Monday, October 17
Note: David Schoenfield and Eric Neel were second guessing Tony La Russa's decision to leave a tiring Chris Carpenter in to face and pitch to Lance Berkman in the seventh inning ... but, well, you know what happened a few minutes later. Here is the live transmission of their discussion during the ninth inning ...
David: Notice how it is suddenly getting quiet ... (said immediately after ball two to Jim Edmonds).
David: These are fans who KNOW the pain of defeat ... (said after ball three to Edmonds).
Eric: Ohmygod ... Pujols ... (said as Pujols digs in).
David: He destroyed that ... holy ... 600 feet!!! (Said in moment of excited exaggeration, perhaps.)
Eric: Beat the crap out of it!!!
David: Brenly called it -- don't throw Albert a fastball.
Eric: Looked like a flat slider to me.
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David: Yeah, you're right ... wow ... man, I can't imagine being a Houston fan right now.
Eric: So we're headed for a big Bagwell pinch-hit moment here?
David: You have to send him up there, and you can't count on Izzy, that's for sure.
Eric: That was one sweet Pujolsian bit of majesty right there, friend.
Eric: Lidge curled up like a baby.
David: Don't forget ... Eckstein singles on 1-2 pitch.
Eric: Eck is a magic man, I swear.
Eric: Vizcaino? (Pinch-hitting for Eric Bruntlett.)
David: Yeah, why not Bagwell? Gotta give him a chance to poke one out over that short porch.
Eric: That homer reminds me of '86 in Anaheim; David Henderson and such.
David: Good call. And remember -- the Angels actually scored a run to tie it in the bottom of the ninth, before the Red Sox finally won it in 11. And then the next two as well. It's a gut-buster. Man, Astros fans have had more gut-busters than perhaps any franchise, even including the Red Sox.
David: I think this game officially raises this postseason so far from a C to a B- ... with room to grow to a higher grade.
Eric: And now they go back to Busch, where the crowd will be out of its head ... and you hate to trot out cliches like "momentum" and such, but there is a psychic toll that comes with a game like this. The Astros players will say they don't feel it, that they will turn the page, and I believe they will, but man, this is the moment in this series when the Astros history comes into play, when it starts to feel like the club is battling not only the Cardinals but also the franchise's demons. I know that's silly. I know there's nothing to it. I also know the Angels in '86 went to Boston and gacked up their tickets to the Series. Of course, all that said, the Astros do have one thing neither the Angels nor the Cardinals can claim, and that's Roy Oswalt on the hill to start Game 6.
David: I don't even know what to say right now. My fingers are still shaking, struggling to type or think clearly, and I'm not even an Astros fan. And while you may be throwing Roy Oswalt out there at me -- and you didn't even mention that he mowed the Cardinals down on five hits and just one run (on a homer by guess who) back in Game 2, or that he's the only pitcher in baseball to win 20 games each of the past two seasons, or that he's got that Mississippi mud running through his veins and probably won't be rattled one tiny bit, even with every baseball fan from Arkansas to North Dakota saying a few prayers over their Stan Musial and Ozzie Smith baseball cards -- well, let me tell you that Astros fans know the truth. They know they've been here in 1980 and 1986 and nearly every year in the late '90s, and they know they were up 3 games to 2 heading back to St. Louis last year and that the Cards won that one 6-4 in 12 innings, but the 'Stros still had Roger Clemens ready for Game 7, and they know that if Oswalt somehow loses Game 6 -- and don't forget that Mr. Mulder isn't exactly easy pickin's out there -- that they have Clemens ready once again to go in Game 7.
So let me just say that Astros fans are damn scared right now, and there's no other pleasant way to state it. That there was a reason that Minute Maid started going quiet after those two balls to Edmonds. That Astros fans know they only lost one game all year in which they led going into the ninth. Before Mr. Pujols, that is. And they know, in fact, that maybe, just maybe, Cardinals fans are a little better off right now.
Eric: Here's an interesting thing that happened with Lidge and Pujols. Lidge stuck with the slider. He's got a tremendous fastball, but he didn't go with it. Pujols' postgame interview was like, "Yeah, it was a slider; that's his pitch." He was waiting on it. All he needed was for one to flatten out and hang just a bit.
I talked to Robb Nen earlier this year about relieving and he kept coming back to one main idea: go out with your best pitch, do not get beat on your second or third pitch, etc. I understand that from a psychological standpoint; there's a kind of absolution in being unselfconscious, in knowing ahead of time that what your pitch is, in not having to make a decision in the moment of truth. But from a strategic standpoint, it strikes me as old-fashioned to a fault. You have to be willing to think along with, and out in front of, a hitter as smart and talented as Pujols if you want to win that moment. You have to be willing to deviate from "your best pitch," if that pitch is precisely what the hitter expects. There is no shame in getting hit with your second-best pitch, especially if that pitch is a 96-mph heater. At least there's no more shame in that than in getting beaten, like a drum, like a monkey head in a carnival game, with the "best pitch" everyone in the ballpark knew was coming.
David: You know, even Brenly in the booth called the pitch, but he kind of missed the analysis in a way. He said, "You can't throw Pujols a fastball here." He probably said that because the first pitch was a slider at the ankles -- an hittable pitch -- that Pujols swung and missed badly. So by saying, "Don't throw Pujols a fastball" it was obvious -- especially to Pujols, as you say -- that another slider was coming. Now, of course if Lidge throws that same nasty slider as he did on the first pitch, it's not a home run -- but Pujols doesn't swing at it either; he takes it for a ball. I don't have a point, other than you can hang a slider and you can't hang a fastball. And if you get beat on a 97-mph heater, well, you tip your hat and still curl up like a baby.
Eric: Exactly. And I think there's something in this moment that isn't just about the Astros being snakebitten, or Pujols being unbelievably good. I think there's something about slavish devotion to a familiar idea. Pujols beat Lidge here, but Lidge helped him a bit, and not just with where the ball went but with where his head was. It will be interesting to watch Lidge in the next one or two games now. Garner will back him and come back to him, and he should, and so the question will be: Does Brad toy with what he does at all? Does he mix things up? It's a hard thing to do, no doubt. But if you're Brad, the question you have to ask yourself is: Is it harder than watching Pujols launch your ball up into the night?
Previous Second Guesses
• Oct. 16: What was Pujols thinking?