Monday, September 24, 2007

It's Lights Out At Busch Stadium

After last night's bittersweet victory, I'd be happy not winning another game this season. (And let's face it folks, there's a chance we won't.) Even though it technically didn't have any value, it was poetic to have the very last home game of the season play out the way it did. By the time the Cardinals return from their seven day, seven game road trip to end the year, the divisional and wild card races will have been decided and the sporting world will have all but forgotten the wacky, bi-polar and ultimately disappointing 2007 Redbirds. However, weary fans will have one last happy memory to cling to in the long months leading up to spring training. Last night after Jason Isringhausen gave up a two run homerun in the top of the ninth to break a 1-1 tie, Miguel Cairo, Albert Pujols, Rick Ankiel and Brad Lidge combined to help the Cardinals come back in the bottom of the frame for an unlikely 4-3 win over the Astros. After Cairo singled and Ryan Ludwick walked, Pujols pinch hit in place of David Eckstein and cracked a high pitch against the wall in left-center for his 99th RBI of the season. Then Rick Ankiel stepped to the plate, fought himself out of a jam and skipped a shot along the first base line, which brought in Ludwick and pinch runner Brian Barden. (I don't know who that Barden guy is, but he tore around the bases like he was being chased by wolves.) It was ruled a 2 RBI triple. End of game. Like I said, a beautiful way to close out the year at Busch. (Although I'm pretty sure Brad Lidge disagrees, poor guy.) After the tumultuous 2007 season, both the players and the fans deserved it. A happy taste is left in our collective mouths as we enter the long offseason and begin looking forward to a new and promising blank slate.

Anyhow, it's nearing the end of what has turned out to be a wild ride. Heck, I don't even know if I'll post again before the year closes on Sunday. I can't imagine anything noteworthy happening, considering none of the upcoming games really matter much. So what does that mean for this little blog? It's difficult to say. I imagine I'll check in from time to time in the offseason to ruminate over the coming year, comment on significant trades and personnel shifts and whine about it actually NOT being baseball season. Aside from that, who knows. I suppose anything is possible! No matter what goes down, I'm already looking forward to spring, the fresh season and all of the new material that will provide. In the meantime, enjoy the playoffs everybody. It's looking more and more likely that my worst fears will be realized and the Cubs will take the division. (It's perverted, but I'm kind of hoping we lose to the Brewers over the next three days. Imagining the Cubs in the postseason is nightmare fuel.) At any rate, I'm sure I'll stop by to express my displeasure/delight over how they fare. Thanks for your patronage this summer, friends, and please be sure to tip your waitress.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Wait For It, Wait For It....UGH

For the love of all things holy, is this seriously how things are going to be for the rest of the year? Can we please TRY to win a game every once in a while??? It really isn't funny anymore. It has gotten to the point where I either completely expect it or really don't give a damn. The only difference between now and all the games played earlier this season is my complete and utter indifference. For me, baseball season has been over for a week now. There are way too many infinitely more interesting things going in sports for me to be suicidal about a team that is going to be rendered completely irrelevant in a couple of weeks. Sadly, I write a blog about Cardinal baseball. Someone should have warned me about this.

Does anyone care about specifics? I highly doubt it, but here it goes. After chipping away at an 11-0 deficit, the Redbirds managed to come back and lose 13-11 to the Phillies last night. This was all courtesy of...huh?...wait for it...Brad Thompson? To be fair, he was only dinged for three earned runs in 3 1/3 innings. Hell, I didn't even know he played for us anymore. Ironically, Mike Maroth came in for three quick outs in the sixth, his first 1-2-3- outing since July 27th. Chalk this up to another shoulda, woulda, coulda day at the ballpark for our friendly St. Louis Cardinals. For those keeping track at home, that's 11 losses out of our last 12 tries. Christ. Is it too late to be a Padres fan?
PS: Despite everything else, the Zambrano Implosion is always amusing. See? Baseball can still be fun!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Breaking News: We May Not Be Terrific At Baseball

