Archive for October, 2011

From the Bleachers of Game 6 – A Personal Recollection of a Fan

Native St. Louisan, and Major League Baseball Hall of Famer, Yogi Berra said it best of Game 6, “Boy that was exciting.  I always say it ain’t over ‘til it’s over, but that one should’ve been over a while ago.”

To be honest, Yogi, the Cardinals season should’ve be over a while ago.  But, as Joe Buck said on the Game 6 telecast, the Cardinals “just won’t go away.”

When Game 6 of the 107th World Series was postponed, it sent several fans’ schedules into a tizzy.  Some people who could make it Wednesday, couldn’t on Thursday.  By someone else’s misfortune, this author was able to go.  I didn’t have to sit in the pressbox with all our venerable authors in St. Louis; I got to sit with the true fabric of the city – its far more venerable baseball fans in the bleachers.

Between the shirtless morons and the MC Hammer-type red pinstripe suits, there were the fans who’ve agonized with the team over last couple months as they’ve all but stopped our hearts.  While all those mentioned added to the fun, it was the fans who’ve never been to a World Series game in person that deserved the kind of game they saw.  It was the kind of game that requires the line score to truly make sense of what really happened.

In the bleachers there were no “Glee” actors leaving after the fourth inning.  In the bleachers there were no former heads of state.  In the bleachers there were diehards hell-bent on every pitch.  There were folks who just couldn’t sit down; personally, that worked better for me, as my legs would not stop shaking.  Because of my obvious nerves, my friend told me to remind him never to be in a foxhole with him.

I sat in section 527, a stone’s throw away from the “grassy knoll” in centerfield.  Behind me and to my right was a female with a great sign – “He told me I could have an engagement ring, or World Series Tickets.  I’m here!”

In the end, I’m pretty sure she made the right decision.  In fact, we’re all glad we were there – whether we were at the game, at a local establishment, or just at home with our families.  It was a game not easily forgotten.  If someone turned the play-by-play into a Hollywood script, the studio heads and critics would say it’s too unbelievable.  They’d say, “Rewrite it without the hometown boy going from the goat with two errors to hero with two comeback hits; that’s just silly, and would never happen.”

I’m not going to give you stats in this column; I’m only going to give you emotions.  To me, that’s what this game was about.  I sat with two of my best friends – neither of whom had ever experienced the World Series in person.  They couldn’t be more different.  One is the loudest jerk I ever heard at a sporting event – born in another city, St. Louis is now his home, and the Cardinals have been his team for years.  The other is the diehard baseball purist who lives and dies with every pitch and swing by his beloved Cardinals – born and raised in St. Louis, he’s known nothing other than cheering for the birds on the bat.

The loud jerk, as I’ll refer to him, was suddenly best friends with the fan next to him; it’s funny how a dramatic baseball game can bring complete strangers together like it did Thursday.  The diehard, as I’ll refer to him, was in his own baseball world – seemingly bothered when his friends interrupted his concentration.

The entire section went nuts when Lance Berkman’s homerun landed just a few feet away from my seat.  But no matter if you were the loud jerk or the diehard, the errors the Cardinals made as the Rangers took a lead buried our heads in our hands.  The Cardinals, though, just would not go away.

Fans in the section nearly turned on the loud jerk at one point.  David Freese had a pop fly hovering over him.  The loud jerk screamed, “Don’t drop it!”  As if Freese heard him from the bleachers, he did the opposite.  Fans turned to him in sheer anger, as if the loud jerk had dropped the ball himself.  Things looked bleak.  The diehard said, “We’re embarrassing the franchise in an elimination game.”  He later added, after Matt Holliday was picked off of third base with only one out, that the performance was “an abomination.”  He wasn’t alone.  Homers from Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz, followed by an RBI single by the impressive Ian Kinsler, turned the crowd to desperation.  The Cardinals, though, just would not go away.

This was erroneously reported before the Cards comeback

In the bottom of the seventh, hope was granted to the fans by Allen Craig.  “Torty”, nicknamed after his pet tortoise, hit a bomb to left field to bring the Cardinals back within two runs.

The Cardinals were down by two runs with three outs left to their season.  The flame-throwing Texas closer, Neftali Feliz, came in to give the Rangers their first-ever Championship.  The Ranger fans in our section had been vocal throughout the game.  They seemed to be quieter in the ninth.  It was as if they knew it wouldn’t be easy to end the season of the team whose season would never end.

