The Baseball Diaspora
A home for those who live nowhere near the home team.
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Fairly or unfairly, Kenny Rogers’ legacy boils down to two things: Kenny Rogers Roasters and “The Gambler.” Only one of those two things remains a recognizable landmark on the landscape of our collective American consciousness (although, improbably, Kenny Rogers Roasters lives on in Asia). No mere footnote of history, “The Gambler” inspired five - count ‘em 5! - TV movies (with rumors of a sixth), became one of the rare country standards to successfully cross over to hip hop and begat this:
(AP Photo/Derrik J. Lang)
Anything that can boast the level of influence that “The Gambler” can must contain some kernel of truth and wisdom that pertains to the modern world. And so “The Gambler” does. In particular, it teaches us an important lesson about the fallout from Albert Pujols’ signing with the Los Angeles Angels and provides a road map for moving on.
As with any break up, Albert Pujols’ separation from the St. Louis Cardinals was bound to result in some hurt feelings. After a largely measured and reasonable media response to the deal, Pujols angered some in St. Louis by insinuating that the Cardinals didn’t demonstrate the commitment to him that Arte Moreno and the Angels did. The St. Louis media took exception to Pujols’ comments and their implications. Albert’s wife Dee Dee accused the club of being disingenuous and the fans of being petty (she may have had a point on the latter). It has now been a week since Albert shocked the baseball world by leaving St. Louis and that seems to have been sufficient time for everyone involved to vent their frustrations with the way things turned out. Now it’s time to listen to Kenny Rogers.
The Lesson: "Every hand’s a winner, and every hand’s a loser…"
There are pluses and minuses, risks and rewards, best- and worst-case scenarios for every player in the Albert Pujols Exchange. Understanding that, there is still a likely outcome where everyone emerges from this a winner. Let’s take a look.
Best Case: Ideally, Albert continues to produce at his MVP/Hall of Fame level for 7-10 years instead of 3-5, doesn’t miss major time with injuries, adds additional World Series and MVP trophies to his case and becomes the historical face of the Angels franchise. Plus, the Cardinals fans get over him leaving and choose to remember all the good times they shared with Pujols and he receives a warm reception during infrequent interleague appearances back at Busch.
Worst Case: There is really only one true worst case: a positive PED test. Short of that, Cardinals fans never forgive him for leaving St. Louis and his legacy is diminished as he is remembered as more of a Reggie Jackson style gun-for-hire instead of a Cal Ripkin/Derek Jeter one-team icon.
Likely Outcome: Even if St. Louis turns its back on him, he fails to provide value over the length of the contract and he never wins another World Series or MVP, Pujols comes away with over $250 million dollars and goes into the Hall of Fame first ballot and potentially unanimously. I’d call that a win-win.
Los Angeles Angels
Best Case: Like Pujols’ best case, the Angels’ ideal would be to get value for most of the contract’s duration and add a few more World Series championships to their 2002 title.
Worst Case: Pujols declines after only a few years and injuries and performance issues result in his contract being onerous even to the cash-flush Angels for the back-half of the deal. Also, in spite of perennially competing, the Angels fail to add another Commissioner’s Trophy to their collection.
Likely Outcome: Even if Pujols only gives them 4-5 good years before his decline becomes more pronounced, the Angels signed the best player in the game and an instant icon. This is a move that will pay dividends for years to come as a new wave of fans takes interest in the team and future generations regard the Angels as more of a marquee franchise than when they were anchored by Scott Spiezio and Troy Glaus.
St. Louis Cardinals
Best Case: The Cardinals wisely redistribute the money they had earmarked for Pujols and by retaining other key members of their core and promoting from their impressive farm system the Redbirds continue to compete in the NL Central most of the rest of Pujols’ career. Fans continue to come to cheer the name on the front of the jersey and Pujols enters the Hall with an StL on his cap.
Worst Case: The loss of Pujols is too much to make up and the Cardinals, after their improbable World Series run, slip back into the mediocrity of 2007-2010. Pujols, meanwhile, wins World Series and MVPs in Anaheim while bringing the fans out to watch his milestone hits and HRs.
