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 NLCS Game 5: Random Observations And Stuff

What happened?

What in the world happened?

I’m not talking about the Cardinals losing. That was definitely a possibility…although I thought it would be more because of Lance Lynn than Barry Zito.

I’m talking about the start to this game.

Specifically the second inning.

Because that was, in my opinion, where the Cardinals lost the game…and the Giants won it.

Following the top half of the second, Lance Lynn had faced the minimum, struck out four, and thrown only 23 pitches. He looked so good.

Meanwhile, Barry Zito headed back out to the mound after dodging a runner in scoring position situation in the first.

Yadier Molina led things off in the bottom of the second with a single. David Freese followed on the next pitch with a Giants-esque bloop double to right that just got under the glove of Hunter Pence.

I wanted to go back and see specifically what transpired in the bottom of the second, and in doing so, I noticed that Freese’s double barely---I mean just barely---clipped the bottom of the glove of Pence. Why even bring that up?

Well, it’s possible that without that barely---I mean just barely---clipping Pence’s glove, it goes further past Pence and allows Molina to score. It was borderline as to whether or not Jose Oquendo should’ve sent him as it was. But, with no one out and Molina’s speed, I understand the hesitation on Oquendo’s part.

By holding Molina---likely the right move---the Cardinals had runners at second and third and no one out. Three of the six Cardinal hitters had gotten hits off of Zito, and this thing looked like it was about to get blown open.

I know that sounds strange to read now…but if you can take yourself back to that moment after the Freese double…and remember how good Lynn looked in the first couple of innings…this was when the Cardinals were closest to clinching that 19th National League Pennant.

Zito fell behind Descalso and then got a borderline breaking ball called for a strike on the second pitch. Considering a) I felt like the pitch was a strike…albeit low…and Descalso had a conversation with the umpire asking about it right after he called it a strike and b) Lynn was getting the benefit of the doubt on some calls before his implosion, I have no problem with the call. But, it changed the at-bat.

Zito got a second strike on Descalso, and then after fouling a pitch off and dodging a high and tight fastball, Zito went up in the zone 2-2 and got him to fish for some shit. Descalso swung and missed…and with Kozma and Lynn up…baseball nerd holes started to tighten.

Then Bochy did something I loved.

This shows how low the bar is for me to love something, but it was such a good game strategy play that I respected it.

And, considering “he should’ve walked Kozma” became the theme in Washington over the last week, Bochy got it right in St. Louis a week later.

He intentionally walked Kozma.

Now, this did a few things:

1.It loaded the bases…obviously…but it brought up the pitcher.
2.It also meant that if Lynn K’d, the next hitter was the left-handed Jon Jay…and even though Zito had been crappy against right-handers this year, he did have success against lefties.
3.Maybe this was intentional…maybe it was simply a byproduct of the game strategy…but by loading the bases and putting Zito in a position that a walk is a run, Bochy showed confidence in a guy he yanked after 2.2 IP in Cincinnati…because he couldn’t throw strikes and had walked four Reds.

I’m certain that most people will focus on Lance Lynn throwing the ball into second base in the fourth inning as being the worst thing he did all night, and I would most definitely respect that case being made. It was a bad play…even if Kozma and Descalso botched it…Lynn still didn’t need to throw it. I’ll tell you this: Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, and Kyle Lohse don’t throw that baseball. Period.

But, I’d argue the worst thing Lance Lynn did in Game 5 was swing at a fucking pitch with the bases loaded and one out.

What in the world?

Lynn took a strike…and then he swung at Zito’s next offering and grounded into a tailor-made 6-4-3 double play.

Boom.

Second and third no one out.

And no one scores.

Wow.

I went back and looked at Zito’s location in that inning, and he was hitting his spots. Hell, he did it all night.  Well, he did it all night after the second inning.

He was on the ropes in the second.

And, if he pitches his way out of it, then I have no problem tipping my cap.

He most definitely did so against Descalso.

But, the Cardinals bailed him out with some shitty fundamentals in the Lynn at-bat.

After that, Zito cruised.

While he gave up hits to three of the first six he faced in the game, he allowed two base hits the rest of his 7.2 IP performance.

Now, I’m sure some or even many of you are saying, “Yeah…but the Cardinals lost 5-0. It wouldn’t have mattered.”

I suppose there is no right answer, because there’s no way to prove it one way or the other.

But, I would suggest that game tone matters.