Everyone was on their feet in Section 527.  If you weren’t standing, you weren’t alive.  The Cardinals needed to stay alive.  Feliz had two strikeouts in the inning, but had allowed a double to Albert Pujols and a walk to Lance Berkman.  Then the Hollywood script too unbelievable to even be a movie began to write itself.  David Freese had two strikes.  The Rangers were one strike away from a World Series title.  But the Cardinals just would not go away.  Freese blasted a triple off the wall over Nelson Cruz’s head, scoring Pujols and Berkman to tie the game.  The word “pandemonium” comes to mind when thinking back to our section.  The diehard traded his intense countenance for an ecstatic one.  The loud jerk was getting high fives and hugs from the fans who had given the look of death after the Freese error.  Me?  My legs were shaking even though I was standing – I didn’t know that was physically possible.

Then the tenth inning came around.  The Rangers made a statement about how great their ballclub really is.  They scored two more runs to make it 9-7 off a homer by the guy whose power was supposedly absent – Josh Hamilton.  Hope, once again, seemed to dissipate.  Fans looked to each other to commiserate their pain.  The Cardinals were three outs from having the season end.  The Cardinals, though, just won’t go away.

John Jay had been 0-for-16 in the World Series, but got his first hit of the Series in the eight.  In the tenth, those 16 at-bats without a hit were forgotten.  As far as Cardinals fans were concerned, Jay was 2-for-2 after he followed Daniel Descalso’s single with one of his own.  Kyle Lohse – a pitcher – bunted them over.  Ryan Theriot then drove Descalso in, and brought the Cardinals within one.  Hope…

The “Gray Bush”, “Big Puma”, “Extra-Medium Puma”, whatever you want to call him, Lance Berkman did it again.  He drove Jay in with a single to center, erupting 527 and the rest of the stadium with a single swing of the bat.  When he returned to the outfield, he was compelled to tip his cap to the fans that never stopped believing in their beloved ‘birds.

I don’t remember sitting down, at all, in the final innings.  I don’t remember the count.  I don’t remember how many outs there were.  What I do remember was David Freese at the plate.  “There’s no way he can do it again,” I thought.  Freese drove the ball to centerfield.  I became Mike Shannon, yelling, “Get up, baby; get up!”  For me, the ball seemed to stay up for an eternity.  And then it landed.  Just a few yards away from me, the ball landed in the “grassy knoll”.  Pandemonium?  No, that’s not good enough.  There’s no way to describe it in words.

I guess the only way to describe it is as Joe Buck did, “The Cardinals just won’t go away.”

And now it’s Game 7.  Two great clubs and two incredible sets of fans – Cardinals and Rangers fans – will be there.  No matter what happens, no one is a loser.  The two cities should be proud of their teams, and the way that diehards, loud jerks, and fans of all kinds for these teams (along with a sports writer with the night off) came together to make a mere sporting event a night to truly remember.

Oh, and Yogi?  We’re all glad it’s not over.

Rangers fans deserve better...

Jackson vs. Marcum Round 2

Edwin Jackson hopes to take the Cardinals to the World Series tonight

Link to the original article on Missouri Sports Magazine:  http://missourisportsmag.com/?p=38385

ST. LOUIS, MO. (Joe Richter, Missouri Sports Magazine) – In Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, the St. Louis Cardinals took a 3-2 series lead on the Milwaukee Brewers – their 16th straight getaway game win.  The Cardinals beat the Brewers 7-1 in front of a crowd of 46,904 in St. Louis.

Now each team’s fate lies in the hands of two pitchers who wouldn’t be considered their “ace”.  The two pitchers faced each other in Game 2 of the NLCS, with the Cardinals winning 12-3.  Sunday is Round 2.

On Sunday, Cardinal RHP Edwin Jackson will get his third start of the postseason (1-0, 3.48 ERA).  Jackson was acquired by the Cardinals in July as part of a three-team trade with the Chicago White Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays.  Since becoming a Cardinal, Jackson solidified the rotation and allowed native St. Louisan Kyle McClellan (Hazelwood West High) to shore up the (at the time) ailing bullpen.  As a Cardinal, Jackson went 5-2, with a 3.58 ERA – and showed resiliency by getting out of jams.  In the playoffs, Jackson is 1-0 with a 3.48 ERA.  11 out of 14 times in taking the mound for the Cardinals, Jackson has allowed fewer than three runs.  In Game 2 in Milwaukee, Jackson went 4.1 innings, allowing 7 hits, 1 walk, and 2 earned runs.  Much like Garcia did early in Game 5, Jackson will need to keep the ball down in the strike zone.  He relies on his mid-90s four-seam fastball and hard slider.

