Last week, I was fortunate enough to be in Houston, and was able to attend each of the Cards/Astros games. A few weeks ago, when I learned that I’d be in town for that series, it dawned on me that I was going to be able to be there for Lance Berkman’s Minute Maid Park debut as a visitor. There are some fan bases that have earned reputations across the game–mostly on the coasts. But, I can’t say I’ve really heard much about the good folks in Houston–at least not to the point where I could infer any kind of behavior or mentality if a person said to me, “You know, just like an Astros fan would do/say”.
In fact, my only experience at Minute Maid Park prior to last week was Memorial Day last year. It was a wild one! That 14-4 final you see doesn’t tell the whole story…it wasn’t nearly as close as the final score makes it sound. I saw things that I’d not seen since little league. (catcher’s return throw to the pitcher gets away, shortstop picks it up in shallow left and throws it back to the pitcher…who misses THAT throw too) Saw two different fans run out on the field (4th, 8th) during the game. One young man climbed Taul’s hill & jumped the fence before being brought back (not quite the same way Jim Edmonds would) and escorted out by the authorities. Saw Roy Oswalt get ejected for only the 2nd time in his career, after going 2 ⅓ IP he’d take the loss.
So, I didn’t quite know what to expect when I headed to the game Tuesday night. All I knew is that I wanted to be there when Berkman was announced to the crowd. And I was. An impressive 40-second standing ovation for him was a pretty special thing to witness! Here, see for yourself. (Warning: Amatuer video skills)
An impressive reception, and a showing of true class by the 25,526 on hand that night. (Well, you know…paid, not turnstiles) What was NOT impressive that night was…(wait for it)…the Cardinals bullpen. I knew when Boggs misplayed a bunt in the bottom of the 9th, and Bourne reached, that the redbirds were in deep trouble. Later that inning, Hunter Pence would single sharply to CF, and the crowd would actually boo as Houston’s 3B coach held Bourne up for what would’ve been the winning run. Two batters later, Bourne would easily cross the plate, completing the Astros come-from-behind win in their last at-bat in the 9th. It’s hard to win ballgames when you take a 1-run lead into the bottom of the 9th, then give up four hits, add in a wild pitch and a passed ball.
Wednesday night, Kyle Lohse looked great. He didn’t give up a single run, scattering 4 hits over 7IP. After 97 pitches, he appeared to be in a comfortable position for his 4th win of the season, as the Cards were taking a “serious number” into the 8th. What made this game really interesting though, was…(wait for it)…the bullpen. Ryan Franklin came in to start the bottom of the 8th, and promptly gave up a double, then a single. TLR pulled Franklin & brought in Trever Miller, who is usually pretty effective. Miller walked the only batter he faced, and LaRussa headed back to the mound once again. So, here we are in the bottom of the 8th. The Cards had a comfortable 6-run lead mere moments ago, and now the bases are loaded with nobody out. Fernando Salas comes in on mop-up duty, and though 3 runs crossed the plate (2 courtesy of Franklin, and 1 via Miller), he put out the fire. In the bottom of the 9th, it was 6-3 Cardinals when Eduardo Sanchez came in to close it out. He gave up 3 hits, and surrendered 2 earned runs before finally striking out Hunter Pence (he K’ed 2 of the 6 batters he faced) to end the game. Final score, 6-5 Cardinals. Astros bats are quiet for the first 7 innings, then score 5 runs in the 8th & 9th. “Concerning” isn’t the word.
Thursday night was much better for the Cardinals, and those of us in that had supported them from the stands throughout this series. Let’s be honest, you really shouldn’t lose any game in which you score 9 runs in a single inning. But McClellan’s pitch count wasn’t going to allow him to throw a complete game, so we’d have to rely on…(wait for it)…the bullpen. As aforementioned, the redbirds exploded for 9 runs in the 6th inning, including a 3-run homerun by hometown favori….oh wait, they’re booing him now…by Lance Berkman. It would be his first of two hits that inning, and first of two homeruns that night. Fortunately, the committee of Motte, Batista, Miller, & Salas got the job done. No earned runs between them, and they nailed down a solid Cardinals victory, to win the series.
All in all, it’s hard to argue with winning a series, but the ulcers & heart palpitations along the way, I can do without. Granted, that’s what makes for exciting games sometimes, but I prefer a bullpen that can be trusted to get outs. 22 runs of offense is an encouraging sign, though, and presumably all those “end of the world” outcries from the first week of the season are distant memories. Berkman’s numbers from the series: 8-for-14 (.571 Avg) with 2 doubles, 3 runs scored, and 7 RBI. Think he’s comfortable at Minute Maid Park? All I know is that I’m really looking forward to June 7th, 8th, & 9th!