Likely Outcome: Given the emergence of young contributors David Freese and Allen Craig and the potential shown by young arms Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez and Tyrell Jenkins - not to mention the return of Adam Wainwright - the Cards look to be competitive in both the short and long term. Cardinals fans have also historically shown a commitment to team-over-individual player, so the fans shouldn’t stay away from Busch Stadium in droves in the long run, even if attendance takes a minor hit next season with Albert gone.
St. Louis Fans
Best Case: The Cardinals get lucky again and draft another future Hall of Famer in the late rounds. A World Series title defense and the exciting young talent coming up through the system refocuses the fanbase and the sting of losing Pujols fades.
Worst Case: The 1990’s happen all over again: a dearth of players the fans can truly latch onto (apologies to Ray Lankford, Bernard Gilkey, Brian Jordan, Todd Zeile, et al) and a failure to compete year-in and year-out leads to a decline in fan interest.
Likely Outcome: If nothing else, the Cardinals’ whiff on Pujols gives them the flexibility to extend guys like Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina after next season. While Cardinals fans will miss Pujols, they would also have missed Yadi, Waino and their other favorites who became too expensive with Pujols dominating such a significant chunk of the payroll. The team’s core, minus Albert, remains intact and there are exciting prospects on the horizon, too. With a healthy payroll and a division that remains one of baseball’s weakest, the Cardinals look to contend for the foreseeable future.
So see, it’s not a zero sum game. Even if things don’t work out perfectly, there is still plenty of opportunity for everyone to come out ahead. Time for Kenny to wrap it up for us.
Moving On: "You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em…"
This is one of those fold ‘em times, everybody. One week was plenty for trading barbs in the press. I think I speak for a lot of Cardinals, Angels and baseball fans when I say I am ready to move on to analyzing the Rafael Furcal and Skip Schumaker deals, seeing how the Rangers respond to the Angels’ additions of Pujols and C. J. Wilson and following the Prince Fielder and Yu Darvish developments.
Greetings friends and readers. I come to you with an overdue recounting of my trip to Game 7 of the 2011 World Series. An opportunity such as this carries with it a responsibility to share the experience in a timely fashion with those who have never had the good fortune of seeing their team play in and win Game 7 of a World Series. In that sense, I failed miserably and I apologize. In fairness, though, I did bring you the sights, sounds and spectacle of Game 7 before the Winter Meetings.
My apology out of the way, let’s go to the tape. For your viewing pleasure…Game 7 of the 2011 World Series!
Although procuring night-before transportation to St. Louis was no easy task, my dad and I arrived shortly before the game got under way, decked out in all of our Cardinal finery.
Cardinal fans showed up en masse whether they had tickets or not. Many of the unticketed came not looking to get in, but rather just to be a part of the Game 7 scene. From our seats down the 3rd baseline, we could see over the center field wall where thousands in red gathered outside Busch Stadium to share in the experience.
The Rally Squirrel was there, but I don’t think his presence was required. The energy in the stadium before first pitch was a confident excitement. After you have been down to your last strike twice in two innings the way the Cardinals were in Game 6, how could they lose?
The crowd came to celebrate and, after taking an early lead, could hardly contain its excitement. With young favorites David Freese and Allen Craig leading the club both offensively (Freese’s 2-run double in the bottom of the 1st tied the game and Craig’s solo HR in the 3rd put the Cards ahead to stay) and with the glove (Freese’s catch on a foul ball at the 3rd base dugout and Craig’s excellent grab in LF were both big plays), the fans were intoxicated.
As the innings passed and the Cardinal lead grew, the crowd grew increasingly certain that, good team that they were, the Rangers had spent all of their bullets in Game 6 the night before. After the Cardinals pushed the score to 6-2 on an RBI single by Yadier Molina in the 7th, it was just an exercise in playing out the final innings. Everyone in the park knew the outcome. When David Murphy flied out to Allen Craig for the final out, the anticipated celebration ensued:
My dad called my mom to conference her in to the celebration:
And I was so happy, I couldn’t focus:
Ba dum bum, chhhh!