Game 6 starter, Shaun Marcum, is 0-2 and has a 12.46 ERA in his two starts in the postseason.  For a team that has been applauded for their work at home this season (61-27 regular season and postseason combined), Shaun Marcum is the oddball – he actually pitched better on the road (8-3, 2.21 ERA).  Marcum was 5-4, with a 4.81 ERA at home in the regular season.  Marcum has given up 30 runs in his last 32 innings, and 12 runs in his last 8.2 innings.  The Brewers lost 12-3 in Marcum’s last start, Game 2 of the NLCS.  But he won 13 games in the regular season, and shouldn’t be underestimated.  Brewer manager Ron Roenicke said, “We expect a real good game from Shaun.”  Roenicke elaborated, saying, “The first two months of the season, he was probably our best pitcher.”  In April, Marcum was 3-1, with a 2.21 ERA.  Much like Randy Wolf did in Game 4, Marcum will need to get ahead in the count, change his speeds, and have command of his pitches.

In Game 5, Cardinal hitters had a good night at the plate (the first seven lineup spots all had hits), but the four errors by the Brewers might have made the difference.  The Cardinals bullpen was the real star of the game, shutting down the Brewers sluggers in 4.1 innings of work – allowing only two hits and one walk (all by RHP Lance Lynn).  The Cardinals went 4-for-15 with runners in scoring position; Milwaukee was 1-for-8.

“It’s a group effort,” Matt Holliday said of how his team just won’t let their season end.  “It’s never one guy.  We’ve just been finding ways to win, and hopefully we can find a way to win five more.”

In the NLCS, Cardinal starters have a 6.04 ERA in 22.1 innings pitched, while the bullpen pitchers have a 1.69 in 21.1 innings.  The Cardinals have a 3.99 ERA in the postseason, and have hit .279.  The Brewers have given up 5.38 ERA in the postseason, and have hit .258.

The Cardinals want to have another “happy flight” home.  The Brewers just don’t want to go home for offseason.

Game 6 is Sunday, 7:05 CDT, at Miller Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Former Cardinal Colby Rasmus (traded for Jackson) is wondering, "Dang, if only..."

Arnott’s Fountain of Youth

Jason Arnott celebrates a Blues goal he assisted on Oct. 10th (Mark Buckner/Getty Images)

Link to the original Missouri Sports Magazine article. http://missourisportsmag.com/?p=37943

ST. LOUIS, MO. (Missouri Sports Magazine) – Blues GM Doug Armstrong knew that if the team truly planned to make the playoffs this year, he had better add some players to the roster that have actually played in the playoffs.  So he added 343 career playoff games to the roster by adding Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner, Scott Nichol, Brian Elliot, and Kent Huskins.  Before the offseason, the entire Blues roster had only 131 career playoff games.

With experience, though, usually comes age.  The first player mentioned there, Arnott, turns 37 on Tuesday, October 11, 2011.  But he doesn’t look like he’s lost a step.  In the first two Blues games, Arnott has scored a goal in each, and added an assist in Monday’s afternoon matinee against the Calgary Flames.  His faceoff winning percentage has been off the charts, as well, at nearly 66 percent.  After having a down year offensively last season, Arnott is telling everyone he still has a lot of hockey left in him.

His new linemates, puck-master Alex Steen and gritty winger Matt D’Agostini are only making it easier for him to prove himself.  “They’re easy guys to play with,” Arnott said, underscoring how well Steen and D’Agostini have connected with him.  Steen set up Arnott’s first of the year on Saturday, and Arnott returned the favor on Monday on Steen’s first.

With all that experience (and now 37 years) under his belt, Arnott knows this team has a long way to go – including eight of their next nine games on the road.  And he’s glad he can here to help lead the Blues back to the promised land of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Blues next play on Thursday, October 13 at 7:30 CDT against the Dallas Stars in Dallas, Texas, at the American Airlines Center.

BLUES NOTES

  • Blues defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo was put on the Injured Reserve List, injured on an inadvertent trip by Nashville Predator rookie defenseman Blake Geoffrion in the second period of Saturday’s home opener.  It is classified as an “upper body injury”.
  • The Blues have claimed Edmonton Oiler defenseman Taylor Chorney, 24, off waivers.  Chorney, the 6-1, 189-pound defenseman has played in 56 career National Hockey League games (1g, 7pts).  He scored four points in twelve games last season.  Chorney was originally drafted 36th overall (second round) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.
  • Defenseman Kent Huskins made his Blues debut Monday afternoon, finishing a +3 in the game (18:48 ice time).
  • Monday was the first time the Blues have scored 5 goals against Calgary since 2003.

