Is there any better feeling in the morning than waking up after a 3-game sweep of the Cubs in Busch Stadium? I think not. Cardinals starting pitching has been nothing short of heroic the past 3 days (and the bullpen ain’t too shabby neither…). Despite the sum total of 8 runs scored in 3 games, the Big Birds found a way to stifle the Small Bears and run the season series to 6-3 Cards (I think…?).
The stunning lack of offensive production by the Cubs – in all honesty – seemed to dull the heightened sense of anxiety and excitement normally associated with a Cubs/Cards series in St. Louis. I found myself thinking back to Chris Carpenter starts of old…you know…the nine-inning lullabies The Ace regularly crafted against powerful NL lineups? The kinds of games that left the opposing hitters drifting back to their hotels with thoughts of curve-balls and ground-outs floating peacefully in their dazed little heads. Actually, whenever Carp pitches, I get the image of some twisted serial killer kneeling beside the bed of his latest victim, deceptively whispering assurances and quietly soothing away valid fears with sounds of “Shhhh…shhhh…” as the IV in their forearm silently drips gradual, deadly poison into their veins.
That was the scene at Busch Stadium over the past few days. One could almost feel Dave Duncan in the clubhouse, his aged and skinny frame leaning over the trainer’s table below – his “patient” wide-eyed and confused as he slipped into a deep, offensive coma.
Of course, there was the brief moment when Ryan Franklin kicked down the door, burst in the room, and slapped Dunc’s sleeping giant around with reckless abandon yelling, “Wake up! Wake up! Do you wanna’ die?! Wake up, you fool…and flee!” In truth, I thought Frank a traitor to our cause…the undercover cop at the end of the movie, secretly disguised as the killer’s loyal assistant, that suddenly reveals himself to save the day.
But…fortunately…it too was a cruel temptation for a doomed opponent. After waking his confused and alert prey, Ryan simply grinned and delivered the swift, violent death blow to the heart of Cubs fans everywhere.
Tonight, the cross-state rivals come cruising into town for a weekend set. They too struggle with offensive production…but Duncan’s familiar and trustworthy weapons of old (Carp and Waino) will not see action against these Kansas City Royals. Instead, he’ll be left with the dull, rusty blade of the Todalion and the cursed, tragic story of the man named Lohse. Newly knighted Cardinal, Sir Joel Pineiro, stands ready to staunch the bleeding or deliver the killing blow (his role in the story as yet unknown) – but will his enemy be alert and ready for his multi-faceted barrage of sinkers, change-ups, and curves (Oh my!)?
This weekend series is shrouded in mystery and fueled by the fire of Missouri Summer days – but who will claim the coveted title of Missouri’s Best Baseball Team?
For Cardinals fans, both hope and despair too often sit together like old chums, engorging themselves with drink until the line between good and evil becomes blurred and worn with travel. Below, I’ve taken the liberty of transcribing what few drunken ramblings I could overhear while sitting within earshot of our confused friends.
Hope: “Not to worry, my discouraging friend. This La Russa lad knows his game. His myriad of tantalizing lineup riddles will confuse and confound our unsuspecting quarry.”
Despair: “No, no…it is precisely his fear of passive predictability that will doom this team. His players have no sense of themselves…no knowledge of their own identity. One day, this man is an infielder…the next, he roams the outfield – and rather dangerously I might add. It’s madness! How can a man succeed without first knowing himself?” (Despair is our resident philosopher, if you haven’t yet figured that out)
Hope: “Ah, but now it is you who are in error! You overlook the very reason our beloved manager plays such a high-risk game of lineup roulette. His cleverness has revealed to him the most effective lineup on any given day to maximize offense and defense at the same time. It is not our place to question such divinely inspired pencil scratchings!” (Hope tends to be a bit sarcastically optimistic – an odd combination, I know…but he is, after all, drunk as a skunk)
Despair: “Offense?! What offense? We have, thus far, won two games by the hair of Franklin’s chinny, chin, chin and the third by the rare work of an unanticipated master. This team of ill-prepared children lacks the experience to survive a dominant pitcher! Without the passion and storied character of Rick Ankiel and Ryan Ludwick, this team lacks the heart and drive to push through adversity.”
Hope: “Oh, I beg to differ. Mr. Pujols provides heart and drive aplenty…and the energy injected by these young players does surely provide a boost to our down-trodden veterans. And dost thou forget the return of our white knight, the man known as Ace??? Does he not exude more heart and drive – competitive passion and immovable solidarity – from his coveted index finger than the entire Kansas City fan-base?” (Forgive Hope his, at times, out-dated dialect…it appears the influx of depressed Cubs fans has caused the local breweries to carry an abundance of clearance-priced Old Style which, true to its name, carries the unexpected side-effect of inducing the speech patterns of a man who last saw the Cubs win a World Series…)
Despair: “Ah…I see you have again returned to your comfortable, Carp-thumping ways. ‘Wait until Carp comes back!’ you say. ‘Then, we’ll be the envy of the league and all will be set right.’ Except I have waited…and waited…and waited some more. And just when I dare to leave my solid foundation of realism, our beloved Ace again retreats to the training grounds. In truth, is he not a single throw away from a tragic end? Is he not The Man with the Glass Arm? I myself worry we have awakened him too soon – rushed his return to this life in our anxious need for effective starting pitching.”
