10/22/2004: Thought for the Day:
HOOSIER DADDY! So it was Jasper, Indiana native Scott Rolen -- who grew up a Cardinals fan, who longed for moments like tonight -- who came through in the clutch, pounded a first-pitch fastball over the wall in left, and sent the Cardinals on their way to their first NL pennant in seventeen years.
Jeff Suppan outdueled Roger Clemens tonight. You know that, I know that, but I don't care -- I'm gonna say it again because I like the way it rolls off the tongue: Jeff. Suppan. Outdueled. Roger. Clemens.
I never thought I'd be able to write that after 4 innings. Suppan was only down a run, but he was juggling chainsaws from the get-go -- there was the lead-off homer by Bidge, the long drive by Ausmus, the HBP leading off the top of the 4th. Meanwhile, Rocket was buzzsawing through our lineup. He wasn't vintage-era Roger Clemens, but he was hitting his spots with a sizzling, mid-90's fastball. I thought the 'Stros were going to be able to ride that all the way into Lidge Time.
But just as he did in Game 4 against the Dodgers and Game 3 against the Astros, Suppan got stronger as the game wore on. Against L.A. he set down the last 14 guys he faced; on Saturday he set down the last 10 he faced; and tonight it was the final 9. In his three starts this series he's given up only 10 hits (that's cumulative) and has held opponents to a .152 batting average.
Oh, and he also drove in the first Cardinals' run with a lovely suicide squeeze. Not bad, Mr. Soup Can.
Did you guys know Roger Cedeno had 200 at bats this year? He's been virtually anonymous all season long, with nothing on his resume for the last six months. And yet he finally showed up, deep into October, by getting a lead-off single in the 6th and scoring the tying run off Clemens.
If it were up to me, I'd have followed King Solomon's advice and simply split the series MVP trophy right down the middle -- half would go to Beltran, the other half to Bert Pujols. But of course it was Pujols who got the bigger hit tonight -- a two-out, two-strike laser off of Clemens to tie the score in the bottom of the 6th.
Pujols is the only hitter in the Cardinals lineup who doesn't worry me with two strikes. I mean, when he falls behind in the count 0-2 he's slugging .575. When he falls behind 1-2 (that was the count when he hit his double) he's slugging an outrageous .712. .712! How do you pitch to a guy like that?
How many of you thought of McGwire's #62 when Rolen's drive landed a couple feet above the wall and a couple feet right of the foul pole? Rolen's blast will go down as one of the biggest homers in franchise history -- up there with Ozzie's and Jack's shots in the '85 NLCS and Kenny Boyer's grand slam in Game 4 of the '64 Series.
Rolen's homer was set up by the good looks our hitters got of Roger Clemens early on. Pujols had six-pitch at-bats his first two times against the Rocket, and Rolen had an eight-pitch AB in the 4th before flying out deep to right center. By the time those two guys came up in the 6th, they had Clemens timed just right. And because Clemens refused to adjust -- he kept going to his fastball all night long -- it was only a matter of time before our big boys struck.
The real story of this series after the three games down South is how the bullpen advantage had tilted heaviliy in Houston's favor. While Wheeler and Lidge were befuddling Cardinal hitters, Julian Tavarez was losing his cool and Izzy was getting bombed by Jeff Kent. But after Kent's homer, Cards relievers collected themselves and shut down the Astros, allowing only 1 run over the final ten innings of relief in St. Louis.
The poster child for this newly composed unit was, of course, Tavarez. How he pulled himself together to pitch these last two days is beyond me. He was pretty lucky tonight -- all three guys he faced got good wood off him -- but he still made quick work of the killer bees, his last out a grounder that ricocheted off his broken left hand. With the glove off, Tavarez's hand looked pretty gruesome, so swollen you could practically twist it into balloon animals. This wasn't exactly Schilling-esque (after all, Tavarez's broken hand was his own damn fault), but it was gutsy in its own way.
These teams were so evenly matched that I honetly felt like whoever won tonight was the better team. I didn't think that going into this series -- after all, we were 13 games better than them for six months, so one week of baseball wasn't going to change my mind about our superiority.
But man, they played some great ball against us. When one samurai warrior defeats another, he doesn't gloat over him; he thanks him for giving him a worthy competition, for bringing out his best. These Astros brought out the best in us. And even though I don't feel great about denying them the first World Series in their entire existence, I thank them all the same.
So now we're... let's see, where are we? Oh yeah, right: the World Series. We have miles to go before we sleep, but for now let's not look ahead but rather soak in the glory of this moment. It's a nice feeling.
Len on 10.22.04 @ 07:27 AM CST