At the start of the season, I thought it might never happen. But in usual Albert Pujols style, he proved all the doubters wrong Tuesday night with this blast into the right field bleachers. It was home run #30 on the year, once again making history. He’s now the only player to hit 30 homers in his first 11 years in the league.
And that was the bright spot of the night for the Redbirds.
Despite Chris Carpenter’s season high 10 strike outs, the Pirates took a 2-run lead in the third on a home run that shouldn’t have happened. After Carp walked the pitcher, Jeff Karstens, Skip Schumaker failed to turn a double play that had the twitterverse in an uproar.
“Get a real second baseman!” they taunted.
Ah, the power of short memories. Skip may not be a gold glove second baseman, but his team-leading .337 batting average since the All-Star Break far out shines Ryan Theriot at .232 and even Daniel Descalso at .250 (Skippy’s .784 OPS doesn’t hurt, either.).
Yes, that double play would have been nice. It might have even made a difference in the outcome. But so did leaving 11 runners on base and going 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
Besides, it wasn’t long before we were all square once again, this time at three.
The go-ahead run scored in the top of the ninth when Matt Holliday’s sacrifice fly scored Jon Jay (who was 2-for-5 after being moved to the lead-off spot in the lineup). But all was for naught when Fernando Salas blew his fourth save on a first pitch home run ball to Neil Walker.
Extra innings with this team right now are not so fun. With the inability to maintain momentum, and Tony La Russa’s affinity for leaving pitchers in one batter too long, this was headed to a very bad place, very quickly.
The offense went silent, as did Cardinal Nation when the latest addition to the “new and improved” bullpen — 41-year-old Arthur Rhodes — entered for Salas.
Rhodes went .2 innings in his last outing, only to be removed in favor of Octavio Dotel.
Tonight, after getting out of the 10th inning, Tony La Russa made the baffling decision to send Rhodes back to the mound in the 11th.
One batter too long.
After five straight fastballs, a slider didn’t quite slide enough, and Garrett Jones got it all and this one was over. Pirates win.
Of course, the Brewers won, too.
It’s hard to know what exactly to think anymore. One day this team looks strong, steady, and prepared for a pennant race. Then, not a single thing goes well, and they end it on the 11th walk-off loss on the year.
So much for Albert getting a moment.
After praising Albert’s stats and the talent behind them, La Russa continued in his post-game chatter:
“I can guarantee you, though, he’s not happy right now because we lost.”
And to continue stating the obvious, here’s Chris Carpenter.
“Right now, we need to win. We had a chance to tonight and we didn’t pull through. Right now, when you’ve got (39) games left and you have a chance to win a game, you need to win it and take advantage of that.”
If only it was that easy. Just do it … isn’t that what Nike always told us?
But for now, getting the job done is the hardest part. Whatever the cause, things just can’t stay right. And Tony La Russa needs to do something about it.
I called TLR out at the beginning of the season, when things were spiraling out of control at break-neck speed. I made clear that he needed to be the MVP this year. He’s the skipper. The go-to guy. The one person everyone turns to for answers. And when all he has after putting a struggling, aging reliever back out for a second inning to seal the loss is,
“It’s a tough league. If you can’t handle it, go home.”
… For me, that’s not quite good enough.
This is a team that should be winning, especially games like this. As the magician with the power to call the shots, Tony needs to figure out why they’re not.
What do you think — are the Brewers just too hot to catch? And what is the missing element to the Cardinals’ game?
Tara is a St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Share your thoughts with Tara on twitter: @tarawellman