Tag Archives: St. Louis Cardinals

Fall Down, Go Boom: Playoffs, Meet A.J. Pierzynski

Did A.J. Pierzynski flop? Of course A.J. Pierzynski flopped. Demean the guy’s character all you want, say that his motivation is outside the boundaries of baseball normalcy, but never say that this man isn’t at all times thinking about ways he could help his team.

The above image, taken during the second inning of Wednesday’s Game 4 of the NLCS, shows the catcher at his evil best. With Hunter Pence on first base and one out, the pitch bounced away from Pierzynski, and Pence advanced to second. The catcher, however, was cagey enough to note that the fortuitously timed backswing of Travis Ishikawa, which clipped him as he sprung up to corral the loose ball, could actually work to his advantage. The blow wasn’t hard enough to impede his progress, but after one step it occurred to him that falling to the ground might benefit his cause.

So Pierzynski tumbled onto his backside, flipping off his mask and helmet in the process in what looked like a belated attempt to make it appear as if they had been knocked off by Ishikawa. What he wanted: Plate ump Mark Carlson to decide that Pierzynski’s path to the ball had been impeded, rule batter’s interference, and send Pence back to first. What he got: Exactly that.

Shrewd. This is the guy who runs across the pitcher’s mound after being retired on the basepaths, just to try distracting the pitcher a smidge. He’ll intentionally get hit by a pitch and then bark at the pitcher, only to rile him up. He’ll act like he was hit by a pitch that didn’t hit him during a no-hitter. If there’s immediate benefit, great, but one gets the idea from looking at Pierzynski’s overall body of work that the guy’s primary goal is to needle his way under the skin of every one of his opponents until they’re thinking about what an asshole he is instead of paying attention to their jobs.

Still, who but an incredibly aware and overly wily player could even consider pulling off something like this, from the 2005 ALCS?:

(More on the fallout from that play here.)

Ultimately, it all makes Pierzynski an asset to whatever team he’s on, for reasons well beyond his ability to play baseball. There’s a reason that his former manager, Ozzie Guillen, once said, “If you play against him, you hate him. If you play with him, you hate him a little less.” Hate him all you want, but give the guy some credit.

Update: As pointed out by reader RoadDogRuss, this was not even the first time Pierzynski fell down on the job.

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The Art of Unnecessarily Picking up Other People’s Battles: Adrian Gonzalez, Come on Down!

It was noteworthy because it’s the postseason, and it was noteworthy because there’s some history between these teams, and it was noteworthy because it involved Yasiel Puig and everything that involves Yasiel Puig is noteworthy.

But, Adrian Gonzalez’s insistence aside, there’s no way on God’s green infield that Adam Wainwright was intentionally throwing at Puig in Game 2 of the NLDS on Friday.

It was the third inning. It was a 1-0 game. Puig was leading off. And, oh yeah, it’s the playoffs. Wainright needed to work inside, and he may have done so carelessly but certainly not intentionally. Puig seemed to realize this, understanding that an extra baserunner was precisely not what Wainwright wanted at that moment, and taking his base without protest. But Wainwright had earlier buzzed Hanley Ramirez at the hands, and in last year’s playoff series between these same teams, St. Louis pitcher Joe Kelly cracked one of Ramirez’ ribs.

All of which was likely on Gonzalez’s mind when he stood at the plate, jawing with Cards catcher Yadier Molina, even as Puig took his base. That he was standing up for his teammate was admirable. That he chose to spark a benches-clearing dustup for an HBP that wasn’t even his own? Less so. That moment was Puig’s to do with what he wanted, and when he treated it calmly and rationally, Gonzalez should have, too. That the benches ended up clearing was entirely his fault.

“You guys keep doing this over and over. We’re not going to put up with that,'” Gonzalez said he told Molina, in an ESPN.com report. “They’re going to say it’s not on purpose, but come on. It’s Wainwright. He knows where the ball is going.”

Gonzalez said Molina told him, “You’ve got to respect me.”

“I thought that was out of context, but it’s what he said,” Gonzalez relayed.

One beautiful part of the exchange was that, thanks to Gonzalez’s outburst, Wainwright had the opportunity to approach Puig and explain face to face that he hadn’t meant to hit him. Puig appeared to go along with it.

Another beautiful part was when Ramirez, up three batters later, knocked Puig home with a single, providing the best sort of revenge for which the Dodgers could have asked.

 

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Mattingly No Fan of Cards’ Pryin’ Eyes

Jose OquendoSo Don Mattingly is peeved that the Cardinals were apparently interested in his team’s signs during last year’s NLCS. They were looking into the Los Angeles dugout, he told ESPN LA at the winter meetings. Runners at second may have been picking off catcher A.J. Ellis.

This is a weird one. This kind of thing not only happens all the time, to the extent that it’s accepted practice, but virtually every team does it to some extent. It’s a near certainty that the Dodgers do it themselves.

