The moment Jayson Werth pulled an Adam Wainwright offering to left field for a double, it seemed like the Cardinals might be in for a long, long night. When Wainwright has it all going good, he does not give up a lot of extra base hits. When he doesn’t, you get Bryce Harper following Werth with a triple off the wall in center, and then you get a Ryan Zimmerman home run. Boom. The Nationals were already up 3-0, and Wainwright showed no signs of settling in for the night.
Once Waino gave up a few more fly balls and a single in the bottom of the 2nd, it was painfully obvious that he wasn’t going to find a groove. The only thing he could command with any consistency was his curveball, and big league hitters pick up on details like that quickly. By the time Joe Kelly came into the game to relieve Wainwright in the 3rd inning, a few Cardinal fans were seeking out a ledge.
If any of those fans found a ledge, they probably backed away from it about the time Carlos Beltran walked to start the visitor’s half of the 4th inning. In stepped a struggling Matt Holliday with what seemed like an 0-2 count to start the plate appearance. The moment Holliday’s bat viciously collided with the ball the tenor changed. Maybe momentum does not really exist, but hope sure does. Breaking through with a run to cut the deficit to 6-1 kept hope alive for just a bit longer than maybe Cardinal Nation had a right to expect. After all, the baseball gods were awfully generous last year, and a team cannot simply make a comeback whenever it needs to.
Or maybe a team can.
Cutting the lead in half during the 5th inning was significant. Perhaps of equal importance was the way Trevor Rosenthal came into the game and pitched the shutdown inning of his life. Closer quality stuff from a guy who was in Double A only a few months ago? Seriously?
He put down Harper, Zimmerman, and LaRoche in order with some serious heat. Hitting 100 mph isn’t a huge deal anymore. Several pitchers can do that. Do it with almost pinpoint control in a winner-take-all playoff game as a rookie? That’s uncommon. Doing it when your team needs it the most? That’s special. It’s also a psychological punch to the gut. If a big league player expects a fastball, gets said fastball, and can’t do anything useful with that fastball, it has to be slightly demoralizing.
If you ask me, I think Rosenthal’s pitching helped set up the Cardinals for the 6th inning. That inning didn’t produce anything highlight worthy, but it did make a subtle difference in the game. David Freese started off with a single and was followed by a Descalso liner caught by Harper. Kozma’s fielder’s choice was just enough to bring up the pitcher’s spot next. Even thought Skip Schumaker grounded out, the Cardinals managed to flip the lineup over for the next turn at the plate.
Instead of using a pinch hitter for Rosenthal to start the 7th against Edwin Jackson, Jay was up and started off with a base on balls. Beltran’s double put runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs. Jay scored on a grounder by Holliday, and the lead was down to 2 runs. The flow of the game was starting to turn in favor of the Cardinals, even if most of us didn’t realize it. With Descalso, Kozma, and likely a pinch hitter coming up, Davey Johnson’s logical choice was Tyler Clippard. Unfortunately for Clippard, he may or may not always have a fastball that he can get past Daniel Descalso. If he had, then maybe Descalso would not have looked so comfortable at the plate against him. Descalso’s home run set the stage for the typically crazy finish that fans have come to expect.
If you were tracking win expectancy, the moment Kurt Suzuki drove in LaRoche to put the Nationals up by 2 with an inning to go, then you probably had the Nationals at around 90% or better. I know I had estimated WE at about “well, crap”.
Then Drew Storen came in to do the toughest job in sports these days – get the 27th out against the Cardinals. No doubt Storen was hindered a little by the fact that his arm was probably held to his shoulder by duct tape at this point. He had definitely been very busy the last few games, and trying to close out a series has appeared to sap the strength of more than a few pitchers’ legs.
The rest is history. The Cardinals overcame the largest deficit EVER in a winner-take-all game. The team has gone 6-0 in its last “win or go home” games. It isn’t always pretty. It’s isn’t always the way you would like it to be. It for darn sure isn’t relaxing, but there is nothing quite like hearing “down to their last strike” and still believing that the team you have watched all year with flip the win expectancy graph on its ear.
I’m a Cardinal fan, and I wouldn’t change that for the world.
In the immortal words of Jack Buck – “I don’t believe what I just saw!”
TIDBIT: I’ve seen enough of Bryce Harper this year to believe that he is an immensely talented baseball player. He’s only 19. 19 year-old people do dumb things. I know I sure did, but none of them were in front of millions of people. Grabbing your crotch after striking out makes you look like a moron. No excuse for that unless you wear a diaper and need to go “number 1″.