Even though Chris Carpenter pitched a 1-0 complete game shutout against Roy Halladay in game 5 of the NLDS, I thought the performance he gave last night was even better. He didn’t have his best stuff, as his fastball kept running up and away or down and away. He located it well at times, but struggled through 4 innings with it, before being able to locate it. Playing in Texas against a deeper lineup made it all that more impressive. I might be the only one who feels this way because we lost, but so be it.
The Cards had every opportunity in the world in Game 5, but could never find the clutch hit when they needed to. The Cards finished 1-10 with RISP. Even with that, they had the score tied a 2-2, and again, Carp got them to the 8th inning and kept them right in the game.
To start off the night in the first inning with 2 outs and none on, the king Albert Pujols swings at a 3-0 pitch and pops out to CF. First of all, the pitch was ball 4. Secondly, why in world does Pujols or anybody for that matter get a green light on a 3-0 count? I went back and looked at the data for swinging at 3-0 counts this year and here’s what I found. First, when a batter swings at 3-0, they hit .262. If you take out all of the singles, batters hit .161. Why is it important to take out the singles? Because more than likely if you’re patient you’re going to end up at first base with a walk anyway. Batters who took 3-0 pitches went on to have an OBP of .483. Batters who swung at 3-0 had an OBP of .297. Any hitter is going to get a good pitch to hit on 3-1 as well, and if not, you take your walk to help the team. You also make the starting pitcher throw at least 1 more pitch, and isn’t the job of any team to try and get that guy out of the game ASAP? Instead, C.J. Wilson gets out of the first inning with 9 pitches, and we will never know how that might have changed if Pujols would have started a rally by just being a team player and taking a walk. But that’s not Albert Pujols. It’s only about one team to him, it’s about TEAM PUJOLS. He’s really starting to remind me of Willy Beaman from “Any Given Sunday” in that his only agenda is to “get his dollars up”.
In the 7th inning, the first bizarre thing happened. Allen Craig draws a walk, and then I saw something I’ve never seen before in my 30+ years of watching baseball. Pujols, now apparently managing, decides to give Allen Craig a signal that a hit and run is on with a 1-0 count. Craig had to explain it to LaRussa in the dugout afterwards, and the only reason you didn’t see LaRussa get emotional over it was because it was Pujols that called for it. Any other player would have been benched, or released this morning. So Alexi Ogando throws a ball, what would have been at the head of a left handed hitter, Pujols doesn’t swing to protect the runner, and Craig is nailed at second.
The bizarro world is just getting started in this game however. There are two moves here that make no sense. One, Lance Lynn is brought in the game and wasted to intentionally walk a right-handed hitter and then be removed from the game. Also, Tony leaves Scrabble in the game to face the Rangers most dangerous weapon in Mike Napoli. I guess since Scrabble got a couple of right handed bench players out on strikeouts earlier in the series, Tony thought he could get Napoli, the Rangers hottest hitter by far. For a manager that is absolutely nuts about having lefty vs. lefty and righty vs. righty matchups, he fails to make a change at the most critical point of the game with the bases loaded. Of course Napoli gets a 2 run double and wins the game for the Rangers. I’m not so sure I see the future for Scrabble as a starter like I keep hearing about. He’s been great as a LOOGY, and aside from a few instances, has been terrible against righties.
Even with the Napoli go ahead hit, the Cards had their chances in the 9th. Leading off the inning was Craig, who was hit on a curveball by the Rangers closer Neftali Feliz. Once again the golden boy was up, and Cards fans got to witness the worst possible scenario. For some reason, Allen Craig was running on a 3-2 count, and instead of Pujols playing team ball and taking a walk on a pitch that was 2 feet outside, he decides he has to try and put his stamp on the game and swing the bat. The Cardinals two biggest stars in Tony and Albert, trying to do what they do best, and put their stamp on the game. It’s that simple folks. Matt Holliday follows the Pujols AB with a walk, so instead of the Cards having the bases loaded no one out with Lance Berkman up, it’s one on and two out. If the bases would have been loaded, Berkman would probably have seen plenty of pitches right down the middle to launch. Instead, Feliz gets to pitch him tough, and strikes him out to win the game. David Freese would have been a certainty to hit in the 9th as well, if not for Pujols.
To sum it up, except for his game 3 heroics, Albert Pujols has done exactly what I thought he would do the rest of the series. He’s played for TEAM PUJOLS, not the Cardinals, and delivered exactly no hits in any of the other 4 games. I guess I won’t be hearing from the Pujols fan club today, I’m assuming you all are hiding in the corner sucking your thumbs. You all will come out when the Cardinals let him walk and cry about how the Cardinals will be lucky to finish in the top 5 of the NL Central for years to come, but will be hushed up as soon as the Cards return to the 2012 playoffs without him. I don’t think John Mozeliak will be fooled like a few other GM’s will, and realize that Pujols really is on the way down. His 3 HR game was impressive, but not as impressive as it may seem. First of all, every starting player except Jon Jay had a hit in that game, but Jay couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat right now. The first Pujols HR was when the Cards were already up 8-6, and while I do think it was critical with the Rangers continuing to climb back in the game, the fact is his team was still in the lead. His last HR was when the Cards were up 15-7 in the 9th inning.
The Cardinals wasted one of the great performances of Chris Carpenter last night. Matt Holliday didn’t come through in the clutch either. I’m not going to jump on Holliday though, he’s not the one asking to be made the highest paid player in the game. He’s not the one in his prime as the best hitter in the game. He doesn’t jog to first base or flip the bat at home plate after a HR or a walk. He doesn’t stare at fly ball outs that die before the warning track. He didn’t turn down money and cut off negotiations with the team before the year started. He doesn’t take it upon himself to play the second manager of the team to Tony LaRussa. Albert Pujols does these things alone. Pujols says he wants to be respected and bunches that in with getting paid without saying it. He’s not fooling me, and hopefully he’s not fooling many of you anymore either. On Thursday or Friday we will see Albert Pujols for the final time as a player in a Cardinals uniform. I, for one, am happy with that. It’s time to move on, it’s time for a team game. It’s time to finally not have someone on the team only thinking about someone saying to him “Show Me The Money”.
I hope Albert Pujols comes up big in the last 2 games to give the Cards 11 in ’11. I just don’t see it though. I have this feeling that we are going to see Albert doing what he does best, admiring a ball 3 feet in front of the warning track because he thought he got it all, or jogging out a groundball to first base, giving someone on defense time to bobble the ball three times and still throw him out.