode alongside it. They're the ones who struggled and then got lucky enough to be in the right spot at the right time. And they try to be unimportant enough to stay out of the wrong spots in the other times.
The trouble comes if you start getting glorified yourself. Franklin is a guy who can throw as many as eight different pitches across the plate, according to Derrick Goold, but not one of them is an A+ pitch. In interviews, he's brought a bit of "aw shucks" to his 9-for-9 rate in closing games. It doesn't seem to faze him that he hasn't been ‘officially' named the closer, or that he has Perez and Motte at his doorstep. No one has ever heard the man overtly lobby for the job, but if it needs doing and the manager gives him he ball, well by gar, he'll do what he can, struggles of the past be damned.
And Franklin struggled plenty in the past. He lost his way as a starter in Seattle, once the league had a look at him. His name produced more double-takes than outrage among the steroid headlines, having been named in 2005. In ‘06 he moved to Philadelphia, tried his hand as a reliever, and scuffled along. Cincinnati traded for him, in one of several desperation moves to put out the bullpen wildfire that was torching the Reds' shot at capturing the eminently winnable NL Central. To the fire, he was gasoline. Given a lead, he blew it. The results were no better in St. Louis – 13 blown saves in two years, but to his credit he would continue to get on the mound and take the ball.
And then, unexpectedly, glory descended upon him. He's been nails this year. Don't think, just pitch, feature that cut fastball that you've suddenly made your primary weapon, let your defense help you, maybe sneak up on a few of these hitters who are ready for some warmed-over meatballs, journeyman style. Whatever the formula, it's worked.
On the mound in Cincinnati, though, he looked a little ashy. A little transparent. The cut fastball wasn't hitting the black. The insouciance, the not-thinking-just-pitching, was gone. Soon, so was the lead, and before he snapped out of it, the game itself was nearly gone too. The little Red machine was rolling toward a sweep of the weary Cardinals, with two on and a full count. A fat one was coming for young outfielder Chris Dickerson, a Charlie Brown special, the journeyman's delight. You could smell it.
Nope. His 43rd pitch of the day was a sharp curveball that sliced through the zone and dove toward Dickerson's back foot. Fanned him. Kept his team alive. Watched Colby Rasmus hit his first game-winner in the bigs.
The team gets a lift going into their first scheduled off-day in the last three weeks. Franklin gets a blown save on the blotter, but thanks to the arcane rules of baseball scoring, he also gets the win.
A quick prayer
Monday night was a big night in our bowling league, while just another Cardinals game in April was on TV. And it was shaping up a stinker, with Lohse getting jacked twice – spoiling one of my fantasy teams' day in the process. Such were my thoughts as I got up to roll, but even with the jukebox playing, the whole place went eerily silent. Rick Ankiel laid flat. We all stopped and watched until he gave us the fleeting thumbs-up from the cart. Then, the inevitable flood of replays, and gruesome uncertainty.
Every Cardinal fan has a place in their heart for Ankiel, whether it is a soft spot to cheer him on, or a hard spot to dish out that peculiar brand of tough love that only gristled baseball fans deliver. Some who reveled in his amazing second life as a slugger call him "Roy Hobbs," a name equally freighted with glorious talent and terrible karma.
Here's hoping that Ankiel has at least one Roy Hobbs moment left, a chance to bring the lights down and all his team onto the field with him in celebration.
Looking ahead, and around
This coming week, the Cardinals travel to face the Pirates, who have one May win in ten tries. The honeymoon might be over between Joe Kerrigan and the Pirates' pitching staff. Here's the runs allowed in those ten games: 4, 6, 5, 7, 8, 4, 5, 7, 10, 8. But that's not to say that the marriage won't stick in the long run – he is coaxing decent work from his starters, especially wounded ducks like Ian Snell and Zach Duke. Snell is particularly important to save for the new management, as they bought out his arbitration years and gave him a sizeable contract last Spring, only to see him ker-splatt.
Heading into the week, the Cards still pace the division, with the Brewers their closest rival at two behind. By the time the young Milwaukees travel here for the weekend, we could be a lot closer. The beermen are bashing the ball right now, particularly Ryan Braun. It will be a critical series for Adam Wainwright, who has shut-down stuff but has yet to really put a game together this season.
With the Cubs hobbled by multiple injuries now, the door is wide open for the Brewers, Cardinals, and Reds to dogfight for the division. Between this weekend and next, we might see how that fight will shape up.
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