Thank god for 13th-round draft picks, or, Barbara, don’t pack up your bag just yet!

Well, well, well.

1) That was a nice reminder that what we’re all seeing every time Pujols plays is a Hall-of-Fame career in the making. Cardinals fans are extremely lucky to have him, and we ought to appreciate it with every at-bat.

2) Even were the Cardinals to go on and get trounced tomorrow night, Pujols (and, to give credit properly, Eckstein and Edmonds, who had tough at-bats before him) at least took what had been a frustrating, disappointing series and gave us something we’ll remember for a long time.

3) My brother’s two concerns post-game? He was hoping the construction guys hadn’t started the wrecking ball back in the 7th for Busch Stadium. (Fox had, as their highlight reel of Busch over the years demonstrated.) Second, he wanted to know if Fox had reconsidered their choice of Lance Berkman as Chevrolet Player of the Game–chosen, as usual, in like the second inning.

4) In the 9th, with one out, Barbara Bush–visible all game as a little Boglin head perched just above the railing behind home–started packing up her bag. “Why,” she probably thought, “would I want to sully my beautiful mind with thoughts of Brad Lidge blowing this game?”

Better luck next year

Well, Levi, I’m sorry the Cardinals didn’t make it to the Series this year — but White Sox vs. Astros, now there’s a couple teams you don’t see in the Series very often!

The game’s not actually over yet, but I’ve got the TiVo paused with two outs in the top of the 9th, the Astros ahead 4-2, and Fox running all the Astros history footage they can get their hands on. So it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion; I mean, the only hope the Cardinals have would be something along the lines of Brad Lidge giving up a 3-run homer to Albert Pujols, and how likely is that?

10 innings

Acting as if I’m a real columnist having a lazy day, I present a “News and Notes” column!

1) Headline in the Sun-Times following the Palmeiro news: Caught ‘roid-handed. Another good headline this week, despite not being baseball-related, was the Trib’s headline announcing the appointment of a federal monitor to watch the city’s hiring practices: City gets a Hall monitor. I imagine the headline writers are all staying up late these days practicing their headlines in the hopes of Daley being indicted. Me, I’m just practicing my gleeful chortle. Maybe I’ll get to warm it up chortling over Rove.

2) Palmeiro and Sandberg are linked yet again, this time in Sandberg’s Fire Sermon in Cooperstown on Sunday being followed so closely by Palmeiro essentially giving back his “Redeem in five years” ticket to the Hall. Those of you up on Cubs gossip will know how they were linked before, but if you need a refresher, contact me in some way that enables me to tell you the story while not being sued for libel.

3) Albert Pujols has stolen 11 bases this season without being caught. Next up for Prince Albert: some work in the offseason on his change-up so he can pick up some innings out of the bullpen.

4) Speaking of running, poor Lenny Harris, in legging out a three-run double against the Cardinals the other night in Florida, catapulted himself to the top of my list of worst baserunners in the game. He’s been a slow runner for years, plagued by leg and weight problems, but these days, his build is Kruk-like and he runs as if he’s on two peglegs. If this were a backyard whiffleball game, everyone would agree on special slowness rules for his ghost runner.

5) TV Guide is changing its format to not have nearly so many listings. How will I ever know when Scooter’s going to grace my television? I guess I’ll have to go to to find out. I wonder if Jim has any thought about the changes to TV Guide?

6) In a discussion at work the other day about how to encourage bloggers who have written about our products, the idea of just contacting them with a thank-you came up. Or maybe we should send them minor-league baseball tickets?

7) After the Sox/Tigers game I attended recently at Comiskey, I was walking out next to a girl who said to a friend, “There’s my bus, gotta go.” She looked up to the ballpark, blew a kiss, and said, “Love ya, Comiskey.”

8) After today, there’s a third of the season left, and Ken Griffey Jr. has still not visited the DL.

9) For a while a few weeks back, an image search for Johnny Damon brought up a certain pumpkin as the fourth response. It’s fallen back to ninth lately. Get to work, readers!

10) The Post-Dispatch reports today that the Cardinals are, after all, leaving KMOX and buying 550 AM KTRS. I think it’s a big mistake, as do many other Cards fans, and I’m sad to hear about it. KMOX was the Cardinals for me for my childhood. But this is really a topic that deserves its own post soon.

My wife is great.

One piece of evidence is in a comment to the previous post, but in case you’re not in the habit of trolling through the comments, I thought I’d run it as a regular post, just so you don’t miss it.

It’s what I hope to see on Opening Day.

Original comments:

Luke, hanger-on: Given that he’s the most devout Christian in baseball, the look would make sense. How Would Jesus Groom?

Who else?

As a lover of symmetry, I had hoped that Johnny Damon, having been the first batter of the season, would oblige me by being the last batter of the season. It is purely incidental that such a result would also have only been possible due to the Cardinals winning the World Series. Sadly, Johnny wasn’t interested in symmetry.


And Damon had one of his best seasons, which might encourage other players to go all shaggy. Who wouldn’t love to see Albert Pujols with a Damon look?

