In the first game this side of the All-Star break, a rejuvenated Chris Carpenter teamed up with his offense to deliver a 7-1 victory. A true team effort, not a single Cardinal crossed the plate more than once.
The next night, hitters spotted Jaime Garcia three runs in the first. The Rookie of the Year candidate would give way to the bullpen early, but the Cardinals would not relinquish the lead at any point in the contest, winning 8 to 4.
In Game 3, Adam Wainwright notched his 14th win with six strong, scoreless innings. The only two runs of the shutout victory were driven in by an unlikely pair, the feeble middle-infield combination of Skip Schumaker and Brendan Ryan.
Admit it. When you checked in on Sunday to see what juggernaut of a lineup Tony La Russa had concocted, you were disappointed.
There in the number three spot, supplanting the greatest hitter of our generation at both the plate and in the field was Allen Craig. Prior to that day’s action he was batting .091 in the majors. Randy Winn would serve as clean-up hitter Matt Holliday’s “protection”, followed in the order by Schumaker, Jason LaRue, starting pitcher Jeff Suppan, and Ryan…as if the pitcher hitting eighth mattered in this particular case.
My jaw nearly fell to the very Mendoza line that half of the lineup was hitting under that day. This is the group you select to exact revenge against a team that, prior to the three straight wins last week had owned you for the past two years? As coveted as the Cardinals manager holds the benchmark of 10 games over .500, a mark that the club had just achieved the day before, this is the team you trot out there to maintain forward progress? This…is your hammer? Never mind that Suppan was taking his winless record and abysmal 6.55 ERA to the hill…Bob Gibson couldn’t win this game.
TLR…what a jerk.
And then they won. Suppan was superb in giving up just one run over six innings, keeping the offense within striking distance, and the patchwork Cardinals lineup would snatch victory from one of the most dominating closers in the league, flamethrower Jonathan Broxton.
There are a number of ways that La Russa is capable of making one shake one’s head. There was the time he pulled Holliday in the 11th inning of that 20-inning loss against the Mets and replaced him with Trevor Miller, essentially taking the bat out of the hands of both Holliday and Albert. There was the game against Toronto where Nick Stavinoha was instructed to bunt from the clean-up spot in a game the Cardinals wound up winning by the skin of their teeth, 1-0. There is the inestimable number of times he has mixed-and-matched his staff in consideration of negligible amounts of data. But there is no denying that there are times the skipper deserves a nod of approval, whether you understand his logic or not.
In just the first week of the second half of the season, the Cardinals have convincingly reacquired the division lead, crept to 12 games over .500 for the first time this year, and crafted their longest winning streak of the season (7). While I am hesitant to adorn this team as cured of their inconsistent, oft lethargic ways, there is no denying the spring in their step. Having now taken the first two against the left-side heavy, reigning NL Champion Phillies, the Cardinals appear poised to do just what we all expected back in spring…compete. That Carp just won his second decision in six days by the score of 7-1, well, that’s just cool.
Watching the home team celebrate that walk-off win against the Dodgers brought this increasingly cynical columnist goose bumps. While it may have only counted for a single tally in the overall standings, it may turn out to represent something much greater in this 2010 campaign…the turning point. A new look that includes the exciting and fervent play expected of a TLR ball club. As well as a few more smiles.