10/20/2005: Gem o'the Day:
In a way this was the closing chapter to a story which began back on December 18th of last year. That’s when Cards’ GM Walt Jocketty traded away his best minor-league hitter, one of his two best young pitchers, and one of his top relievers in exchange for Mark Mulder. Many people thought it was too much to unload for such an unreliable pitcher, but I’m convinced Jocketty knew exactly how much talent he was giving up. He just didn’t care about next year, or the year after that, or the year after that. He cared about this year. Specifically, he wanted a big-game pitcher who could win games in the playoffs, on the biggest stage. If he had to give up a hitting prodigy like Daric Barton or a young flamethrower like Danny Haren to get him, he was fine with that, as long as it paid immediate dividends. He was going all in.
Tonight it became pretty clear that Jocketty lost that bet. Mulder didn’t just lack stuff, he lacked focus, composure, grit, and all that other stuff that scouts and pundits squawk about all the time. In the third inning he made a critical mistake when he zonked out and failed to cover the bag on a roller to the right side. Rather than one on, one out, and the pitcher up, Mulder found himself in a two-on, no-out jam. Two pitches later he took a come-backer to the mound on a bunt by Oswalt. Granted the ball was chopped high in the air, but Mulder had time to nab the slow-footed Ausmus at third. But once again he zonked out, faked toward second (God knows why), before throwing to first. Two pitches after that he threw the ball in the dirt about ten feet off of home plate to give the Stros the lead they’d never relinquish. He made some other mistakes the next inning – like a hanger to Jason Lane that the Astros rightfielder hit into next week – but those were failures of execution. The other mistakes seemed like failures of nerve, totally atypical of a so-called “big game” pitcher.
(Of course, when Mulder exited the game the Busch crowd behind the home-team dugout gave him a standing O. I immediately thought of a satirical piece that ran last week at theBrushback.com, which had an “adorable” Cards fan saying “I’m gonna wear my Cardinal-red sweatshirt and bring some pom-poms and cheer with all my might—except when the Astros are up. They won’t get anything from me except the usual polite standing ovation.”)
Len on 10.20.05 @ 12:03 PM CST