Talk about making a statement.
In sweeping the Reds, the Cardinals provided the heroics and dominated the villainous antics of the Reds to take a one-game lead in the NL Central. The series featured a familiar cast for anyone who’s read Buzz Bissinger’s classic “Three Nights in August”: Tony La Russa, Dusty Baker, Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds. Yet the drama and intrigue provided during these two nights and an afternoon went far beyond anything that happened during that pivotal August 2003 Cubs-Cardinals series.
Of course the main antagonist is well known by now: Brandon Phillips. The desperate-for-attention statements he made Monday provided him with the media attention he apparently craved, but also united the Cardinals as a team in a way we haven’t seen all season. Yes, the Cards have played with spark and energy at times – such as in April and during July’s eight-game winning streak – but these three games were different and more intense, particularly when they discovered what Phillips had said about them.
Yet even before the Cards knew how they’d been disparaged, they were on a mission during Monday night’s game when the combination of scoring seven runs in the fourth inning and Chris Carpenter’s pitching brought them victory.
Tuesday night, Yadier Molina played like a true Cardinal: standing up to Phillips’ shallow attempt to play nice after his words were blasted everywhere, and then hitting his most memorable home run since game seven of the 2006 NLCS. (The fact that Reds fans booed him the rest of the series, just like Mets fans still boo him today, proves how monumental the homer really was.) Jaime Garcia was able to rise above the literal fray that happened as he was ready to pitch and provided a solid performance that led the Cardinals into a tie for first place.
Yesterday the Cardinals completed their statement to the Reds and moved to a season-high 15 games over .500, thanks especially to birthday boy Colby Rasmus and Adam Wainwright. Waino further enhanced his Cy Young qualifications, moving into a tie with Ubaldo Jimenez for the league lead in wins with 17 and lowering his ERA to 1.99 (just above current leader Josh Johnson’s 1.97). His numbers for this month are astounding: three wins, one earned run allowed in 23 innings pitched for a minuscule ERA of 0.39, one complete game shutout (and he was certainly on track for another yesterday until the rain came). And those are only through Aug. 11!
His numbers weren’t the only impressive ones of the sweep. Matt Holliday hit .636 (7 for 11) during the three games and had four RBI. Including his Monday grand slam, Skip Schumaker hit .455 and had five RBI. Colby drove in six runs during the series. Yadi hit .417 for the three games, plus had a stolen base on Tuesday in addition to his homer. Jon Jay hit .385. Albert only hit .274, but his four walks definitely had an impact (particularly the intentional ones). Pitching-wise, the bullpen bounced back from last week’s struggles and turned in admirable performances. Fernando Salas especially deserves mention for his 1.2 innings pitched Tuesday night.
It was, by far, the series of the season.
Now, after a 4-1 road trip, the Cardinals return home and enjoy a day off today. Fittingly, after such an impressive sweep, they take on the Cubs this weekend for one night and two afternoons in August. (How can this really be the Cubs first time in St. Louis this season?) With Chicago currently in fifth place, the action won’t necessarily be as important as that August 2003 series – but it is still the Cubs vs. Cardinals, after all. And that always means something.
Now for a few chick comments …
Thanks to Twitter, Erika and I discovered we are not alone in our fascination with the now clean-cut Jason LaRue. His pre-game interview on Fox Sports Midwest to discuss his battle wounds from Johnny Cueto’s unbelievable form of fighting drew plenty of complimentary tweets yesterday morning. (There’s something rugged about seeing those stitches on his lip too, right? In addition to that scruff …) Hopefully Jason will be healed up very soon and, more importantly, hopefully Cueto gets the punishment from MLB that he definitely deserves. If you didn’t have the chance to see Jason’s interview, it’s available here.
In addition, the dugout shots of Jason and his fellow wounded warrior Chris Carpenter sitting side by side Tuesday night were great. When Dan McLaughlin mentioned that the two had just been shown on the kiss-cam at Great American Ballpark and Carp obliged by kissing his pal on the cheek, my immediate reaction on Twitter was where’s the footage of that? My sentiments were not unique, I was happy to find out, although we unfortunately never did see video or a photo of the moment. And I wonder how the camera operator in Cincinnati felt following the kiss? My guess is that person purposely chose Carp in hopes of getting some negative reaction from our fiery ace. So way to go, Chris, for smooching your buddy and showing your softer side to the Reds crowd. Your intensity not surprisingly returned when you were discussing the fight following the game (you can see his reaction on the Fox Midwest link also), and we once again saw the literal and figurative hot Carp who we love.
Photos: top, Gary Landers, Cincinnati Enquirer; bottom, New York Post