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Bird Watching

Bird Watching: Bring On The Ace…

Isn’t baseball wonderful?

Chris Carpenter – out of the game for most of the year, bowing out in July with “season-ending surgery” – returned to the Cardinals’ rotation with just a handful of games left to play in the regular season. Just two starts into a 3-start revival, Carp has pitched well but with little luck. Through unfortunate happenstance and inconsistent offense, he has yet to notch a win in 2012, a season he was supposed to miss entirely (that tends to happen to athletes who have ribs removed mid-year). In fact, the last win of Carpenter’s MLB career? Game 7 of the 2011 World Series.

And now tonight The Ace will be pitching for three things: A spot in the postseason rotation. His first win of the year. And the chance to clinch the fifth and final playoff spot in the National League (the infamous 2nd Wild Card).

For those keeping track, this could be Carpenter’s fourth “clinch” game thrown for the Cardinals in his last nine MLB starts (Last Day of 2011, NLDS Game 5, World Series Game 7, and tonight). For the Cardinals as a team, that makes four of the last five “clinch” games they’ve entrusted to the ferocious right arm of Chris Carpenter.

True, tonight’s game doesn’t come with the kind of do-or-die pressure that came with the last three “clinch” games started by Carpenter – win in Houston or face the possibility of a lost season, win in Game 5 of the NLDS or go home, win in Game 7 of the World Series or live with “what could have been” for years – but it does fit snugly into that special cosmic place reserved just for baseball.

In St. Louis, baseball fans are a romantic lot. We love our Hall of Famers, we treasure our Championships, and we adore our heroes on the diamond. And when something happens like what could happen tonight, we can’t help but recognize the poetic nature of it all.

Chris Carpenter – a pitcher done for the season, perhaps his career – defies all the odds and medical science itself in his return to the mound in just his third start to the season against the hated Cincinnati Reds. In his hands he holds the Cardinals’ playoff hopes – a chance to clinch a Wild Card berth with a win.

A loss tonight could be, simply put, unfair. But a win…a win could be an omen of things to come.

Chris Carpenter – The Ace – has the ball again with the season outcome on the line. This should be fun.

Matheny has gotten the job done. I’ve been rough on Mike in his first season as Cardinals’ manager. He’s fallen in love with the bunt, he’s made questionable bullpen and lineup decisions, and his loyalty and trust in his players and pitchers has landed him in hot water more than once. But all in all, the rookie’s gotten the Redbirds to within one Cardinals win or one Dodgers loss of getting into the postseason (sort of). By contrast, fellow rookie manager Robin Ventura of the White Sox became something of a media darling during the regular season when his team out-performed most expectations to lead the AL Central…but they couldn’t finish the job. Now, Matheny – a manager perhaps scarred by first season growing pains – looks like the guy that got his club in a position to finish strong. There’s not much to say to that except, “Good job, Mike.”

And Matheny seems to have finally figured out the Garcia conundrum. Since lasting only 3 innings against San Diego on September 10th, Jaime has looked like “the ace he could be” over his last four consecutive starts. In two games against Houston and a game against Cincinnati and Los Angeles each, ‘ol Head Case has thrown 25.2 innings, allowed a total of 6 earned runs, and won 3 of 4 (he got a no-decision in the LAD game). But perhaps the most telling piece of information…two of those starts came on the road against the WC contending Dodgers and the horrendous Astros in Garcia’s arch-nemesis, Minute Maid Park. Whatever Matheny did, it seems to be working. The kid is back on track and looking strong. Kudos to Mike. Figuring out Garcia’s issues was something even TLR couldn’t do, choosing instead to simply work around those eerie home/road splits to avoid starting the lefty away from Busch in high pressure games. Let’s hope it sticks.

And finally the game that perhaps should have happened actually will happen (assuming the Cards clinch..knock on wood). Last season, after overcoming a 10.5 game deficit to eliminate the Braves, I couldn’t help but feel like that final play-in game should have happened anyway. Yeah, the Cards won it fair and square, and yes, games in September/July/April all count the same in the standings, but it just felt like perhaps the Braves should be given one last chance to “defend their honor,” so to speak. They didn’t, and the rest is history. But they will now. The standings are drastically different this year– the Braves enjoy a comfortable lead in the Wild Card rankings to earn the top spot and home field advantage for the play-in/off game – but make no mistake about it…Friday’s game in Atlanta will be personal. The fans will hate the Cardinals and rain down their displeasure with boos and hisses and tomahawk chops. The Braves will look to avenge last season’s disappointment while also throwing everything they’ve got into one last hurrah for retiring third baseman Chipper Jones. And the Cardinals will be looking to prove to everyone that they don’t need Albert Pujols to get the job done. Should be a grand ‘ol time in Georgia.

Oh…and if the Cardinals make the WC game, and if they win it in Atlanta…I wonder if John Mozeliak and the front office will score a few tickets for any playoff games played in Busch this season for Albert and the Pujols family…? I hear his schedule just freed up.

Wrap-Up!

That’ll do it for today. We’re trying desperately to get back on the horse here on the blog, but life, family, etc., etc. seems to be getting in the way. We promise to do better.

GO CARDS!!!

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