It’s like what Joe Girardi said after second base umpire Jeff Nelson blew the call on Robinson Cano’s tag of Omar Infante in the 8th inning of a 1-0 game this past Sunday. Girardi said that there’s no way to know if it mattered or not…but a 1-0 game is a hell of a lot different than a 3-0 game. It changes the way pitchers approach hitters, and it changes the way managers implement game strategy.

I’m well aware I can’t prove it…but if the Cardinals just get up 1-0 as opposed to pissing that opportunity away…and doing so not because of Zito putting on a Trevor Rosenthal clinic…but rather because the fucking pitcher grounds into a bases loaded one-out double play…I think things are different.

Zito was a different guy after the second inning.

And, you can make the case Lance Lynn was as well.

After flat-out dealing in the first two innings, Lynn returned to the mound after his 6-4-3 inning-ender to walk the lead-off man.

Considering his control---and the fact that he had struck out four straight at that point---you could tell something was off. But, because he was dealing with the 8-9-1 spots in the order, the volcano didn’t erupt.

It did in the fourth.

Here’s a little fun fact for know and tell…except it’s an opinion: Lynn picked off Gregor Blanco in the third. Replays showed he was out. It was a close play, but he was called safe.

Now, once again, you don’t know what would’ve happened had that call been made correctly or Major League Baseball used this confusing instant replay technology, but Lynn K’d Brandon Crawford next…and then Barry Zito.

Logic would dictate that it’s likely Lynn would’ve retired Zito…and then Angel Pagan would’ve been leading off the fourth instead of Marco Scutaro.

I didn’t like knowing that Scutaro---who is just killing it in the NLCS with an average of .429---was going to lead off the fourth.

I would have rather seen Pagan up there and make the first out…versus Scutaro.

But, as things played out with the missed call at first base---tough to call such a close play a blown call---Pagan wound up making the last out of the third…and Scutaro led off.

The Cardinals didn’t do anything in the bottom of the third…and then all hell broke loose in the top of the fourth.

Scutaro flipped a 1-2 pitch to right field…and then Pablo Sandoval ripped a pitch to right to make it first and second and no one out.

Now, I’m all for critiquing managerial decisions…and I think Matheny has had some off moments this postseason. Butttttttttt, some of this stuff where anytime the other team scores and Matheny gets blamed is just flat-out batshit.

Lance Lynn had been dealing through three innings. Yeah, he walked the lead-off man in the third, but he was carrying a no-hitter into the fourth. Scutaro didn’t exactly rock him to reach on a 1-2 pitch…and Sandoval did. But, I’ve read a number of places that Matheny blew it by not getting someone up immediately there.

Come on.

The man was pitching brilliantly up until that point.

If he sees a guy get up and start throwing after he’s allowed his second hit of the game in the fourth inning, he’s not exactly going to be of sound mind facing the most dangerous hitter in the Giants’ lineup.

Lynn digs in…and he K’s Buster Posey.

Two on. One out.

Once again…he had just struck out Buster Posey.

So, where should Matheny have gotten someone ready? After Sandoval’s hit? After striking out the 2012 National League MVP?

Up comes Hunter Pence, and once again, Lynn has his man down 1-2. But, this time, instead of a textbook Giants’ bloop to the opposite field, it’s one of their other means of scoring runs: a little dink off the end of the bat in the infield.

Lynn fields it. Descalso initially made the move toward the ball…so he’s not at second…and because of that, Kozma is late getting to the bag.

Right there…right at that moment…Lance Lynn made his second mental error of the night.

He’s got to hold on to the ball. Deal with the suckitude of the situation. And then get the sure out at first. If he does that, yeah, it’s second and third…but there are two out with Brandon Belt up…not exactly Buster Posey.

Instead he throws it, and the ball bounces off of second base and into center field. The Giants lead 1-0.

Unreal.

I’m of the opinion that a week ago, Drew Storen lost Game 5 of the NLDS when he didn’t get the call on a check swing by David Freese that would’ve (and maybe should’ve) ended the game. Freese had two strikes on him. The Nationals had the Cardinals down to their last out. And, on a tricky pitch, Freese held up. The first base umpire wasn’t about to end the Cardinal season on a borderline check swing, and so he didn’t give Storen the call.

The Washington closer lost it after that.

He went batshit, screaming into his glove, walking Freese, and then giving up the famous hits to Descalso and Kozma.