I gotta tell you, I had a pretty rough weekend. Watching the Cardinals struggle yet again against the Cubs made me physically ill. I'm not exaggerating. Friday night appeared as though it was going to get interesting there in the ninth inning, yet naturally ended anticlimactically for me. This in turn caused me to do the whole "screw it, I don't even care" beer binge. Several hours later, I was wandering home trying not to run face first into scaffolding or fall in front of moving cars. Saturday, I was forced to leave the bar with a tension headache after simultaneously watching the Iowa Hawkeyes get kicked in the crotch by Iowa State and the Cardinals get gobbled alive by Alfonso Soriano. Being the glutton for punishment that I am, I was out with three Iowa State Cyclone/Chicago Cubs fans. The good news is, I was at a bar that supports the University of Iowa, so I was in sympathetic company. (There were even a few Redbird fans circulating around.) Also, the aforementioned Clone/Scrubs fans are genuinely nice guys. They are also very wise, as they allowed me plenty of postgame time to pout and behave like my father. One was even so kind as to buy me a drink as a peace offering. Unfortunately, none of their kindnesses helped get rid of my throbbing headache and I was home and in bed at 5:30. Sometimes I really, really hate sports. Did this stop me from rising this morning to take in an entire day of NFL goodness? Of course not. Tom Brady isn't going to ogle at himself, people. Plus, seeing as though Rex Grossman is the laughingstock of the Chicago media, SOMEONE needed to cheer the guy along. (For the record, he wasn't TOTALLY awful today.)

Anyway, I digress. The Cardinals lost again today behind another disastrous effort by Mark Mulder, who couldn't even make it out of the third inning. I'm not kidding. Every time I go to the Cardinals web site to check scores or investigate coming match-ups, I have the same reaction. Inevitably, the headline is "_____ is on the mound today to try and break Cardinal's skid." To which I mutter, "Maroth? Are you kidding me? Yeah right." Cue another loss. Next day, "Pineiro?? Okay, sure. In my dreams." Cue another loss. Next day, "Mulder??? Is this a freaking joke? No way!!" Cue another loss. Next day, "Kip Wells????? Just STAB ME IN THE THROAT ALREADY!!!!" Cue, yet another, Cardinal loss. By the time we get back around to Wainwright or Looper I'm so close to hysterics I can't even focus anymore. I'm starting to wonder why I do this to myself on purpose. Mediocrity is depressing.

So, now what? I guess despite the grim prognosis, we as St. Louis baseball fans soldier on. The season isn't over yet, unfortunately. I bet good ol' Kippy Wells has another couple of EXPLOSIVE starts in his immediate future. WEEEEE!!!! Thank GOD football is back. It's a lot more exciting to have multiple reasons for random violent and psychotic outbursts. At the very least it'll make the coroner's job a lot more interesting when they try to figure out exactly WHY I jumped off that really tall building.

Friday, September 14, 2007

We Came, We Laughed, We Cried, We Cried Harder

Well folks, there you have it. I really thought that this current losing skid had to stop at some point and that maybe somewhere along the way I'd have something inspiring to say about keeping our chins up, soldiering on, staying the course and maybe, oh I don't know, not SUCKING anymore. Unfortunately, this hasn't happened yet and I could no longer in good faith continue to ignore the stretch and the glaring possibility that it may not end.

In the wake of the whole Rick Ankiel/HGH scandal, the St. Louis Cardinals have lost seven straight games, while previously unstoppable Ankiel has gone an embarrassingly anemic 1 for 23. The Birds have slumped to five games out of first place. And that dazzling rise above .500? Yeah, much like the season, that's history as well as we've sunken to six games under.