It’s weird because Mattingly doesn’t decry it outright, instead saying things like “We felt like we had to be sure we kept an eye on their first-base coach and their third-base coach,” and “[Third base coach Jose Oquendo] is a guy at third who’s always looking for my signs from our dugout.” Mattingly said it was on the Dodgers to stop it if was happening.

But if one possesses such entirely mainstream attitudes, why bring up the subject in the first place? These are the comments of a guy who says he has no axe to grind, even while he’s looking up from the axe grinder.

That said, let’s look at Oquendo for a moment. Back in 2008 or so, I interviewed him for The Baseball Codes. (He has been the St. Louis third base coach since 2000, and was the bench coach the season before that.) He addressed many of these issues, minus the part where he’s actually maximizing his team’s advantage:

“I steal signs every day as a coach. But one thing I don’t do, I don’t tell the hitters. Now, when somebody’s on base, I’m going to say to my runner when to run and when not to run. That’s part of the game. But I would never tell a hitter what’s coming. It’s respect. If a player asked me to do it, I would never do it. That’s my personal opinion, I respect the game in that way.”

So you sit on the coaching line and get the signs and use them to tell guys when to run?

“If I see a breaking ball, I know to have our guys steal. Or if a pitcher has a tell when he’s going to first, that stuff you take advantage of. To tell a hitter what’s coming, that’s never been my style. …”

How easy is it to steal signs, particularly if there’s a runner on?

“If nobody’s on base, I don’t even look at the signs. I don’t care with nobody on. Now with somebody on base, I might want to know if he is going to throw a pitchout, when they are going to throw to first, stuff like that. …

“I don’t “steal” the signs, I just see them. It’s pretty easy a lot of time—you see it from the catcher or from the pitcher. I’d say half of the catchers in the National League, I can see the signs from third base. [Mike] Matheny [then the Cardinals catcher, now the Cardinals manager] knows about it—he looks at me every time he’s going to put signs down. I drive him nuts at third base, but he knows that I’ll get it from him or from the pitcher. I’m gonna get it somewhere.

Draw your own conclusions.

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Brave New World, Courtesy of an Exuberant 22-Year-Old

Puig celebratesIt’s been a long week of Dodgers-inspired discussion of the unwritten rules. This is what happens when the team with a laid-back attitude toward the Code butts heads with the direct heir to Tony La Russa. Comparisons are bound to be drawn, and opinions will fly:

The Dodgers’ approach is shameful. Let boys be boys. Celebration is fine. Celebration is disrespectful. Yasiel Puig is precisely what a stodgy game needs—unless he should instead grow up and shape up.

There is little question that the game’s acceptance of on-field merriment has grown more lenient. The celebratory scrum that is now de facto after walk-off wins was, only recently, limited to games in which a team clinched a playoff series. Hand gestures that have become common— Texas’ antlers, Milwaukee’s beast mode, Hanley Ramirez’ goggles—that once they inspired discussions about propriety now barely make a ripple.

Once these things become integrated into baseball culture, after all, they become just another means of celebration. And when something becomes institutionalized, it becomes a whole lot harder for the opposition to take it personally.

That said, these Dodgers seem hell bent on pushing the boundaries. Racing across the diamond at Chase Field to frolic in the pool upon clinching the National League West. Going so far, according to reports, to treat it like a urinal.

Puig’s arms-raised celebratory home run pimp on a ball that didn’t leave the park in Game 3 was all the more amusing because he still ended up with a stand-up triple. Whereupon he did an arms-raised celebratory triple pimp.

Carlos Beltran had an opinion on this, saying “As a player, I just think [Puig] doesn’t know [how to act]. That’s what I think. He really doesn’t know. He must think that he’s still playing somewhere else. He has a lot of passion, no doubt about that—great ability, great talent. I think with time he’ll learn that you’ve got to act with a little bit more calm.”

Adam Wainright said that in Game 3 of the NLCS, Adrian Gonzalez was heckling him from third base as he tried to pitch. He called it “Mickey Mouse stuff.” Gonzalez at first denied it, then offered the most Dodger response possible, making Mickey Mouse ears when returning to the dugout after a Game 5 home run.

To those who took offense, the counterpoint offered by bloggers and columnists everywhere held opinions along the line of “baseball can learn a thing or two,” and that it’s just jealousy” and “shut up.”

Ultimately, it comes to this: Baseball changes very slowly, but it does change. Puig is the youngest, freshest face that the sport has, and he does not have to be universally loved to affect change. Few transformative figures do.

The idea of the Code—an enforced system of respect, displayed through proscribed on-field behavior—becomes more difficult to maintain every year, as old-school adherents retire and are replaced by those who never cared much for it in the first place. Enter the attention given somebody like Puig—who does not disdain the Code so much as revel in the fact that he never learned it in the first place—and we’re looking at a sea change.

