Friday, September 22, 2006

My Heart Has Been Torn Out Of My Chest, Stomped On, And Eaten Raw By Cannibals Before My Eyes

Sports fanaticism is not a good thing for a person. I mean it. The emotional turmoil it puts you through is just too much.

Earlier today, I was riding pretty high. Rich Harden came back to make his triumphant return for the A's after eight zillion years on the DL, and pitched 3 innings, allowing 2 hits, 1 run, and racking up 7 strikeouts. That's right - 7 of his 9 outs were of the K variety, and his only mistake was grooving a straight fastball to Grady Sizemore, who's a good player and doesn't miss it when you put it right in his wheelhouse. Other than that, everything was sunshine and warm fuzzies in Oakland today, as the A's took 3 of 4 from the Chief Wahoo Crew and cut that ever-important magic number down to 4, sporting a 7-game lead as the LAAAAAAA roll into town for a three-game weekend set. If the A's win two of three, they'll get to clinch on their home turf in front of their biggest rivals. Ahhhh, that would be so wonderful.

So why the nihilistic title? Mainly because tonight's recent events have me feeling as if exactly that has happened to me, maybe even adding a sledgehammer into the equation somewhere.

Situation: Cardinals have a 5-game lead in the NL Central, with the same magic number. They're not playing that well, but it's all right; there's nobody playing well enough to challenge them and they're going to take home the hardware eventually. So why the pain?

Let's start by setting the scene. 5-4 Cardinals, bottom of the eighth, two out, man on second. Chris Carpenter is trying to gut out one more out after a (for him) subpar outing. He's given up 4 runs already, two of them coming on a home run by Lance "Fat Elvis" Berkman, who has always hit Carp well and who was the author of the blast that put the 'Stros ahead in NLCS Game 5 last year before Prince Albert worked his three-run walkoff magic against Brad Lidge, who's never been the same since. (See: Jose Alberto Pujols is God. Amen).

And for some reason, Tony La Russa had a total brainlock and didn't walk Berkman. First base was already open. Carpenter sets him up with a steady diet of cutters, runs a two-seamer in, and gets to 3-2. I'm dying. Carp throws the cutter again, which Berkman was either sitting on or has hit Carp well enough to guess his pitch selection. Takes it downtown. 6-5 Astros, just like that, and the Cards go quietly against Dan Wheeler in the ninth, Phil Garner not being a brave enough man to risk Lidge against his personal pack of nemeses.

So why the pain? A) I want more than anything to see Carpenter take home his second straight Cy award. His numbers are outstanding by any yardstick you use, and he's top of the heap in pretty much any category. After that loss, he's even still 15-7 with a 2.93 ERA. But as the NL Cy race is a two-horse contest between him and Brandon Webb of the D-backs, he needs absolutely everything he can get.

Secondly: Home-field advantage is incredibly important for the Cards in any playoff series, and they need to keep winning (and have the Dodgers and Padres lose) in order to secure it. Carpenter is a manbeast at home, registering a 1.46 ERA, but he's more human on the road, even mediocre, posting a 4.52 mark (that's undoubtedly gone up after tonight's debacle). Having him start the opening game of any series at New Busch is something that the Cards desperately need, especially as their rotation after Carp is pick-and-choose junk. Suppan has been very good, with a 2.27 ERA since the break, but after that, you descend into the wilderness of Reyes (wild, tendency to get pounded) Weaver (spotty and totally unpredictable) and Marquis (total worthlessness). They need to jump out to that early lead to hang on with whatever they throw out there.

And for purely selfish reasons, this loss feels like a kick in the gut. I'll admit it, I fucking love Chris Carpenter. I must have a thing for tall, gray-eyed, unbearably adorable Cardinals power pitchers, who possess ERAs of 2.93 and 2.92, respectively, and are the aces of a) the rotation and b) the bullpen.

If you guessed Carp and Adam Wainwright, you are, naturally, right on the mark. The two Cards shirts I own are #29 Carpenter and #50 Wainwright. Carpenter became a desperate favorite of mine this season, for whatever reason, even after his Cy campaign last year. Maybe it's his sensational smile and nice-guy demeanor, the fact that I love to watch him baffle hitters, or simply that I'm blindly biased in a pro-Cards direction, but I freakin' adore that man. He's a stud. Even tonight. Watching that happen - especially since the whole of Cardinals Nation was screaming for an IBB of Berkman and Tony completely missed the memo. It didn't have to happen. Luke Scott, the hitter right after Berkman, popped out on the second pitch he saw.

Complete game from Carp, giving up 2 runs to people not named Lance Berkman. He's the only hitter on the Astros, and he knows Carp well - as demonstrated. Absolutely no reason to pitch to him in that situation, and despite all La Russa's assurances that he's not trying to pad Carp's case for a repeat Cy, I have to wonder if there was a little of that going on tonight.

I know that Carp's the ace, but Berkman has his number. Ackn0wledge that fact. Since Adam was anointed the new closer after Isringhausen's departure, if you absolutely must pitch to Berkman, then put Adam in to do it.

This one hurt. This one really, really hurt. The Cards will clinch eventually, but it would be bittersweet if it came at the expense of home-field advantage and they went out quietly in the first round.

Crawling-off-and-crying time now.

1 comment:

circus girl said...

Hilary, my love.

Things are not as bad as you make them to be. Honestly.

You'll be okay, anyway. Think sandwichs and saturday at 5PM. ;) ;)

Think Adam, too. Oh yeah, and your stories today are going to be awesome.

So, yeah. You'll be good.