So my question here is, WHAT THE @#$! happened? (Obviously aside from the starting rotation returning to shiteous form. Christ. What's wrong with these guys?) I mean, I'm not a total idiot. I had no grand illusions that we wouldn't eventually face plant and knock ourselves into obscurity. The big race to see who isn't the biggest loser in the NL Central is and has been a joke all along. Had we won that illustrious prize it would have proved nothing except that, hey, even ridiculously crappy teams can go to the playoffs! Even through our hot streak in August it at no point really seemed like we were a well conditioned machine clicking along efficiently at a calm, controlled and steady pace. No, it seemed much more like a drunk guy at a shooting range. The bullets were squeezing out quickly, furiously and erratically, yet inexplicably they were hitting the target more often then not. There was no logic or skill to it. We are not and have not been a good baseball team all season. Still, it's disappointing to go out like this, just as I predicted we would, in the shadow of the Ankiel allegations. It really was the final straw for a beaten and battered Cardinal Nation. Players, management and fans alike pretty well threw up their hands and said, "screw it, this ain't worth it. We suck, man." I'd hoped I was wrong and that the media storm wouldn't get inside Ankiel's fragile psyche. Obviously, one thing he's not developed in his incredible comeback is thick skin. Hell, he's so sensitive to criticism I swear that one "your mama's so fat" joke and this guy'd be curled up in the dugout sucking his thumb. I realize I have a tendency towards the dramatic, but I think that in this case it's warranted. I really don't envision us rebounding from this. In fact, at this point I'm not even sure I want us to. I've had enough heartache this summer (mixed, I suppose, with just enough pleasure to keep me from weeping openly,) that I'm almost happy to pack it in for the year. Who knows, though. Maybe it's all just a giant coincidence. Maybe we're just going through another slump and it has nothing to do with Ankiel. Maybe we've still got a late season spark left in us that'll at the very least allow us to go out on a high note. But somehow I doubt it.

So in that spirit, GO MILWAUKEE!! I mean, someone's got to win this division, right?

Friday, September 7, 2007

Et Tu, Ankiel?

I got up this morning in a pretty damn good mood. Despite some recent setbacks, the Cardinals have still managed to fight and claw their way within one game of the tied-for-first-place Brewers and Cubs. When I went to bed last night, Carlos Zambrano had been exposed as a universal jackoff, Ryan Dempster had blown a crucial save against the Dodgers and Rick Ankiel had smoked two homeruns for 7 RBI's to lead the Cardinals to a 16-4 beatdown of the Pirates. Everything was peaceful and right with the world.

Then I woke up this morning to the New York Daily News article. I am unequivocally and painfully STUNNED. Coming the morning after what was arguably his greatest game to date, it has been revealed that the St. Louis Cardinals' comeback kid has been implicated in the use of performance enhancing drug HGH. Talk about BUZZ KILL. I feel like I just got punched in the stomach. Even without knowing the validity or relevance of the accusations, I can't help but be supremely disappointed. The proverbial bubble has been burst, the illusion of innocence shattered. If the allegations are true, it doesn't matter if he stopped taking the drugs before the 2005 ban went into place. It still changes everything because his unbelievable story is going to be permanently viewed with suspicion anyway. There are a lot of people talking about the development this morning, all of them more articulately then me. See here, here and here.