Matchup for the Ages (from Missouri Sports Magazine)

Teammates tell Chris Carpenter "Thanks!"

ST. LOUIS, Mo. (Joe Richter, Missouri Sports Magazine) – http://missourisportsmag.com/?p=37488

It was a matchup for the ages – the team favored to get to the World Series and the team that didn’t belong there.  And it was a pitching matchup for the ages.

The pitchers were old friends, and two of the best pitchers in the last decade.  Chris Carpenter took the mound for the St. Louis Cardinals against Roy “Doc” Halladay for the Philadelphia Phillies.  The similarities were many – same height and weight, same draft round (by the same team), both have won Cy Young Awards…and both have pitched a masterpiece in an elimination game.

It didn’t matter if you’re in Philadelphia or at home in St. Louis, the tension was contagious.  That’s what a great pitching matchup between two great teams will do.  With the winner heading to the National League Championship Series, every pitch was hanging in the balance.  And when it came down to it, one run was all it took.  One great pitcher was just a little greater than the other.

Rafael Furcal led off the game with a triple – the only player in Major League Baseball history to do so in two playoff games (and did it in one series).  After working the count, Skip Schumaker drove him in on a long line drive to right field.  It was all the Cardinals needed.

Several great defensive plays helped Carpenter complete his masterpiece, including a Nick Punto play in the eighth that ended an inning where the Phillies were threatening.  Punto also applied a perfect slap tag on a stolen base attempt in the sixth inning by Chase Utley (who made a great play, himself, to catch Schumaker advancing on an Albert Pujols grounder).  Furcal made several plays that made Carpenter seemingly indomitable – including the play in the bottom of the eighth where he dove through the middle to rob Carlos Ruiz of what could have been a game-changing hit.

Schumaker said it best about the matchup, “I think (Halladay) hung one pitch, and that was it; and I was lucky enough to get the RBI.”  While respecting Halladay and the Phillies, Schumaker marveled at Carpenter’s performance.  He said, “You had a feeling that Carp was going to be on his game.  You want your best guy against their best guy, and see what happens.”

There was a mutual respect between the teams and their starters.  The scene in the locker room had an infectious happiness – the Cardinals were supposed to be out of the race in August.  Pujols said amidst the Niagara Falls of beer and champagne (under which the Cardinals no goggles), “Philadelphia has a great ballclub… we just played a little bit better game than they did.”

St. Louis native Ryan Howard made the final out of the game, a complete game by Chris Carpenter (9 innings, 3 hits, 0 walks).  Both teams were worried for him as he hurt himself leaving the batter’s box on the play.  The injury was reported as a severe ankle sprain.

The Cardinals will play the Milwaukee Brewers in Game 1 of the NLCS.  Game time Sunday is 3:05 CDT on TBS.

 

Jack is Back! Rams – Redskins Preview

It's time for the Rams to start smiling again

The Rams are 0-3.  They’ve been outscored 96 – 36.  They’ve given up 12 sacks in three weeks.  They’re leading the league in penalties.  The vultures are circling.

Everyone’s favorite racially insensitive team-name, the Washington Redskins, will send their war-party to the Dome on Sunday.  But will the Rams get scalped?  This author thinks not.

OK, I’m done with the puns (maybe)…

The Redskins are a tough team.  They have won some close games through heart alone.  Big plays at the right time – such as Redskins Defensive End Ryan Kerrigan’s interception early in the first half against the New York Fakers…I mean…Giants in Week 1 – have given the momentum in games, which they never gave back.  This will be a key on Sunday.  The Rams have to play smarter.  And, due to the law of averages, they will.

Forget about the game against the Ratbirds (Baltimore Ravens).  The Rams were overmatched and underprepared. They didn’t have the proper speed in their backfield to cover Torrey Smith, and they didn’t think the Ratbirds could fly so well – with Joe Flacco taking it to the air nearly 50 times for 389 yards.

Early in the first two games, however, the Rams were competing well against good teams – maybe even outplaying them.  Then disaster happened.  Against Philadelphia, the Eagles didn’t exactly have control of the game.  The Rams and Eagles were tied at seven when Sam Bradford was tripped up by his own center, fumbling the ball and giving the Eagles the lead and momentum that they retained for the rest of the game.  Against the Giants, the failed lateral pass to Cadillac Williams that led to the touchdown for the G-Men was all it took to bring the Rams down.  This cannot happen.