Celebrations—be they directed at seasons, games or individual feats—are now commonplace. Puig may represent the crass end of that spectrum, but he is on the spectrum nonetheless, and is pushing the window of what is acceptable toward a place that makes purists howl.

Then again, howling is what purists tend to do when their reality changes from beneath them.

The Dodgers running roughshod as a team over the Arizona ballpark was simply a bad idea, but it shouldn’t distract from the rest of this conversation. Love it or hate it, the game’s unwritten rules have taken a body blow this month. Get used to it: We’re looking at less of an outlier and more of the norm.

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Rookie Tossed, Manager Tight, Tradition the Same as it Ever Was

Matheny tossedMike Matheny is apparently not a fan of rookie treatment, at least when it comes to umpires. On Thursday, St. Louis’ first-year first baseman Matt Adams struck out in the ninth inning, on what he considered to be a high, inside pitch. He questioned plate ump Dan Belino, then, on his way back to the dugout, turned around and questioned him again.

Belino shooed him away. The gesture was more than Matheny was willing to tolerate. Once closer Kevin Gregg had sealed the Cubs’ 3-0 victory moments later, Matheny raced toward Belino, to the point of necessitating restraint from the rest of the umpiring crew. (Watch it here.)

His frustration, he told reporters after the game, had less to do with the strike call than “with the umpire and how he mistreated one of our players, Adams.”

“It’s ridiculous,” Matheny said. “You can’t take your mask off and motion somebody away. We had not had any trouble. We hadn’t been complaining all game long. He wanted to be seen, so now he’s going to be seen.”

There is, however, something else at play: If the unwritten rule that labels such a display disrespectful constitutes one side of the coin, the other side is covered by the notion that rookies must earn their place in the game. This is true within clubhouse hierarchies, and it is true when it comes to umpires. Although it is generally less prevalent now than in past generations, umpires throughout the game’s history have taken the position that young players must earn their respect, and will test them accordingly to push the issue.

Last year Bryce Harper felt it with Angel Hernandez’s strike zone. If it was a test, Harper failed, badly.

A similar story comes to us courtesy of Hall of Famer Catfish Hunter. In his autobiography, Catfish: My Life in Baseball, he described a confrontation during his rookie season in 1965:

One of the biggest lessons I learned came courtesy of senior umpire Ed Runge. “You’ll like this guy, Cat,” my teammates told me the first time Runge was behind the plate. “He gives you everything.”

Great. A friend in high places. I fired my first pitch, a fastball, right down the middle.

“Ball,” screamed Runge, yanking off his mask like someone had just yelled “Fire!” He stared out at the mound, begging me to argue. I didn’t say a word.

Another pitch. Another fastball right down Main Street.

“Ball two!”

Same yank. Same look. Still I don’t say boo.

We play the same game a couple of more times—me throwing strikes, Runge playing hard to please—and still I don’t let out a peep. A few weeks later Runge is set to go behind the plate again. Before the game, we happened to meet.

He gives me a quick once-over. “I see you don’t argue with umpires, kid.”

“No, sir,” I said.

A smile. “It’s a good thing.”

From then on I was a card-carrying member of the Ed Runge Club. Anything close was a strike. I’d passed the test.

Credit Matheny for protecting his players, but if Belino was hoping to see from Adams something similar to the deference that Runge got from Hunter, he’s going to have to wait a while.

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Matt Carpenter, Drilled Three Times: ‘I Wouldn’t Expect Anything Different.’ St. Louis Responds Accordingly

3When a pitcher clearly has no intention of hitting a batter, the act is unlikely to draw much in the way of rebuke. When it happens three times in the same game, however, to the same batter, you better believe that an eyebrow will be raised.

On Tuesday, Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter hit the trifecta against Arizona. More appropriately, Arizona hit the trifecta against Carpenter. None of the pitches came close to looking intentional.

* First time: Seventh inning,  St. Louis trailing by one run and a man on first with one out. Not a situation for a pitcher to make a statement, not to mention that the ball hit Carpenter’s hand as he was squaring to bunt.

* Second time: Ninth inning, one out in a tie game. Again, not a situation for a pitcher to make a statement.Carpenter was hit on the forearm with a pitch that darted inside at the last moment.

* Third time: This looked like the most intentional of the bunch, but drilling somebody on purpose in the 13th inning of a tie game is simply not done. (Watch them all here.)

There was no lingering disagreement between Carpenter and an angry D’Backs pitcher, because each of his HBPs came against a different guy. For each of the pitches the catcher was set up inside.

“That’s what they wanted to do to me and a couple of other left-handers,” said Carpenter, who was hit three times all last season, in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I wouldn’t expect anything different. You miss in two spots. Either you miss over the plate or you miss and hit somebody. It’s just the way it is when you pitch inside.”

