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Bird Watching

Bird Watching: Uh…What the…?

This game is hard, no doubt about it. At no point in time do I ever intend to imply otherwise. I certainly can’t play it at anywhere near the necessary level needed to break camp with a team like the Cardinals. And no, I couldn’t fill a management or coaching position in the dugout either.

But that said…let’s not pretend that this game is rocket science.

For eight innings, the Redbirds battled the Reds on a day celebrated by each and every Cardinals fan as if it’s a national holiday. Musial was honored, the rest of the Hall of Famers were recognized, and we all cheered and clapped for what could be The Ace’s final appearance as a player. The game started and the baseball gods seemed to be favoring the home team in the early innings. And then the wheels came off.

Now, we all know that many things can and do impact the outcome of a game over a full slate of nine grinding innings. Maybe the key play happens in the third, or a critical decision is made in the seventh. Not every game-defining moment happens in the ninth inning or later. In this case, however, I believe it did.

Under no circumstances should Mitchell Boggs have been allowed to stay in a game long enough to cough up seven runs – six of them earned – and walk four batters in a tie game in the ninth inning. Are you kidding me?!

I don’t care if Matheny had no one warming in the pen. Leaving Boggs in that long in such a big and winnable game was ludicrous. You walk to the mound, you throw to first, you do something to stall the flippin’ game long enough to allow someone – anyone! – to get ready and relieve a man who is clearly self-destructing on the field in front of you. Matheny should know this! As a former catcher, the man was certainly part of Tony LaRussa’s attempts to stall on more than one occasion.

But instead, Matheny stuck with a reliever who even attempted to voluntarily give his manager the ball during one of Mike’s mound visits.

Look…when Boggs enters the game and begins his monumental meltdown, the game is probably lost at that point anyway. But the fact that Matheny allowed the punishment to go on as long as he did is unfathomable. It’s clear he didn’t have the stuff and/or control to get hitters out, in which case you’re only letting the game get out of reach by leaving him in. But also, by leaving him in to take a pounding and throw pitch after high-intensity pitch, you’re essentially making it less likely that he’ll be available for the rest of the series. And don’t even get me started on his confidence level after such an ugly flogging.

In fact, the only conceivable reason for Matheny to leave Boggs in the game so long would be to “take one for the team” and save the rest of the ‘pen for the next two days. But let’s face it…you don’t make a move like that with your closer. You want someone to absorb a beating? Fine. Find a mop-up guy or a rubber arm to enter the game with the clear goal of saving the rest of the ‘pen. At least in that situation, a pitcher can immunize himself a bit from the pounding his psyche is going to take during such a beating.

I really don’t understand why Matheny didn’t/couldn’t make a move. At times, he seems to get shell-shocked a bit – overwhelmed with the pace of the game or sudden, unexpected change in direction that can so often happen. Rather than step up in those moments, Matheny seems to get paralyzed and finds it difficult to fully process what’s happening on the fly. We saw it happen in Game 7 of the NLCS last year when the team was gradually sliding into postseason oblivion and Mike stood idly by, watching from the dugout with a look of resignation and confusion on his face.

He should have been hopping out of the dugout, pointing at the pen, barking at fielders, and turning his lineup card into a brain teaser. Instead…he remains transfixed by the horror unfolding before him.

I’m fully behind the Matheny experiment. I admire his steady leadership and the respect he receives from his players. But if his in-game management skills do not improve, he’s headed for a short career in a major league dugout.

Lets talk about the rest of it…

Let’s not give the offense a pass. Four hits, four runs, two walks, and just one official RBI against the type of hard-throwing right-hander the Cardinals typically eat for lunch. And that’s all with two errors by the Reds that led to runs scored. This offense is better than that. Sure, there were some hard hit balls by guys like Beltran and Holliday that just barely missed producing runs…but nothing of substance. If it hadn’t been for Choo vs. The Sun in center field, the Redbirds could have easily been shutout. It’s just more evidence of a Cardinal squad still looking for that peak level of performance they SHOULD have broken camp with out of Florida.

Matheny’s flawed decisions weren’t limited to his inability to yank Boggs. David Freese comes back and Matheny shifts the hot-hitting, run-producing Matt Carpenter to second base…uh…except he didn’t. Instead of maximizing his offensive potential by starting a guy who was actually moved to second base over the offseason simply because he’s a hitting machine, Mike plays Daniel Descalso at second base. Dirty Dan went 0 for 4 with a strikeout. Remind me again…why did we put so much effort into turning a third baseman into a second baseman? And don’t even get me started on the decision to pull Holliday in a tie game in the ninth inning…

The first person on Twitter to mention that Jason Isringhausen’s first pitch appearance contributed to the ninth inning meltdown gets a quick and decisive unfollow.

Does Major League Baseball even look at these schedules before they roll them out? The Cardinals spend Spring Training two or three time zones away in Florida and then fly to Arizona to start a late-game series that might as well be on the other side of the world – despite the fact that half the teams in MLB are actually IN Arizona for Spring Training just two days before the regular season begins! Then, to make matters worse, they finish a series in San Francisco and fly home overnight to play their home opener during the day less than 24 hours later. Really? Maybe Matheny left Boggs in the game because he was sparing his dog-tired players another extra inning affair. Mercy.

Wrap-up!

Let’s hope the Cardinals can take the next two games in Busch, but looking at an early report on Matheny’s lineup decision, I’m not encouraged. Once again, the Cardinals are at full strength with Freese on the roster and Carpenter available to play 2B…except he’s not. Carpenter is set to play 3B while Descalso brings that thunder-thumpin’ bat to second. *sigh*

It’s gonna’ be a long season.

GO CARDS!!!

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