We stuck around for the trophy presentation, the MVP announcement and the interviews, then made our way out. After fighting the crowds to grab my sister Alicia a Rally Squirrel rally towel, we hit the streets. St. Louis was ecstatic:
The police were there, but unlike with the Occupy movement, they kept their cool and enjoyed the victory along with everyone else:
We left town to head up to my uncle Gary’s, but not before getting stuck in traffic. As we crawled along trying to get ourselves pointed against traffic so that we could cut around the congestion, we drank in the honking, cheering and revelry of the jubilant city of St. Louis.
A week after the confetti from the Game 7 celebration and the World Series parade that Sunday had settled and been swept away, I celebrated again with the arrival of my World Series gear (which I really want to call swag, for some reason, even though I know that is an inappropriate use of the term):
I predicted before the World Series began, that “11 in ‘11” would become a major slogan if the Cardinals won the NL Pennant. That didn’t turn out to be the case. In fact, the only place I saw that phrase printed was on signs given out to promote a local network whose channel number is 11, but it all worked out. The Baseball Diaspora retains the title as the number one proponent of “11 in ‘11” and I did manage to find this t-shirt that references the 11th title (not once, but twice!) and pays tribute to the Cardinals’ World Series history at the same time.
I have had a difficult time explaining to friends and family just what the experiences of Game 7 and a World Series Championship were like in person. The Cardinals’ inclusion in the playoffs was such a surprise in itself that each subsequent victory and advancement just ratcheted up the incredibility of the team’s run. After the roller coaster of a literally unbelievable Game 6, Game 7 was a more even high. But the experience itself was unforgettable. To be in the park for a Game 7 World Series victory by itself was unlike anything I have ever been a part of, but to share that moment with my dad…for once I am at a loss for words.
I will never forget 2006. It was the first Cardinals World Series Championship that I could remember and evoked a different set of emotions. But 2011 is the one I will always remember first. The improbable playoff berth, Carpenter’s transcendence in Game 5 of the NLDS, Freese’s emergence and the triumph of offense and bullpen in the NLCS, Allen Craig’s late-game heroics in the World Series, Pujols’ three HR game in Game 3, bullpen phone-gate in Game 5 and the best game I have ever seen in Game 6, any one of these would have been a great story on its own. The fact that they all comprise part of the same unlikely narrative makes them each all the more memorable. For my dad and I, both at our first World Series game, to watch the team we love win the first Game 7 in a decade and clinch the team’s 11th championship, all in front of the Cardinal faithful and the grateful city of St. Louis was a perfect ending to a perfect postseason.
Are you kidding me? Are. you. kidding. me?
If ever a single game formed such a perfect microcosm of a team’s season, Game 6 of the 2011 World Series was that game. Like the first five months of the regular season, the Cardinals stayed competitive through the first two thirds of tonight’s game. Never in a position of control, they nevertheless remained in contention in spite of unforgivable defensive miscues and shaky pitching. When Texas hung 3 runs on Lance Lynn, one of the Cardinals’ best relief arms during the postseason, it seemed that the Cardinals would come up just short. But then, as they did down the stretch, the Cardinals just kept finding ways to stave off elimination. After disheartening losses in late September to the Mets and Astros, the Cardinals forged ahead and managed to outlast the Braves on the season’s final day. In the 8th and the 9th, the Cardinals put runners on base and cashed in as they could not do in Game 5, tying the game and sending it into extra innings. In the top of the 10th, Josh Hamilton - who has contributed little in this World Series due to injuries - hit a crushing 2-run HR that seemed to be the last straw. It felt like being down 4-0 against Cliff Lee in Game 2 of the NLDS - insurmountable - but again the Cards rallied. Coming up with another two runs of their own in the bottom of the frame, St. Louis sent the game into the 11th just when it looked like their season was over. In the bottom of the 11th, hometown kid David Freese hit a walk-off HR and the Cardinals did what they have done for two straight months now - they won.
Like this season, which I gave up on repeatedly, I gave up on this game at least three times. When the Rangers went back-to-back off Lance Lynn and later added a third run in the top of the 7th, I was sure it was over. Again in the bottom of the 9th, with the Cardinals down to their final out, I doubted. After an incredible 2-run triple from Freese tied the game in the bottom of the 9th, my faith was crushed again when Hamilton immediately put the Rangers back up in the top of the 10th. No matter how often I surrendered, though, the Cardinals never did. Not this season and not this World Series.
