This was one Felipe Lopez home run away from being a very different looking column. Four days after an eight game winning streak came to an end, the Cardinals seemed poised to let the Cubs sweep a three-game set at Wrigley Field in front of a boisterous ESPN Sunday Night Baseball crowd, which would have extended their run of losses to four.
The first game, a 5-0 loss that Albert Pujols admitted was a “flat” performance by the team, marked the ninth shutout of the year, just one fewer than occurred over the entire 2009 campaign. It was also the first time in Tony La Russa’s tenure as manager in Saint Louis that his team had been shutout in consecutive days. The day before the offense had been stifled by lefty Cole Hamels of the Phillies, wasting a quality start by Adam Wainwright.
The adjective used by TLR to describe Game 2 was “frustrating”. The offense was awakened by the brisk, Friendly Confines’ winds, but missed out on several key opportunities to pile on runs. They lost the contest 6-5.
On Sunday, the energy on Chicago’s north side more closely resembled that of baseball in October than it did a game in the middle of July. A noisy contingent of fans clad in red battled the Cubbie faithful for dominion of every chant. In a year thus far constructed largely of disappointments, and on the day Cub’s great Andre Dawson would be entered into the Hall of Fame, you can bet that the entire Cubs organization wanted this win.
The Cardinals would survive a number of gaffes to earn the win in extra innings, but more than the surrendering of bragging rights, the final game of this series held, in my opinion, far more serious ramifications had they lost.
Allow me to shed the façade of alpha-male sports columnist momentarily in order to offer a relevant philosophical point. In sports and in life there are only two underlying motivations…fear and love. Think about that for a moment. At times it may be a blend of both, but at the very root of every single act there are only these two motivating forces. There are no others.
For much of the first half of the season, the Cardinals have looked like a team operating from a position of trepidation and self-doubt. The seed of lofty expectations that was planted in early spring was at first bearing fruit, blossoming into an April record of 15 and 8. However, shortly after, another driving force began to grow in its place. Untimely strikeouts and an inability to plate runners in scoring position, especially in clutch scenarios, seemed to be eroding a foundation that had not yet rooted itself deeply enough for the 162-game grind. A team that initiated the 2010 season enthusiastically and with fervor suddenly appeared tentative and afraid of failure. If at any point you have competed seriously for sport, or played a musical instrument, you have known this phenomenon and the unsavory results it will normally produce. It is because of this that the “underdog” often has upper hand…i.e. the Cincinnati Reds.
Not only would a sweep at the hands of lowly Cubs have erased the intangible gains of winning eight in row, but it would have put in jeopardy the new swagger that the home team had exhibited since its return from the All-Star break. The Cardinals, for the first time in months, looked like a team playing from the same place that it began the year.
Indeed, had the Cardinals been swept in such demoralizing fashion and by such an unworthy opponent, whatever precious confidence had been achieved would have taken a damaging blow. On a team with such temperamental psyches as players such as Brendan Ryan, Colby Rasmus, and Skip “Nobody Feels Worse” Schumaker, a legitimate concern would have to be that correcting the confidence level of the ball club a second time could prove too difficult, if possible at all.
And if you think Walt Jocketty’s legion of spurned formal Cardinals isn’t playing with a purpose that transcends the fear of falling short, you are fooling yourself.