Cardinal Love Letter: The Pitching Staff

Dear guys,

Now that the Super Bowl is over, next up — finally — is baseball. It’s just over a week now until you’ll all be in Jupiter, Fla., with Yadi and Tony Cruz and the minor league catchers and the St. Louis Cardinals will finally start moving toward the 2013 season.

Ah … Last October seems like forever ago, so it’s good that our countdown is in the single digits.

As if that alone isn’t enough to get me excited, the season preview articles I’ve read in the past couple days just up my admiration for you collectively all the more. There was this in USA Today last week, “Healthy staff generates optimism in St. Louis,” and a Yahoo Sports preview too. And Jenifer Langosch wrote the “Cardinals boast remarkable depth in rotation,” which of course doesn’t mention all of you in the bullpen who also are a strength of the team.

Pitching, and pitchers, have fascinated me for years, going back to my own very brief and ill-fated softball pitching career. Because you don’t realize, or at least I didn’t, the power the pitcher has over controlling the game. The pace, the momentum, the outcome — it’s all right there, resting on you and when you decide to throw that ball and set the next play in motion.

(And when you walk batter after batter after batter, and your coach ignores your frantic glances to the dugout as you internally plead for him to take you out of the game, so you keep walking batter after batter … well, it stays with you for a very long time. Obviously. Plus, way back in 2000, my own experience made me want to hug Rick Ankiel. And, more recently, made me feel sorry for Ryan Franklin. But enough of that …)

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The Big Picture: Robert Stock

Robert Stock’s story has picked up some steam as the year wears on. His is a story with plenty of twists and turns, but none as significant — or shocking — as the one that came this spring.

We’ve all read by now about Stock’s unexpected meeting with manager Mike Matheny and members of the coaching staff that took place well into spring training earlier this year. In that meeting,┬áMatheny told the progressing catcher that the organization believed his strength were greatest not behind the plate, but rather on the mound; he was better suited to pitch than to catch.

Stock hadn’t pitched since his college days at USC (where he did a fine job of it, along with regular catching duties), but the organization had come to a consensus that his best shot at making the big league roster was as a pitcher, not a catcher.

Thus, the transition began.

Earlier in May, I had the opportunity to sit down with Robert and talk baseball, both growing up and now as a member of the Quad Cities River Bandits squad.

You can see the first portion of that interview here:

http://vimeo.com/42655235

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Cards Hang Loose Headed To Houston

Jon Jay, Daniel Descalso and David Freese as the team was headed to Houston. (Photo: @danieldescalso)

On Aug. 26, the words “Cardinals” and “wild card” did not go together. Trailing the Braves by 10 1/2 games meant that wasn’t even something to consider.

Yet the lead began to shrink. It was 8 1/2 games on Sept. 5, then 4 1/2 on Sept. 12 following a sweep of the Braves. Now, of course, it’s down to 1 — with three chances to close the gap completely.

The September we’ll remember comes down to tonight, tomorrow and Wednesday in Houston. The September the Braves so far want to forget comes down to tonight, tomorrow and Wednesday at home against the Phillies.

If you’re worried the Cardinals might be tense or uptight about what’s ahead, take a look at the picture. Hawaiian shirts were the theme for this “happy flight.”

Yesterday’s win, just like Saturday’s, was another comeback. And the hero, Rafael Furcal, received welcome redemption after a rough couple days. His ninth inning error Thursday afternoon against the Mets started that game’s unraveling. And, as Derrick Goold writes, that had been on Furcal’s mind:

“For me, it made me wake up,” Furcal said. The error “was in my mind the last two or three days. It’s tough the way we are here now and one mistake, something like that, and you’re finished. I couldn’t sleep. … It’s something that I had in my mind, that I had to pick up my team because we’re fighting for a place in the playoffs. It is a good moment.”

That “good moment” was an eighth inning homer to put the Cards up 3-2. It followed a Yadier Molina home run an inning earlier to tie the game — Yadi’s 14th of the season. His 2-for-3 day pushed his batting average to .305. The Cardinals third RBI was courtesy of an Edwin Jackson game-tying sacrifice fly in the fifth. Continue reading