I have no idea what will happen tomorrow. If this series has taught us anything it is that momentum does not exist. A loss like this looks tough to shake off, but the Rangers could come out tomorrow like they did in Games 2 and 4 and finally claim their first title. The Cardinals could follow the 1985 Kansas City Royals, the 1986 New York Mets and the 2003 Florida Marlins (against the Cubs in the NLCS) and win their 11th World Series in convincing fashion after an unthinkable turnaround in Game 6. We could have another pitched battle like most of this series, or a blowout like Game 3. I just don’t know. All I know is that I couldn’t be happier with the Cardinals for continuing to win no matter how we doubted. I will be in the stands with my dad for the first Game 7 in nearly a decade - a potential classic - and I can’t wait to share it with my fellow Cardinals fans, with our team, and with all of you.
I suppose one day when I have years of predictions under my belt I may have built up a tolerance to the intoxicating effects of my own prognostication abilities. But in year one, I fell hard for my own prescience. I was on a real roll. Let’s go to the tape:
Game 3 prediction: Cardinals win; Game 3 result: Cardinals win
Game 4 prediction: Cardinals win; Game 4 result: Brewers win
Game 5 prediction: Brewers win; Game 5 result: Cardinals win
Game 6 prediction: Cardinals win; Game 6 result: Cardinals win
NLCS series prediction: Cardinals in 6; result: Cardinals in 6
Game 1 prediction: Cardinals win; Game 1 result: Cardinals win
Game 3 prediction: Cardinals win; Game 3 result: Cardinals win
Game 4 prediction: Rangers win; Game 4 result: Rangers win
Game 5 prediction: Cardinals win; Game 5 result: Rangers win
Series prediction: Cardinals in 6; result: ??? (but not Cards in 6)
Heading into the bottom of the sixth inning of Game 5 - with the Cardinals up 2-1 - I was heading toward a convincing 7-2 record in my postseason predictions with the potential for the Cards to close out the series back in St. Louis in Game 6 to leave me with a 9-2 final tally. It would’ve been resounding. Then came the rest of Game 5. That’s when the wheels fell off.
Between Bullpengate and a cascade of ill-conceived intentional walks, sacrifice bunts and hit-and-run plays, the Cardinals turned a 2-1 lead into a 4-2 deficit. An offense that scored 16 runs just two days before went 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position and squandered 9 walks - 4 of them intentional - failing to score another run and leaving the 4-2 score intact.
And just like that, my 7-2 with the potential for 9-2 dropped to a much more modest 6-4. I suppose I could still pick the remaining game(s) and repick the series, give myself a shot at 8-4 or 9-4 but it would be a hollow victory. From what I have observed, sticking with one’s picks is the honorable thing to do. When one’s picks become mathematically impossible, though - as the Cardinals winning in 6 has now become - the prognosticator becomes a wandering Ronin, beholden to no man and free to rewrite history. With that new found freedom, I will nevertheless double-down. Under my Cardinals in 6 scenario, the Cardinals would have won Game 6. They may no longer be able to win in 6, but they are very capable of winning Game 6.
The Cardinals have been up against this wall before. On the brink of elimination and coming off a difficult loss is a familiar position for the Cardinals and one they have handled well down the stretch.
A team that faced elimination the entire month of September and more than once was left for dead, this is the sort of challenge this team has thrived on. In two elimination games against the presumptive NL Champion Phillies in the Division Series, the Cardinals came from behind against Roy Oswalt in Game 4 and protected a 1 run lead for 9 innings against Roy Halladay and the Phillies in Game 5.
Repeatedly after heartbreaking losses in which they gave up early leads, the Cardinals have rebounded to stay alive. After a late-season gut-punch where the bullpen blew a 4-run lead to the Mets in the 9th inning to seemingly seal the Cardinals’ fate, the team responded by going 4-2 in their final two series to sneak into the playoffs. After a demoralizing Game 1 loss in the NLDS where a 5-run Philadelphia 6th erased the Cardinals’ lead en route to a crushing 11-6 loss, the Cardinals rebounded to beat Cliff Lee the next night in come-from-behind fashion and even the series. After another deflating Game 1 - this time a 6-run Milwaukee 5th did the Cardinals in - the Cardinals came back to win the next two games to take the series lead.
