Monday, August 18, 2014

Another Father/Son Excursion

The last time I attended a Cardinals' game was 4 years ago, when they honored Whitey Herzog for his induction into the MLB Hall of Fame, and my dad wanted to see that. This time it was because the team was honoring the inaugural inductees into the St. Louis Cardinals' Hall of Fame, and he thought it'd be nice to see that as well. Marty Marion was before either of our times, but we both liked Jim Edmonds, and my dad remembers Mike Shannon as a player, and we both enjoy him as a broadcaster. Which is probably the major reason why he was being inducted, he's been doing broadcasts since 1972. Though it just occurred to me this might mean Al Hrabosky will be inducted someday. Now I'm sad.

Now I'm over it, because our main purpose was to see Willie McGee. I imagine every team's fan base has a player they love out of all proportion to how good the player was. Willie was pretty good - you don't collect over 2200 hits, two batting titles, an MVP award, and 3 Gold Gloves if you're a slouch - but at times, I think he's the most beloved player the franchise has. At least among the living, Stan Musial in all likelihood has him beat overall. That's almost certainly an exaggeration, but that's how it feels. Some of it is he played on the 3 World Series teams in the '80s. That was my childhood, so it was relevant to my development as a baseball fan, and for my dad, those '80s Herzog teams were a nice break after the useless flailing about of the '70s Cardinals. Winning will always help a player's memory. Then he was traded in 1990, before he could go into a serious decline as a starter, and when he returned, he was a 4th outfielder, so it kept him from having to carry too much of the load, and let fans appreciate him for the skills he had, rather than the ones he didn't. Like plate discipline for instance). That's part of it, too, he was such an odd player. There's a pretty good overview here. He had a style that stood out, all the more so because it actually worked, against expectations.

As it turned out, we missed the speeches because they were held at the "Ballpark Village" in late morning on Saturday, but they did have a little ceremony honoring all 4 (with Marion's daughter there representing him) before the game, and that was nice. Willie actually cried a bit, I think (he was definitely choked up), which I found touching. I don't know how much players actually care about fans when it comes to professional sports. If they didn't care at all, I wouldn't blame them. A lot of fans only care whether you're on their team or not, or whether you're playing well for the team right that moment. The second a player starts to slip, or leaves as a free agent, the fans turn on them. I'm no different. There are plenty of guys I didn't like because they were bad as Cardinals, then became good after they left (Ken Hill being the charter member, though he was traded, a distinction my elementary school self failed to make). It would probably be smarter emotionally to dismiss such fickle people as fans. But it's still cool to see a player the fans really love is actually touched by the affection.

That was the high point of the night, though. My dad and I met up outside St. Louis so we could take just one car to the game, and he was sorely disappointed when I told him, no, it wasn't Wainwright on the mound tonight, it was Shelby Miller. My dad does not enjoy watching Miller pitch, for the rather obvious reason that Shelby has been lousy this year. Which continued in this game, as he walked 6 guys in 6 innings. Turns out my muttering to myself, "Just throw strikes, challenge these guys," doesn't actually help. Keep in mind, the Padres are the only team that's scored fewer runs this year than the Cardinals, so he wasn't up against a good lineup.

Mike Matheny didn't help by telling Shelby to intentionally walk #8 hitter Alexi Armarista in each of his first 2 at-bats. The reasoning (I'm guessing) was it provided the potential for outs on more of the bases, and let Shelby try to get out the opposing pitcher to end the innings. Which he managed both times, but let's consider Armarista for a moment. On the season, he's hitting .229, with a .277 on-base percentage, and a .303 slugging. His OPS+ is 68, which means he's been 32% worse than the average hitter this year. Why not let Shelby retire that guy, then he can start the next inning with an almost sure out of the pitcher, rather than starting against the top of the lineup?

Now I hate intentional walks on principle. I think it's stupid to tell a pitcher, "You aren't good enough to get this guy out." Especially when you consider even the best hitters make outs over 60% of the time they put the ball in play (if you have a .390 average, you're still making outs 61% of the time you aren't being walked or hit with pitches). Walks give hitters a base for free, they don't even have to hit the ball. At least make them earn a walk. If you're telling me Shelby is so bad you can't trust him to retire a hitter as poor as Armarista, then what the hell is he doing out there? Don't waste his time and ours. When Shelby was allowed to pitch to Armarista in the 6th with the bases empty, he got a groundout to second. My dad says I was a dog with a bone about the intentional walks, but he wouldn't quit harping on how badly Shelby was missing the strike zone, so I don't see that he has room to talk. He can criticize Shelby's poor location, I'll take on Matheny's tactical incompetence.

