Who says Cardinals baseball isn’t exciting these days?
Clearly, whoever does didn’t watch Tuesday night as the Cards opened the first of six upcoming games against the NL Central-leading Brewers in Milwaukee. The Brewers are dynamite at home. Hey, they’re pretty much dynamite everywhere these days. This was supposed to be their party. At least the fans thought so.
I won’t lie, I didn’t want to get involved. In fact, I tried to go to a minor league game so I wouldn’t actually listen. Hoping for the best, fearing the worst. That seems to be a common theme these days.
But the River Bandits didn’t play tonight, due to rain. So I cautiously tuned in to KMOX.
With the Lance Berkman trade rumors floating through cyber space threatening to be a distraction, Edwin Jackson
breezed through the first four innings, allowing only one runner to reach second base. (Don’t worry, LB fans — Matthew Leach reported late Tuesday that the Berkman-to-Texas move is highly unlikely.) Jackson had some solid defensive backup, too, including a sliding catch by Berkman and a running, at-the-wall snag by Jon jay.
Shaun Marcum had a solid first four too, holding the sometimes-deadly Cardinals offense at bay.
In the top of the fifth, however, some of the Crew’s luck started to rub off — and the Redbirds took advantage. Skip Schumaker reached first on a Prince Fielder error. Then, he moved to second and Rafael Furcal was safe at first on a Jerry Hairston error.
So there are chinks in their shining armor. Good to know.
Both runners would score in the inning, one off of an RBI single to Jackson, helping out his own cause, and the other on Jay’s sacrifice fly.
Two runs. That has not often been enough this season, especially against a team as offensively capable as this Milwaukee club.
A one-run lead is even worse.
But after back-to-back doubles from Corey Hart and Nyger Morgan (who narrowly missed a go-ahead home run), the Brewers were right back at that magic number.
No, not that magic number.
The number of runs they needed to force the Cardinals to go on the defensive — just one.
Jackson came out after seven of his best innings as a Cardinal. One run on six hits, and his team had the lead.
The eighth threatened to get interesting with Rhodes in for Jackson. He did his job. Jason Motte did too — again. The kid has found another gear here as of late, pitching scoreless baseball ever since June 20th. He threw nine pitches to Nyger Morgan, but set up a ground out on Corey Hart. Inning over.
But scoring is key, but the Cardinals 1-5 hitters went a combined 0-17 with four walks.
Could Salas manage the save? Should Motte have stayed in? Why couldn’t Rzepczynski get Prince Fielder out? Will this be another bullpen collapse?
Yes. No. And who cares.
Oh, and no.
No — the Cardinals bullpen wouldn’t give an inch, despite being a heart attack in a box. Two walks in a row (one by Scrabble, the other by Salas), a crazy Pujols play to third and a ground into double play gone RIGHT, and it was enough. Cardinals win. Over the Brewers. Eleven and a half games out? No thanks. I’ll have the 9 1/2 special, please. Hold the negativity.
Sure, it’s just one game. Sure, we’re still 9 1/2 games out. Sure, we’d have to go 20-8 to finish with 90 wins, and the Crew would have to utterly fall apart and hand us the division. But this one game had my heart racing and my fists clenching like a playoff berth was at stake.
Just prior to the game, I read Derrick Goold’s story on the Cardinal road block from the voices that actually matter. When I reached the end, I thought — for the first time in a good while — “These guys really want it. They know things are dreadful right now. But they also believe, in each other and their final shot.”
“If you would have told me in spring training that we would be 10 games out, I would have told you, ‘You are crazy,'” first baseman Albert Pujols said. “Look around. With the kind of ballclub that we have, it’s hard to understand where we are at.”
“We’re kind of in a win-only scenario,” left fielder Matt Holliday said. “We have to win the majority of our games. We need them to lose quite a few of theirs. I think we all know that the mathematics are simple — we need to win a lot, and they need to win a little. It’s not just this series. You’ve got to win the other games, too. We’ve got to beat everybody.”
You’re right, Matt. You’ve got to beat everybody. Tonight was a start. A good start. And better yet? A good finish.
They played with a chip on their shoulder. They played with an urgency I’ve not seen all season. They played with heart. Real, genuine determination to win. And some (not to call you out or anything, Albert …) played with, dare I say it, attitude! See for yourself, and let me know what you think — gamesmanship? Rivalry? Or worse?
Regardless, a win’s a win. And this 2-1 Cardinals victory was about as exciting as they come, no matter the standings!
Jake Westbrook gets the call for game two, Wednesday at 7:10.