Still, a three-pack of HBPs is a three-pack of HBPs. The Cardinals, however, were walking a fine line when it came to payback on Wednesday. St. Louis already had a short bullpen due to a doubleheader last week; the 14 innings on Tuesday added additional strain. Also, Yadier Molina dropped his suspension appeal following his recent ump-bumping incident (itself laden with unwritten rules) and sat out Wednesday (which he would have done anyway, following Tuesday’s marathon).

All of which is to say that St. Louis, already undermanned, could hardly afford to have a pitcher or a catcher tossed in the name of fulfilling retaliatory expectations. Were there going to be payback, it had to be subtle.

And it was, right there in the first inning. When Carpenter’s second-base counterpart on the Diamondbacks, Willie Bloomquist, came up for his first at-bat on Wednesday, he was buzzed—a fastball came in just under his armpits—not drilled. The Cardinals left little doubt that they were paying attention.

Cardinals broadcasters Dan McLaughlin and Ricky Horton (a former big league pitcher himself) summed it up nicely on the telecast:

DM: There’s someone from Arizona who needs to properly, professionally get one in the ribs or the back, because Matt Carpenter was hit three times last night.

RH: I think that we just saw it.

DM: That’s not enough if I’m Matt Carpenter. What did that prove? You pitched inside. So what?

RH: Well, he came in way inside, with the idea. I think the message was sent. There was no pain to it, if that’s what you’re looking for.

DM: I want pain. [Laughs]

RH: I thought that’s where you were headed with that.

DM: Pain, Rick.

RH: Well you have the message and you have pain, Dan. You’ve sent the message and maybe you were a little light on the pain.

McLaughlin clarified that he was kidding about the pain, Horton added that a subtle message worked just fine in this situation, and everybody appeared to be happy to move on.

(St. Louis pitchers did hit Bloomquist in the seventh, and shortstop Didi Gregorius twice, but all seemed to lack intent. Gregorius was hit by a 74 mph slider with a runner on second and nobody out in a one-run game, Bloomquist was hit later that inning with two men on in a tie game, and Gregorius was hit again in the eighth with a splitter.)

Questions about delayed payback were answered on Thursday, when the Cardinals faced a 12-2 deficit in the sixth, and opted not to drill any Arizona hitters.

It all adds up to a lot of thought devoted to a series of unintentional events, but that’s the way the game is played.

 

Serious thanks to Cards fan Chris C. for the heads-up and broadcast transcription.

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To Bunt or Not to Bunt, That is the Question—Even if it Doesn’t Make Much Sense

Kyle LohseWe may have found a new unwritten rule in Busch Stadium on Sunday. Either that, or Kyle Lohse is completely off his rocker.

Lohse allowed six singles to the first seven batters he faced in the fourth inning (including a bases-loaded squeeze beaten out by Pete Kozma), during which time he allowed four runs. That left runners at first and second, with one out, for pitcher John Gast.

Gast squared to bunt, but pulled the bat back at the last moment to swing away. This is not an unusual baseball move, especially for a pitcher, when the opposing third baseman is charging hard. Lohse, however, was irate, and threw three consecutive pitches high and inside. Gass eventually bunted into an out.

The act might have been explainable as an anti-bunt strategy had Lohse not immediately thereafter shared some heated thoughts with Cardinals third base coach Jose Oquendo, then continued the conversation with catcher Yadier Molina when he came to the plate the following inning.

“They know what I had to say,” Lohse said in an MLB.com report. “It had nothing to do with the squeeze or anything like that. It was something that happened after that. … I’ll leave it at that. They know.”

Ultimately, St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz may have offered the clearest-eyed viewpoint, speculating that Lohse was ticked that after five seasons in St. Louis A) the Cards didn’t keep him on their roster in favor of going with young pitchers, which B) left him first in free-agent purgatory and C) then with the last-place Brewers. There’s also D) the notion that Lohse is 1-5, despite pitching well this season, and that E) three of those losses have come at the hands of two of the young pitchers chosen by St. Louis to take his place—Shelby Miller and, last night, Gast. With that in mind, it makes sense that the pitcher’s fuse is a bit short. (Miller also did the square-to-bunt-and-pull-the-bat-back move against Lohse earlier in the season.)

On strictly baseball terms, given the information that’s currently available, Lohse doesn’t have a leg to stand on. (He also positioned himself as the anti-Nolan Ryan, who was known for drilling guys who tried to bunt on him. Lohse, it seems, was perturbed that a guy tried to not bunt on him.)

Lohse didn’t hit Gast, so no harm was actually done, but he was clearly pitching angry. It does not appear to be a retaliation-worthy offense, but stay tuned—these teams play each other nine more times this year.

(H/T Bill Ivie of I-70 Baseball.)

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