Hope: “But he is strong! His latest foray into battle doth testify to his health and worthiness. Besides…who knows his condition better than the great tribunal in the Cardinals’ front office? Dewitt, Mo’, and Lunhow know their realm…and they rule it with an iron pocketbook. If they trust the assurances of our worthy healers, Patella and Weinberg…who are we to question them?”
Despair: “Ah, Hope. Hokey assurances and ancient procedures are no match for a dependable Ace in your rotation, kid. Your sad devotion to that ancient routine has not helped you conjure up a playoff birth, or given you clairvoyance enough to predict the return of our power-hitting third-baseman.” (Despair is also a bit of a movie buff with a flare for the dramatic…)
Hope: “Have you not watched the performances of Brian ‘The Bear Slayer,’ or reveled in the overly-aggressive acrobatics of Super-Joe Thurston? Our third basemen are solid. I do not fear a lineup without Glaus.”
Despair: “Based on our recent offensive production, neither does the rest of the league. (holds hand up to stop Hope’s irritated protest)…I know, I know…that’s not what you meant…but it is a valid point. That dynamic duo of Barden and Thurston has not exactly been spectacular of late.”
Hope: “(waives his hand dismissively) That is a small matter of little concern. Thurston was clearly exposed and seems on the verge of making a critical adjustment. Barden…well…he simply requires regular playing time. Besides…the defensive prowess of both easily makes up for any loss of offense we may incur as a result.”
Despair: “Hmph. Tell that to our recent road trip.”
Hope: “All in the past, my friend. Besides…is it not comforting that the Cardinals are finally showing an affinity for Busch Stadium? Is it not comforting to know the 2009 Cardinals – unlike their 2008 counterparts – appear to be developing a true home-field advantage?”
Despair: “Tell that to the Brewers…”
Hope: “Of no consequence. Surely you know that even the best seasons have their anomalies. Did we not follow such a dismal performance with a series sweep of our arch-nemesis? Do you not now feel more than a glimmer of hope that our surging momentum will continue tonight against our bordering enemies?”
Despair: “Truthfully? I do not. How can one feel hope with the likes of Todd Wellemeyer on the mound? It’s clear to those who are truly watching that the man has lost all knowledge of himself. His body is clearly unfamiliar with the demands his mind is desperately trying to place upon it.”
Hope: “Again, dear friend, it is almost as if you have not watched a single game this season. The Todalion has shown a humble and courageous willingness to adjust time and time again. Has he not followed dismal outings with outstanding ones already this year? Truly, his intelligence will help him here. His cleverness, combined with that of his trusted pitching coach, will surely discover a way to succeed, and his work ethic will carry him through to the victorious end.”
Despair: “Hmmm…according to the Todalion himself, it is his ‘intelligence’ that he needs to suppress in order to stop stumbling all over himself. And yet, is not his intellect a defining factor of his own identity? How, then, can one suppress – in truth, reject! – such a core component of one’s makeup and identity and then hope to succeed???”
Hope: “Has he not already made such titanic shifts in identity? Did he not join us as a cast-off relief pitcher with little control only to blossom into an undiscovered gem of a starting pitcher in the capable hands of Duncan? He will be okay, my friend. You will see. Especially with the young assassin Thompson watching his back.”
Despair: “I doubt your unrestrained optimism – especially when our hopes rest on a pitcher who has already made a second 2009 home in Memphis. Without Ludwick and Ankiel…and Duncan in a slump…I fear the Todalion will have no margin for error. How long can our team continue to win while only scoring 2-3 runs a game?”
Hope: “Ah, but did not Duncan end his slump just the other night? And, I would add, we only need survive without Ankiel a few days at most, and Ludwick a week. Surely we can accomplish this small feat…it’s only a week.”
Despair: “Only a week?! In 3 days, we went from first place to 3rd place and 3 games back in the division…while playing in our own stadium! How does that work with your ‘home field advantage’ theory? And, I’ll have you know, one ground ball hit with a pulled-in defense and a lucky-dawg bloop hit does not, in truth, constitute an end to a slump.”
Hope: “But many times, it is just such a game that can allow a player to escape the doldrums of his own despair. Besides…”
I apologize, friends, but this was all I could hear before the two took to increased mumbling and unintelligible rantings. I kept waiting for one or the other to pass out from so much drink (my money was on Hope…he seemed unable to hold his liquor compared to the well-practiced drinking of Despair…), but it appears their debate has been going for quite some time and will continue to run unchecked for the foreseeable future.
Tonight, state bragging rights are at stake as the Royals come to town. Here’s hoping Despair is a drunken fool and Hope is the voice of reason.