Original comments…

Toby: This is totally off the subject, but Levi, you might be interested to know that a kid from your hometown, Steven Smith, has just signed to play with Kansas University, where one of his teammates will be A. J. Van Slyke, the son of former Cardinal Andy Van Slyke.

As a Pirate fan, I sure do wish Francisco Cabrerra would have hit that ball to center field in 1992. If so, Van Slyke’s throw to the plate would have been on the money, unlike the 7-time MVP’s. Mike “Spanky” LaValliere made a superb catch and dive–all in one motion–just to make that play close.


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.

He’s back

With hit after hit after hit over the last week, Albert Pujols appears to be back, having shaken the slump that had dogged him all season. He’s now got an on-base-percentage of .404 and a slugging percentage of .612, very close to his career numbers. Kind of out of nowhere, he’s now leading the league in home runs, too. And you can tell just by watching him on TV that he’s hitting like the Albert Pujols we’re used to seeing, no longer getting off-balance and out on his front foot.

What’s funny about it is that, according to Buck Martinez on ESPN yesterday, Albert broke out of his slump when his wife, Deirdre, pointed out to him while they were watching tapes of his at-bats that he had spread his stance out too much. She talked to Albert about it, and also to hitting coach Mitchell Page. Now, I have always heard that the general philosophy of most hitting coaches is to use whatever works (Walt Hriniak and Charlie Lau excepted), but don’t you think that would be a bit irksome, to have a player’s wife come tell you what to look out for? Even if she’s right–and even if you hadn’t noticed the problem yourself, your pride would surely suffer a bit.

This led Bob and me to a discussion of whether maybe Deirdre is as a good a hitter as Albert, but she stays home with the kids because it’s good for a kid to have a parent at home. Bob suggested that maybe she’s Polly Ann to Albert’s John Henry. Let’s just hope that Albert never has to test himself against an electronic hitting machine.

Although it sure would be fun to hear the fans scream, “The upper deck’s caving in!”, and Albert respond, not losing a beat, “That ain’t nothing but my bat sucking wind,” as he drives another ball over the Arch.

Original comments…

Toby: It doesn’t really have anything to do with Pujols, but happy birthday, Levi.

thatbob: Pujols is probably worth the ink, don’t get me wrong. But in the coming years, try to be careful not to fall into a Bob Greene or Bob Costas wanting-to-slobber-all-over-Michael Jordan’s-(well, let me try to keep this family related)-NBA-championship-rings kind-of relationship. It’s a fine line to walk, I know, but as a married man, it’s your job to walk it.

Jason: I’d like to see what Mrs. Jose Lima has to say about this.

Actually, I just like to see Mrs. Lima.

Levi: Well, Pujols did go 5-5 last night with two doubles and a home run, and he cured cancer during the seventh-inning stretch, but your point is taken, Bob. I won’t mention it.

Oh, and it’s not ink: it’s bytes.

Levi: And thanks, Toby. Back in the day when you could buy ten or twelve tickets to a Cubs night game without planning very far ahead, I would have had a birthday party at the ballpark, and brought a cake. But this year, we just had some people over for barbecue Monday and watched the game on TV last night.

It was a pleasant birthday.

Lost weekend

Well, as you might have suspected, it was a sad weekend at the old ballpark for me, though not for 120,000 Cubs fans, puffed up with the arrogance that two playoff appearances in five years can bring.

Somehow, the Cardinals and Cubs managed to play three games in three days with no rain delays, despite strong thunderstorms and heavy rain all weekend. And somehow, the Cardinals managed to turn Glendon Rusch into the pitcher who pitched pretty well for the Mets in 2000, rather than the pitcher who was cut from the Brewers earlier this year. And the Cardinals managed three runs on only three hits against the remarkably good Matt Clement. Impressive, but it wasn’t enough. So despair reigns, at least for a few days.

But there was one fully redeeming moment for me–a moment that was a huge highlight even for my Clement-fan wife and for Cubs-fan Luke–in Sunday night’s game. The Cardinals were down 4-1, and with Albert Pujols at the plate, a chant arose. It began oddly–almost as if it had been planned in advance–with what seemed a whole section above and behind us shouting “Pujols sucks!” without any of the slow build that such chants usually require.

So as the first pitch comes in as a ball, the chant grows until most of the stadium is into it. “Pujols sucks! Pujols sucks! Pujols sucks!” The next pitch came in, and then it went out. And it kept going out, onto Waveland, or maybe Irving Park Road. The crowd fell silent, except for those of us who were giggling.

Wendell Berry
, in a story I read Saturday, described a driver showing “the extended middle finger that contradicts all contradiction.” It’s hard to imagine a way in which Pujols could have more clearly demonstrated that he manifestly does not suck. Maybe if he had hit that home run, then taken the mound the next inning and set down the Cubs in order with three strikeouts on nine pitches. But that’s asking a lot even of Pujols.

Original comments…

Luke: Who you calling arrogant? I should point out, Levi, that I cheered Pujols’ home run almost as much as you did. It was more than worth giving up the run to see him shut the fans up.

Every time I get to Wrigley I’m more dismayed by the boorishness of the fans. I don’t know whether I’m getting older and crankier or they’re getting more boorish, or both. My money is on “both.”