The Cardinals did score 4 runs in the 2nd inning, in large part because Abraham Almonte plays centerfield like he's never seen it before. He misplayed two balls that inning, once going back on an Oscar Taveras flyball where it traveled further than he thought, the other a Matt Carpenter liner he tried to slide and catch, only to see it bounce in front of him and over his head. Carpenter would've had a single if Almonte played conservatively, so that still would have scored Taveras, but Taveras shouldn't have been on-base in the first place, and would have been the 2nd out if Almonte makes the play. Hell, I'm just glad Taveras got some hits, so maybe Matheny won't bench him in favor of Shane Robinson again. Though Taveras' baserunning scares me, he's trying too hard to be aggressive. Normally I'd be in favor of that, but Matheny seems intent of finding any excuse to bench him, so I'd prefer he not hand one over in the form of getting thrown out rounding second base by too much.

Maybe we can convince the Orioles to trade us Buck Showalter, though I'm not sure my dad would enjoy that.

In the 5th rightfielder Rymer Liriano misjudged a carom in the corner and the ball skipped by him back into the outfield, letting Matt Holliday score, and giving Matt Adams a triple. That one is less an issue, because it was a solid hit anyway, and I think Adams had a double as is, and I think Holliday would have scored anyway, but after Almonte's adventures, I was primed for more Padre adventures in the outfield.

Shelby promptly gave back all 4 runs in the 3rd, and there was apparently discussion on TV of whether he was tired from running the bases in the humidity. That could be, it was pretty close where my dad and I were seated, and we were up there getting an occasional breeze. We also weren't physically exerting ourselves. Well, I was busting Pierzynski's chops pretty good, but smartassery is pretty effortless for me. I could see the conditions wearing on Shelby. At the same time, his problem was he couldn't locate his pitches. It's OK to throw stuff out of the strike zone, but it needs to be close enough the batters want to swing (or think they have to so they don't strike out looking), but can't make solid contact. When Shelby misses, it's by so much nobody's going to bother swinging. He was doing that all game, whether he'd run the bases or not. He did manage to get through the 4th-6th innings without incident. The only baserunner he allowed was caught stealing/picked off during the next at-bat.

Then Kevin Siegrist came in for the 7th and crapped. Like Miller, Siegrist pitched well last year, but hasn't this year, though he could maybe have the excuse he's coming back from a DL stint. He gave up a couple of singles, walked a guy, then gave up a grand slam. Then got an out, then walked another guy, and. . . rain delay! Siegrist was especially annoying because he was like those Pirates' pitchers I complained of 4 years ago: He took forever to actually throw. I don't know if he was under orders to stall, because the Cards were hoping the rains would come and they could be declared winners of an abbreviated game, or if he just had no confidence in his stuff. Given how he pitched, the latter wouldn't surprise me. His performance got my dad busting out some Herzog anecdote about playing golf with Jack Buck: 'If you're so bad, why do you take so long?' Seriously, if you suck, and you know you suck, throw it and get it over with. Max Power-style, the wrong but faster, remember? You won't magically get better standing there on the mound, stalling for time. Anyway, Seigrist pitched so poorly, the Cardinals sent him back to the minors Sunday morning.

We waited until about 9:45, the rain hadn't let up, so we had to leave. Though it was kind of nice to just sit there in a largely empty section and watch the rain (I have a nice rain jacket). If I'd been alone, I might have stayed to see how it all played out. But my dad had to get home to look after the dogs, and it would be a nearly 3 hour drive for him as it was, so we left. As it turns out, they did resume play, which only served to let San Diego extend their lead to an eventual 9-5 victory. As for me, I drove home in sheets of rain which reduced highway traffic to 45 mph, and crawled into bed sometime after 1 a.m. I was not happy when my internal clock tried to make me rise at 6:30.

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