The Cardinals appeared to have broken out of their rugged stretch of seven of nine with two straight wins in Anaheim. But, not so fast. Josh Hamilton’s two-run homer tied the game and Eric Aybar’s game-winner sent the Cards home with a 6-5 loss. Shelby Miller gave the Cards a quality start on Wednesday night, and Adam Wainwright went eight strong innings on Thursday. Meanwhile, Jerome Williams gave the Angels just 1 2/3 innings and allowed seven runs on Wednesday, and Joe Blanton allowed five runs (four earned) in 5 2/3 innings on Thursday. The Cardinal starters outpitched L.A.’s in two straight games, and only Edward Mujica’s first blown save of the season prevented the Cardinals from earning two straight wins.
Let me give you some situations. Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers has been pulled after the eighth inning or later three times this season, and his bullpen has protected the lead all three times. Jordan Zimmermann of the Nationals has 12 wins. On three occasions he’s turned a lead over to the bullpen after eight innings, and all three times the lead has been protected. In Game 6 of the 1985 World Series, Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog pulled Danny Cox, who had a shutout, after seven innings. Ken Dayley pitched a scoreless eighth, but Todd Worrell couldn’t hold the lead in the ninth. Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa pulled Dave Stewart after eight strong innings in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley couldn’t hold the lead. It’s what managers do, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Mujica was 21-for-21 in save opportunities before blowing a save against the Angels. Mujica, remarkably, isn’t perfect. It was going to happen sometime.
*It was almost sad to see how meek Albert Pujols’ performance was against the Cardinals. He was 1-for11 and is five for his last 45. He lumbers down the line, and clearly isn’t the player we watched for 11 seasons with the Cardinals. It’s a good thing he plays his home games on the West Coast. If he were in Boston or New York, his decline would lead “SportsCenter” every day.
*Last week, I liked the statistic that teams in first place on July 4, dating back to 1901, won their division 60 percent of the time. Now, I don’t. Sports Illustrated did the research last year, that between 1901 and 2011, 60 percent of teams in first on Independence Day finished in first. As of July 4, 2012, the Braves, Reds and Giants were the NL leaders, while Baltimore, Detroit and Oakland led in the AL. The Nationals overtook eventual wild-card Atlanta to win the NL East, while Cincinnati and San Francisco held on. In the American League, the Tigers and A’s held on, while the Yankees bounced back to win the East. So, two-thirds of the Fourth of July leaders last year won. Baltimore and Atlanta both made the playoffs last year.
This season, the leaders as of July 4 were Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Arizona in the NL, and Baltimore, Detroit and Oakland in the AL. Let’s hope if form holds, the Pirates are one of the first-place teams that sputter in the second half, and that the Cardinals are the team that knocks them off. Either way, the odds of the Pirates making the playoffs are outstanding.
*By the way, the Yankees have spent the entire season without Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter. Kevin Youkilis has played 28 games, Curtis Granderson has played eight, and Mark Texiera played 15 before undergoing season-ending wrist surgery. Yet New York is six out in its division, and a game and a half behind the wild-card leaders. Both A-Rod and Jeter hope to return soon. I wouldn’t sleep on the Yankees if I were in the AL East.
*Bottom line for the Cardinals: Of their 78 remaining games, they have 14 against Pittsburgh and 13 against the Cubs. They control their own destiny heading into the second half, and that’s all anyone could have asked for when the season started.