Their luck could have run out this time. Game 5 found the typically high-powered offense frustratingly impotent. Game 5 saw the master of bullpen overmanagement, Tony La Russa somehow miss on the the most important match-up of the game. No game all season left quite the sinking feeling that Game 5 did. Still, I think the Cards have one last rebound in them. Will it be enough to lift the trohpy? I don’t know. But it will be good enough to force the first Game 7 since 2002.
Colby Lewis pitched very well in Game 2 in St. Louis and has pitched considerably better on the road this season than in Arlington (3.43 ERA to 5.54). It is Jaime Garcia, though, who stands to benefit more from the extra day of rest brought on by the weather today. Lewis has actually pitched fewer innings than he pitched last season (218.2 so far compared to 227.1 in 2010, both including postseason), so fatigue should be less of an issue for him. Garcia, on the other hand has already thrown more than 50 innings more than he did last year (217.1 in 2011 to 163.1 last year). On extra rest, Garcia has thrown his two best postseason outings - Game 3 of the NLDS and Game 2 of the World Series.
I anticipate another low-scoring affair similar to Game 2, but this time I expect the Cardinals - particularly Tony La Russa - to learn from past mistakes and not let Game 6 slip away the way Game 2 and Game 5 (and to a certain extent Game 4) did. That was the story of the NLCS. After getting burned in the NLDS by leaving Kyle Lohse and Jaime Garcia in too long La Russa entered the Milwaukee series still not having learned his lesson. After Garcia imploded in Game 1 though, La Russa corrected and began to call on his bullpen at the first sign of trouble. It worked marvelously for the rest of the NLCS and the Cardinals advanced.
In the World Series the problem has been less the starting pitching, which has been serviceable in all but Game 3, and more the bullpen. Whereas La Russa’s every bullpen decision in the NLCS worked out, in the World Series his moves have more often backfired than not. In Game 2 after his closer got in a bit of trouble, La Russa removed him for Arthur Rhodes and the Cardinals lost. In Game 4, La Russa removed a struggling Edwin Jackson for Mitchell Boggs, who served up a 3-run HR on the first pitch he threw to turn a 1-run deficit into a 4-run hole. In Game 5, the unfathomable bullpen decisions of the 8th inning - whether the result of crowd-noise, miscommunication or a mental lapse - put the Cardinals behind for good and gave the Rangers a series lead. In Thursday’s Game 6 and (if necessary) Friday’s Game 7, La Russa must again correct and rediscover his feel for his bullpen if the Cardinals hope to come back to win this series.
If Tony and the Cardinals can scratch out a win tomorrow, the extra day of rest factors in again, but it is uncertain who precisely it favors. Derek Holland would be available on full rest (the Rangers insist they will start Harrison, but in a Game 7 Holland would presumably be available at the first sign of trouble). His last start was a revelation, but he struggled mightily in two ALCS starts, so exactly what the Rangers can expect from him is unclear. The extra day also allows the Cardinals to start Chris Carpenter on 3 days rest. His last start on short rest did not end well (although the Cardinals got the win) and it is difficult to predict how he will perform in a potential Game 7. Still, Carpenter believes he learned valuable lessons about pitching on short rest in the NLDS and that if he gets another opportunity, he will use a different (and hopefully more effective) approach. Regardless, I would feel more comfortable with Carpenter on short rest than Lohse, Westbrook or Jackson on regular rest. Memories of his Game 5 in Philadelphia remain fresh and although his subsequent outings have not lived up to that transcendence, they have been solid, with the Cardinals winning every one but Monday night’s Game 5.
As a Cardinal fan you couldn’t ask for much more than Carpenter-Holland in a Game 7…except maybe a ticket to that game and another World Series trophy. If Garcia, La Russa and the Cardinals offense can just relocate that winning formula tomorrow night, my dad and I will get the first two - a potentially classic Game 7 with us in attendance - and take our chances on the third.
Here’s hoping I have at least one more correct prediction in me for 2011.