Levi: No, no, Luke. I’m not calling you out on that–in fact, I mentioned that you seemed to enjoy the moment. I know your fandom doesn’t allow for absurd slander.

And I’m not saying Cardinals fans are perfect. I’m sure plenty of them are complete tools. But I haven’t ever heard a chant like that one at Busch Stadium, and I’m not used to hearing the regular booing that the opposing team’s best player has frequently been getting at Wrigley Field lately.

Jim: Glendon Rusch was already turned into a good pitcher by the Padres a week ago Sunday. Opposing pitcher David Wells was so distraught about the situation that he went home, threw a bottle against the wall, and ended up cutting himself on the broken glass (or at least that’s what I assume happened).

Does Barry Bonds get booed at Busch?

Levi: I haven’t seen Bonds play at Busch, so I don’t know. I don’t think he does, but I could be wrong.

And the Wells story was great because the story in the San Diego paper about his injury actually included, in the subhead, “Padres GM believes Wells’s account.” Imagine being viewed as so untrustworthy that your believablity merits mention in a headline.

Luke, hanger-on: Sorry, Levi, I scanned past that. Didn’t mean to slanderously accuse you of slanderously accusing me of absurdly slandering Pujols, the second-best player in baseball. (Though, admittedly, I have in the past slandered his funny name, stonethrowing-in-a-glass-house notwithstanding.)

sandor: I tuned in for a little of the game (it was one of those rare times when my cable company decided to give me free ESPN), though I missed the impressive first inning rally. But how about that weather system? That must have been impressive to see from the stadium. When they came back from a commercial break early on, the cameraman was pulling pack to show the bizarrely shaped cloud formations out in the distance. It was so striking that Sarah and I felt compelled to take a walk around the neighborhood and witness it ourselves. I figured I’d the be the only person intrigued enough in clouds to notice, but no, everyone we passed was looking up in amazement.

thatbob: Re: strange clouds and weather systems. I haven’t even told you all about the ghost boat.

Levi: According to people who watched the game at home, Pujols made a shushing motion sometime after the home run. I’m unclear on whether it was during the trot or after crossing the plate. It’s the sort of thing that would ordinarily get you knocked on your ass the next time up, but in this case, I think even the opposing pitcher would understand.

Wow, Jim. Thanks for passing along Johnny Damon’s statement about his hair being, in part, an attempt to do everything the opposite of the Yankees. That is just about the only thing that could possibly make his hair and beard better. Well, other than them, say, defeating President Bush or leading efforts for world peace.

And I forgot–one more good Damon note before I move on to whatever exciting baseball news happens today. During Sunday night’s game, about two-thirds of the way through the game, ESPN dug up a photo of Damon from when we last saw him. They placed it side-by-side with a new photo from that day. The entire audience at the Rocketship gasped. As the noise died away, Jon Miller’s voice cut through, saying, “How do we even know that’s Johnny Damon out there?” It got a good laugh.

Which ties in with an idea I’ve had for a long time: say you’re the Cardinals. You’re playing a big game against the Cubs, and you’re down by a run with two guys on in the bottom of the ninth. You’ve got So Taguchi coming up. People start heading for the exits.

But you’ve got Albert Pujols on the bench. He’s even got a bat in his hands, because, well, that’s how he is. Why not put Pujols in Taguchi’s jersey and send him to the plate as Taguchi? Sure, he’s not Taguchi. Everyone knows he’s not Taguchi. But he and the manager and the rest of the team swear up and down that without a doubt, swear on Tony LaRussa’s Pure Beef Heart, he’s So Taguchi.

What’s the umpire going to do? Obviously, he’ll have no choice but to let him bat. I’m picturing buttons popping off a way-too-tight jersey as Pujols/Taguchi hits the ball into the Mississippi. Think how much the hometown crowd will get into this! Sure, the opposing team will lodge a protest, but I don’t think the Basic Agreement allows for DNA testing. Barring that, who can be certain that the hitter who won the game for the Cardinals wasn’t Taguchi? David Hume and Bishop Berkeley would be with me on this, guaranteed. Certainty is impossible.

Clearly, the keys to the success of this strategy are three. 1) Have Albert Pujols on your team. 2) Make sure that everyone involved–from LaRussa on down–absolutely refuses to budge in their certainty that this hitter is So Taguchi. 3) Don’t have any of those problematically honest born-again Christians on the team.

If you were really serious–and commensurately willing to be impressively offensive–you could even put Pujols in bad makeup to make him look Japanese. Like Mickey Rooney, only worse.

Original comments…

thatbob: Actually, I think the born-again Christians would be very open to the uncertainty argument. If I was Tony LaRussa, I would say: “Although you think you just watched Pujols put on Taguchi’s jersey, isn’t it possible that this illusion was created by a miracle of God? Or that, by a miracle of God, Pujols is now Taguchi? Or do you deny the possibility of miracles, and claim to know the mind of God? Now since you can’t claim with certainty that Taguchi is Pujols, I would ask that, for the sake of the team, you hold your tongue on the matter.”

See, this is why I would have made such an excellent Jesuit. Is it too late for seminary?