Game of the Week!

Warning: Those of you tired of reading about the Cardinals might want to skip this post. It’s long. I can’t imagine anyone could be tired of reading about the team with baseball’s best record, but then again, I can’t imagine anyone not finding Dick Cheney repulsive, and he’s married. And Vice President.

Last night’s Cards-Giants game was everything a nationally televised game should be: Two good pitchers with differing styles (Jason Schmidt and Woody Williams), two of the game’s best sluggers (Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols), and two of the game’s best teams in one of baseball’s prettiest ballparks. And it lived up to it, with the Cardinals winning 6-1, their margin of victory fattened in the late innings on a Giants bullpen that’s been as reliable lately as the Bridge of San Luis Rey. Most of the game was spent with the score 2-1 Cardinals, making every pitch–especially those to a certain lefty–fraught with peril.

The great moments in the game were primarily one-on-one moments, batter versus pitcher. There were no particularly great defensive plays or baserunning heroics; the fun was in watching the power of Jason Schmidt and the guile of Woody Williams matched up against the batting eyes and hitting smarts of the likes of Bonds and Pujols.

Some highlights from that:

1) In the first inning, with Edgar Renteria on base, Pujols faced Schmidt. What followed was as pure a power vs. power battle as you’ll ever see. Schmidt brought the 95-mph heat just above the belt, Pujols swung as hard as humanly possible, and he swung right through it. Stacey and I actually gasped. The next pitch was a little higher, around the shoulders, and Pujols couldn’t lay off. But you can’t hit that pitch, even if you’re Albert Pujols*. Then, in a textbook demonstration of how to pitch, Schmidt struck Pujols out on an off-speed pitch that started thigh-high, then dropped to the dirt. It was Pujols’s 29th strikeout of the year, to keep pace with his 29 home runs.
The next pitch Schmidt threw, to Rolen, was deposited far beyond the wall in dead center. That’s the second time in a couple of weeks that Rolen has followed a Pujols strikeout with a long first-pitch homer. Maybe catchers need to make going to the mound a regular step following a Pujols strikeout., if only to remind the pitcher not to throw a first-pitch fastball.

2) For a couple of years, statheads online have been arguing whether teams might be walking Barry Bonds too often, in a way that’s counterproductive. After all, the argument goes, if you walk him every time, he makes no outs. If you pitch to him, he makes four or five outs out of ten atbats. Maybe it’s worth the home runs that he hits to get those outs. The Cardinals seem to be the only people testing this theory. This post at Redbird Nation covers the last two years of the strategy. His take: Cards come out ahead, but just barely.
I don’t mind the intentional walk, but last night’s four Bonds at-bats did remind me of what automatically walking Barry takes away from the game. Four times Bonds batted, and four times, the Cardinals came right at him:
a) In the first, Bonds–knowing the Cardinals were going to challenge him, just barely got under the first pitch, an outside fastball, and drove it to the warning track, and John Mabry’s glove.
b) In his second at-bat, Bonds swung at the first pitch again, a fastball that made his eyes light up–then cut in a bit at the last second to jam him, a beatiful pitch that became an infield popup.
c) In his third trip, Bonds fouled off two, took two, then fouled off four straight, a variety of pitches, from a couple of inside fastballs to an outside slider to a hanging curveball that he just missed crushing. Finally, on the eleventh pitch of the at-bat, he flied out to the weird angle 420 feet away in right where home runs go to die.
d) In his last at-bat, the only time in the night when Bonds didn’t represent the tying or go-ahead run, round, effective lefty (and Chicago native) Ray King faced him. Bonds took a strike on a tough slider, fouled one off, took a ball low, then drove a pitch into McCovey Cove that, like a slalom skier missing a gate, went for naught because it was on the wrong side of the foul pole. Then King jammed him inside and got a grounder to Pujols.
They were four of the most fun at-bats I’ve seen all year. Bonds didn’t swing and miss even once, and he took very few pitches, for him. It really was baseball at its best, and the Cardinals came out on top–this time.

3) And speaking of good at-bats: I love good-hitting pitchers. Woody Williams, hitting better than .260 on the year, last night had a single in the second inning, but that wasn’t his best at-bat of the night. In the 7th, he worked Schmidt for ten pitches, including four fouls with two strikes, before finally being blown away by a fastball. Those ten pitches, pushing Schmidt to 118 for the night, were instrumental in getting Schmidt out of the game before the 8th inning and bringing on the Giants bullpen.

All in all, a great game. And we’re less than three weeks away from our trip now!

*I’m often surprised that hitters swing at the high fastball. It must just look too good to resist, even though you know it’s not good for you, like a deep-fried Twinkie. In little league, I was so short that my coach, Eugene Lindsey, instructed me to take pitches until I got a strike. I dutifully did so, and occasionally I would draw a walk. Most of the time, though, the first strike would be called and I, freed from all shackles, would blindly hack at whatever came my way. So I don’t have a lot of experience trying to lay off shoulder-high fastballs. Maybe some of the more accomplished ballplayers in the audience can weigh in on the seductiveness of the high heat.

Original comments…

Timmy: You’re blog is great…it’s good to see dedicated baseball fans, willing to travel the country…I recently flew out to Chicago to visit Wrigley (Pujols had 3 HRs) and Boston to visit Fenway (3rd visit to Wrigley, 1st to Fenway), and it’s an experience I’ll never forget…good luck on your trip (too bad you can’t see a Ranger’s game…the Ballpark is one of the nicer ones)

Jim: Thanks, Timmy! If we do another trip in 2005 (or beyond), I definitely want to try to get to the parks in Texas. The Ballpark does look nice in the pictures I’ve seen of it, and since I’m a railfan, I know I’ll enjoy the orange-powered steam locomotive in Houston.

Jason: I’ve learned you can deep-fry a Twinkie, but you can’t deep-fry a Hostess cupcake.

Levi: Thanks for the kind words, Timmy.

One thing I forgot to mention: last night was only the fourth time this season that Bonds hasn’t reached base in a game he played.

stacey: levi pointed out the row of rubber chickens that fans have strung up at the giants’ ballpark to represent the number of times barry has been walked (intentionally, i think) this season. wow, that is a lot of chickens.

stacey: here we go:

Jason: You can deep-fry a chicken. But I dunno about deep-frying a rubber chicken.