Cadillac Williams want to make amends

What else can’t happen?  Bad penalties.  But teams cannot play fearful of getting penalized, as Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo said.  “I don’t harp on the negative things,” Spags said on Friday. “You know that. But there are two sheets that I put up on the overhead in training camp. One of them is the effect of turnovers in winning or losing. And the other one is the effect of penalties on an offensive drive or a defensive series and the percentages are so glaring. Funny you should mention that because I put those two sheets up this morning. But when I put it up I always say to them it’s just a piece of paper. It’s a bunch of stats, that doesn’t change anything. So I always follow it up with how do you avoid them? What do you do? You move your feet. Corners keep your hands low, so you don’t get hands to the face. So we talk more about that. Other than that it’s go out and play. The thing you don’t want a team to do is to play scared. We go out there and worry about just getting penalties I don’t think we’re going to hit anybody, so there is a fine line.”

But most of all the Rams need to get their swagger back.  That desperately needed swagger will return Sunday, and he’ll be wearing #39.  Nothing makes a team facing a great pass rush better than having an All-Pro Running Back in your lineup.  And, ladies and gentlemen, Jack is back!  Rams RB Steven Jackson is not questionable; he’s not probable.  He’s going to play.  On Thursday, he said, “I’m definitely hoping that last week to this week will change drastically in my playing time. Ultimately we’ve got to do what’s best for the team and whatever the game situation presents, and, for whatever it is, I’m definitely preparing myself to be out there.”

Jack is back, baby!

And this changes everything about the game – the Rams and Redskins will have to adjust their gameplans.  Former Ram and current Redskin Middle Linebacker London Fletcher knows Jackson’s return allows the Rams to make their offense more versatile, and thus harder to play against.  Fletch said, “(The Rams) come at you with a bunch of different formations, personnel and things like that. Excellent play-action pass. Steven Jackson is obviously one of the elite backs in the game. He’s been slowed down since the first week because of the injury he had, but he’s a dominant back. They’ve got some good personnel and good offensive linemen. We’ll have our work cut out for us.”

But it won’t be an easy day for Jackson and the Rams offense.  First off, the Rams won’t be giving him 20-30 plays, like his usual workload.  In addition, the Redskins are certainly a challenge – proven last week by keeping the Dallas Cowboys from scoring a touchdown (the Cowboys were able to put up six field goals for the win, however).  Jackson said, “(The Redskins) have some great linebackers. I believe that’s the strength of their defense, is the linebacker corp. London Fletcher, year in and year out he shows why he is a Pro Bowler and why he is the leading tackler in the last decade. I have a lot of respect for his game and what he brings. They have playmakers on the outside with their cornerbacks and (Safety LaRon) Landry, he’s a thumper. He likes to be in the box. So all three levels, they present challenges that we have to be up for. They’re going to be really aggressive. Just got to make sure than we hone in and trust our responsibilities of the offense and everything play itself out.”

It’s time for the Rams to step up and prove they are truly the best team in the NFC West (not that that is saying much), as others believed prior to the season.  I don’t want to pull a Dan Shaughnessy here, but this is the week the Rams lose the collar.  They don’t have to be the first 5-11 team in NFL playoff history; they can be the first 6-10 or second 7-9 team.  I’m not joking.  They could still be better.  Don’t trust what happens in September.  It’s a long season.

Roger Saffold and the O-Line needs to step up

The Redskins have a good pass rush; but so do the Rams.  And Redskins Quarterback Rex Grossman has the mobility of Marc Bulger with a broken leg.  The Rams will bring the pressure.  Also, as Rams fans know of Jim Haslett, his defenses love to send the house – all or nothing.  The offensive line of the Rams must step up this week to prove why they make Bank of America exec money, or we’ll have to start charging them for their accounts.  Rams Quarterback Sam Bradford must find a way to check off blitzes – whether it is a quick pass to Jackson, or hot routes to receivers or Tight Ends Lance Kendricks or Michael Hoomanawanui.  The Rams must find a way to win.  And with the Redskins reeling off a loss to the Cowboys, and the heat taken off the Rams by the enthralling playoff run by the St. Louis Cardinals, this is their week.  Rams 23 – Redskins 20.

The vultures are circling, but it’s time the Rams fought them off.

Thanks for taking the time to read this; I hope you enjoyed it.

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