Well, a week later, Lance Lynn lost it.

Once he gunned the ball into second base, he was gone.

Belt popped up on the first pitch he saw, but then Lynn couldn’t find the plate against Blanco…and that walk loaded the bases.

At this point, Matheny got Joe Kelly up and throwing.

With Crawford up, Lynn fell behind once again. He battled back from a 3-1 count to work it full, but then he put a nice meaty offspeed pitch out over the plate, and Crawford ripped it back up the middle. 3-0 Giants.

Insult to injury, Barry Zito sees David Freese is set up way behind the third base bag, and he drops down a perfect bunt to score a run and make it 4-0.

And that was in for Lynn.

2.IP…and gone.


Now, I know there’s plenty of complaining and confusion over how in the world Barry Zito shut the Cardinals down.

I won’t tip my cap for the first 3.5 innings of the game, but I will for the rest. Zito got in a zone, and he just pitched. Yeah, he pitched awfully slowly…but he pitched. He was doing exactly what Tim Lincecum couldn’t do the night before: hit his locations.

A soft-tossing lefty owning the Cardinals isn’t anything new.

Hell, I’m surprised/disappointed I didn’t say anything about it on the show or in my column. As a matter of fact, pulling out of KFNS today, for whatever reason, it crossed my mind that while the Cardinals had done quite well against lefties this year, there’s always that stigma of the soft-tossing lefty pwning their souls.

Randy Wolf did it in Game 4 of the 2011 NLCS.

Barry Zito most definitely did it in Game 5 of the 2012 NLCS.

I’m of the opinion that this game is different if the Cardinals get a run across in the second with that golden opportunity, but they didn’t…and Zito picked up confidence…and that was it.

Shocking, really.

But, that was that.

And now some Cardinal fans have visions of 1996 dancing in their heads. Up 3-1 on the Braves, the Cardinals got worked over in Game 5 at Busch Stadium, and then headed back to Atlanta…where Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine waited. Maddux edged Alan Benes in a Game 6 pitchers’ duel, and then Donovan Osborne shit the bed and got worked over in a 15-0 Game 7 loss.

I wrote about this yesterday, but now since it will seem more relevant, I’ll write it again: The 2012 Giants aren’t as good as the 1996 Braves, and the 2012 Cardinals are much more potent than the 1996 Cardinals.

Chris Carpenter + Kyle Lohse > Alan Benes + Donovan Osborne

Greg Maddux + Tom Glavine > Ryan Vogelsong + Matt Cain

However, I think now anyone who was taking this thing for granted---and I don’t those people existed in the Cardinal clubhouse---know that this is a series.

AT & T Park doesn’t have ushers and old people telling their fans to sit down. That place will be insane Sunday…and if there’s a Monday.

But, you know what Vogelsong and Cain can’t change? You know what 45,000 screaming, standing fans can’t change?

The Giants’ lineup.

The Cardinals may have lost 5-0 in Game 5, but they outhit San Francisco 7-6…and one of those Giants’ hits was Barry Zito’s bunt.

They just don’t have the offensive potential that the Cardinals do…and sometimes---such as Game 4---the Cardinals put that potential on display. But, even if it doesn’t reach full potential, I think one can make the case that 75% of the Cardinal potential is right there with the Giants’ offense if it’s firing at 100%.

They will dink and dunk. They will bloop. And they will go opposite field like the kid who wore jeans to practice did in his one hit per year.

But, they don’t crush you…and even with the Cardinals throwing the ball around in the fourth and Lance Lynn’s implosion, the Giants had two solid hits.

Now, let me make it clear…especially as a child of the 80’s who grew up on dinks and dunks and bloops…I respect it a great deal. I love---well, I hate, but I admire---the way their hitters battle in at-bats. Scutaro, Pence, and Crawford all did their damage in the fourth with two strikes.

But, the point in referencing this is that this Giants’ lineup has to a) beat Chris Carpenter, b) beat Kyle Lohse, and c) outscore the Cardinal lineup on back-to-back nights…otherwise the Cardinals advance.

I know many of your moods are pessimistic right now, but if you read those words and view them from a baseball pragmatism standpoint, I think you’d agree that the Cardinals are still in good shape…even if it doesn’t “feel” that way.

Oftentimes I think a club’s mentality is some local sportscast handjob line in the tossback to the news anchors…and there isn’t really any value to it.