My personal take? Siiiiigh. I don't know. I'm not sure I'm over the initial shock and horror of it all just yet. In a season plagued by ugliness, from Tony LaRussa's DUI, to Josh Hancock's death, to the serious injuries eliminating Chris Carpenter, Josh Kinney, Preston Wilson and Scott Rolen, to less serious injuries sustained over the course of the year by Yadier Molina, David Eckstein, Jim Edmonds and Mike Maroth, to Scott Spiezio's undisclosed substance abuse problem, to Juan Encarnacion's potential career ending eye injury and then finally to just a general rash of bad pitching, weak hitting and sloppy play, THIS is the real heartbreaker. It is especially and arguably the MOST devastating, because it has been DESPITE these other things that the team has rallied around Ankiel's triumphant return and played well enough and hard enough to muscle themselves back into the pennant race. To find out his astounding return to MLB success was at any point aided by the use of illegal drugs completely takes the magic out of things and makes it seem less like a Disney-ready movie and more like another inevitable fall from grace that is all too common now among professional athletes. Obviously, I'm hoping his use was only temporary and extended only so far as that years worth prescribed to him in 2004. I'm hoping that the feats he's accomplished this year are unblemished by performance enhancers and that his brush with the underbelly of professional sports lasted only so long as his recovery from Tommy John surgery. I'm hoping that once the ban was placed in 2005 that he walked away and has been clean ever since. Yet what if all of that is true? What if he truly hasn't used HGH since then and has achieved his current degree of success due only to hard work and perseverance? Do the allegations then make "The Natural" any less of a phenomenon? In theory, no, of course not. However, in the court of public opinion people are always going to wonder and the more cynical are always going to assume his guilt. Unfortunately, Ankiel has no real way of proving it one way or another and he'll probably always bear the scarlet letter that so many contemporary and historical greats are saddled with. It was the perceived pureness of his improbable and unlikely story that made baseball fans believe that miracles can happen and underdogs can succeed. He was a wholesome reminder that goodness can and does occasionally prevail in major league baseball. I fear that no matter how this all pans out, his accomplishments will forever be linked to this alleged dark spot in his history. That makes me unbearably sad.

It would make me feel a lot better to hear Rick Ankiel himself publicly address and clarify the claims. Cardinal fans, hell baseball fans in general, need to hear what he has to say. After all, Ankiel's story doesn't just pertain to St. Louis fans anymore. We ALL deserve to hear his side of the story and frankly, he deserves to tell it. As we head into a pivotal series against the Diamondbacks and Brandon Webb tonight, the last thing the Cardinals need is another gutwrenching setback to shift the focus. These guys are obviously scrappy, but one has to wonder how much more they can possibly take. Make me a believer again, Rick!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Big Z Is Big Baby

The jokes just write themselves, people. There isn't anything I can say that will do this series of events justice. In summary, Carlos Zambrano signed a $91.5M five-year contract with the Chicago Cubs, stunk up his next five starts, got booed by the fans and then cried about it.
Give me a break, Big Z. These are the most patient, pacified and complacent fans you'll find in all of baseball. Sometimes I don't even think they MIND losing they're so used to it. So COME ON!! Things must be pretty damn bad for them to react with such voracity. Generally, I don't like when fans boo their own players. It makes me uncomfortable and kind of sad. It's counter intuitive to me and I'll never really understand why fans do it or how it makes them feel better about a player or team that's struggling. I just don't see how it helps anything. However, I also think fans have the right to express their frustration and unhappiness over greedy, mouthy, egotistical hotheads that aren't pulling their weight or giving anyone reason to believe they're deserving of the big fat multi-million dollar contract they just landed. The Cubs spent the big bucks on Zambrano because they expected him to be a reliable ace. He's supposed to be the powerhouse pitcher in that rotation and if he wants to be treated that way, he needs to be playing that way. Now, I'm not saying it isn't okay for players to slump or go through some rough patches, but I AM saying it's ridiculous and ill-advised to then take it out on the people who are paying exorbitant tickets prices to sit and watch you do it. Being in the media spotlight, people like Carlos Zambrano can't afford to be quick tempered, rash and childish. You have to play for these fans for the next five years, buddy, and despite your half-assed PR generated apology, I don't think they are going to be so easy to forgive you. This becomes especially true if you can't start pitching like the guy they're paying for. It also doesn't do you any favors to tell a city of people that have been stubbornly loyal to this team for the past 99 years despite it sucking terribly that they are only thinking of themselves. Are you kidding me? Are they really supposed to feel sorry for you? Because I'm highly confident you weren't thinking about THEM when you were sitting down to ink that nearly $100M contract, you big whiner.

Anyhow, at least I'm not the only one in Chicago who hates him anymore. See, Cubs fans! I've been telling you all along, you just can't trust people that refer to themselves in the third person. At least that's what Lindsay Trumbull thinks.