Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com
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by Derek Smart
The long-awaited (actually, it hasn't been long, it only seems that way) debut of Sean Marshall has come and gone, and as is true with most situations like this, he was neither savior nor bringer of disaster. Rather, it was mostly out of his hands, despite his helping keep the game close, as the savior turned out to be Michael Barrett (if anyone of you had a better weekend than him, I'll gladly walk the proverbial mile in your shoes), and the toter of woe turned out to wear Cardinal red.
How swee-p it was, my friends. On to the bullets!
Marshall looked solid enough for most of the game, and until the fifth, his only mistake had been a terrible pitch to Scott Rolen that the Cardinal third baseman rightly escorted out of the joint ("I'm sorry, but riffraff like yourself cannot be allowed into this Cathedral of the National Passtime. Good day, sir!" SMACK!). He did what he failed to do in Las Vegas, which was keep the ball down, although in the early going he did it a little too much, and from the looks of ESPN's K-Zone ("The Umpires' Best Friend!"), was getting squeezed a bit down there.
He and Barrett made the adjustment in the next inning, and while he still mostly worked low, he started to at least show the ball high occasionally to change some sight angles, and it worked very well until he just seemed to lose steam in the fifth. He hadn't thrown a lot of pitches - he'd tossed just 65 when he was removed - but he looked gassed and flustered, and once he plunked David Eckstein to juice the bags, he was clearly done, and Dusty did the right thing getting him out of there.
That the man he turned to was Michael Wuertz made my skin crawl, but Mr. Wuertz looked much more like his good self, despite the RBI single he gave up to Albert Pujols and the infield single to Rolen that followed. He had his slider, which is critical, and the strikeout to Encarnacion was a game-saver in retrospect. Nothing was hit hard off him, and while he allowed two inherited runners to score, it was a solid enough fireman's job, and a sorely needed one, at that.
Wuertz might not have allowed any hard hit balls, but Jerome Williams sure did, and while the outing was a success overall due to the two-inning, scoreless nature of the beast, it didn't inspire me with confidence. His first inning saw him fall behind a lot, and he was potentially saved some grief by John Rodriquez' anxiousness in swinging at the first pitch he saw with men on first and second. Fail to get the double play, and up comes Pujols, which despite Williams' odd dominance of him (Prince Albert came into the game with a 1 for 11 mark against Williams in his career), would have been a fright, indeed.
I swear to you, this is how it went down in my head: in the fourth, with the Cubs down two, Derrek Lee having just hit into his second double play of the night, and Aramis Ramirez now standing at first after an infield single, I said to myself, "What would really be fitting here is for Barrett to get on and have Jacque Jones come up and have his first hit as a Cub be a three-run homer. Yeah, that'd be fun."
Ask and you shall receive, I guess, because Jones got a hold of one, taking the pill out to straight-away center, and the Cubs had their first lead of the night. Up until then, Jones had looked terrible - I'd go so far as to call his early work "Pattersonesque" - pressing like crazy, swinging at pitches he had no right to swing at, and missing balls he should have been able to do something with.
After the homer, though, he looked like a new man up there. Not that he turned into Albert Pujols, mind you, but his entire demeanor at the plate changed, and it was clear that a tremendous weight had been lifted from his shoulders, the removal of which carried through to the rest of his bat-work for the night. Unfortunately, I think this is part of the package with him - long stretches of blistering incompetence, followed by a burst of extreme usefulness. Thus far, his timing with this tendency has been pretty good. Let's keep our fingers crossed that it holds.
Ronny Cedeno continues to look excellent at the dish, going 4 for 4 last night with a hustle double in his first effort. A couple of his hits were lucky though (the double was a chopper than made it over Scott Rolen's head, and another ball got over Rolen's glove after a bad hop), so while I like the confidence he's playing with at the moment, he's likely to come back to earth soon, both because of the luck involved, and because of adjustments pitchers will be making on him soon. Whether he keeps his job or not will have to do with a combination of how quickly he re-adjusts after the league does, and how patient Baker is during the process.
The checked-swing third strike called on Juan Pierre to end the seventh, leaving men stranded on first and third, wasn't a horrible call only because it was wrong. For the second time in two days a Cub was rung up unjustly by the home plate umpire, making a call he simply didn't have the angle on, and for the life of me, I can't figure out why neither official asked the man up the line for help.
What's really scary, though, is that Joe Morgan, of all people, made me think of the situation a little differently than I had before (thus, making me feel like a spectacular idiot in the process). He mentioned after Pierre was sent to the pine that these situations were somewhat unique because if the catcher doesn't like the call (ie: the home plate umpire says the batter didn't swing), he can appeal to the ump up the line, but the hitter doesn't have a similar recourse if the situations are reversed.
That line of thinking had never entered my head, and try as I might, I couldn't think of a good reason not to allow the hitter that right of appeal. At the very least it would serve to put the few disputable calls of this sort in the hands of the person most capable of making an equitable ruling, and I can't think of any negative repercussions. What's fair is fair, and if the defense can ask an official in better position to reverse these sort of verdicts, I don't see why the offense shouldn't have that same right.
The story for the Cardinals in these last two games has been their bullpen, or rather, their lack thereof. After Saturday's game where Tony LaRussa turned the contest over to his relief corps' lesser lights and got burned for his trouble, he made a somewhat avant garde but completely correct decision in the eighth, bringing in his best reliever to face the Cubs' best hitters in what was sure to be the game's critical juncture.
That it didn't work out for him wasn't the point, because it makes imminently more sense to do what he did than to bring in, say, Josh Hancock (he who gave up Barrett's game-tying blast on Saturday). What's brings the tinge of irony on board is the fact that Tony LaRussa, more than any other man outside of Jerome Holtzman, is responsible for the current model of closer usage where you save the man who is ostensibly your most effective relief pitcher for the final three outs, game situation be damned. Wouldn't it be kind of wonderful if this man, who led baseball's conventional wisdom into the wilderness on this issue, was the one who led them out of it?
A day to rest, and bask in the glow. Enjoy it now, for you never know when these things will turn on you.