But, while it was incredibly discouraging to see the Cardinals not even provide a blueballing Friday night, I have a tough time doubting a team that has so much of the makeup of the 2011 team still as a part of it…and the exact makeup of the team that eight days ago came back in Washington from down 6-0…with their fans going batshit. These guys have been there before. I just don’t think the Cardinals will get rattled. The potential rattlees (I’m making up words to describle young pitchers who have shown the ability to implode on the mound) are no longer pitching in this series…or this year. Lynn is done for the series. Garcia is done for the season. Chris Carpenter and Kyle Lohse don’t have whatever that trait is that Lynn and Garcia appear to have at this point in this career.

Nonetheless, the Giants’ starting pitching is the great equalizer, and both Vogelsong and Cain put on clinics in their starts. Hell, this series has featured four straight great starts. Vogelsong in Game 2. Cain in Game 3. Wainwright in Game 4. Zito in Game 5.

Yes, I’m aware Cain was the losing pitcher in Game 3, and Kyle Lohse had the better linescore, but Cain was dealing Wednesday. He was better than Vogelsong was in Game 2…but he didn’t get the run support.

The fact that those two lurk…and the fact that Chris Carpenter hasn’t looked great in either of his two playoff starts (the one in Washington was a grind and a bend-but-don’t-break start)…are two concerning aspects to have to ponder while waiting for Sunday night.

Point blank: this ruins my weekend..and I’m sure it does the same for many of you.

I am most definitely concerned having to see the Cardinals go back to San Francisco and deal with Vogelsong and Cain.

And, from a bigger picture perspective, if they are to win this series, Chris Carpenter is no longer an option for World Series Game 1 or Game 2 at Busch Stadium.

The World Series rotation gets awfully shaky if the Cardinals go to a Game 7 and win it.

Who in the world does Mike Matheny start after giving the ball to Wainwright in Game 1?

Seriously.

I have no idea on that one.

But, it’s a decision I hope he doesn’t have to make.

That would mean Carpenter did what he’s done so many times before: gone out and pitched the Cardinals to a playoff win.

If he does have to make that decision, that means the Cardinals won a Game 7 on the road against Matt Cain…and we all will likely live two or three years shorter than our previous life expectancy because of it.

Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

Strap in.

The 2012 Cardinal rollercoaster is off for another ride…

Log-in and post your comments, or you can email me at tmckernan@insidestl.com.

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#
Saturday, October 20, 2012 8:00 AM
Tim, you never fail to articulate how most fans with a brain (not #BFIB but fans that have a clue) feel after a devastating loss like this. It's hard for me see how we're going to manage to win one of these last two games in SF. The atmosphere there is going to be insane. Their fans and club will feel its inevitable that they win out. The change in the series dynamic is palpable. I'm embarrassed how pained I continue to be after seeing losses like this all season. I truly hope the resiliency of this team shows once again, but I'm struggling to be optimistic.

I will now shove an ice pick under my toenail.
Mike in South City
# Mike in South City
Saturday, October 20, 2012 9:04 AM
if there is anything this post season has shown us (in both the AL and NL) it's that fans can go as bat shit wild as they want, it really doesn't effect what happens on the field.
I'll take a 3-2 lead heading back to SF.
Article was good as usual, the part I beg to differ is I do think Matheny should have gotten someone up as soon as Giants got the first two on in the 4th. Regular season I don't do it. If I don't have a well rested and strong bullpen I don't do it, BUT a NL pennant was on the line. The error obviously rattled Lynn. He was missing location badly when he then walked Blanco. After that walk is when I would have pulled him. None of this really matters since Cards scored zero runs in the game.
Tim McKernan
# Tim McKernan
Saturday, October 20, 2012 12:00 PM
I honestly think the atmosphere of the visiting park impacts the fans watching at home more than it does the players...at least most of the Cardinal players.

I can't speak to the Giants' players.

But, considering they won three in a row in Cincinnati, I think that would indicate most of their guys aren't scared of atmosphere.

The Cardinals have a couple of guys (Garcia and Lynn), who I think you could say get tight. Other than that...based on what they've done last year and/or this year and the atmospheres they've won in, I think it's safe to say these guys aren't freaking out about having to play at AT & T Park.

Trust me...in knowing the mindset of the professional athlete...my bet is many of them are annoyed that they failed to win it at home...because they have to fly across the country to do something they feel like they should've done here. The travel is annoying as can be for guys who could've had eight straight days at home.

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