When Aaron Heilman came into the game in the bottom of the ninth, I thought, "Hmmm. He's actually thrown pretty well in his last few outings."
Strange but true -- from August 12 through Thursday, Heilman had made 10 appearances covering 13 innings, with a 1.38 ERA and 11 strikeouts. And one of the reasons he'd thrown so well is the lack of walks -- only one in those 11 innings, after issuing 32 free passes in 53 innings before August 12.
It didn't take long after that thought ran through my head for Heilman to run the count on Matt Holliday to 3-1. "Okay", I thought then, "a walk isn't the end of the world."
That would have turned out to be correct. Holliday hit the next pitch for an opposite-field walkoff home run, giving the Cardinals a 3-2 win over the Cubs, yet another game in which the Cubs had plenty of chances to break it open and failed.
If anyone here has time and access to such statistics, I'd like to see a count of the number of times the Cubs had plate appearances with the bases loaded and failed to score this season -- and a comparison of that number with other teams. It seems that there have been an inordinate number of such situations; there was another last night, when the Cubs could have taken the 2-2 tie and blown the game open in the sixth. Of course, it would have then required taking out Ted Lilly, who had retired the first nine Cardinals in order and given up only three hits, including a triple to Mark DeRosa that might have been fielded cleanly by a real left fielder -- why is Bobby Scales out there? Here's what Lou said:
"Scales is learning outfield play," said Piniella, who doesn't have many options because of injuries to players. "He went into the corner. An outfielder has to wait for that ball to come out, concede the double to the hitter and that's it. What are you going to do? If the game stays that way, we go into the ninth inning with a 2-1 lead."
"Learning outfield play"? What is this, spring training? Lou, you did have another option. I'd rather have seen So Taguchi start in left field last night. Neither Taguchi nor Scales is a very good hitter, but at least Taguchi can play the outfield. He might have been able to track that ball down; he'd have had a better chance than Scales, anyway.
That, unfortunately, is the story of this team. Just not quite enough, and sometimes strange decisions made by the manager. Failure to take advantage of situations -- not only the bases-loaded situation in the sith, but the chance to perhaps pile up more than two runs off Smoltz in the first inning, when three straight doubles made the score 2-0. And taking themselves out of situations -- when Ryan Theriot was picked off in the top of the ninth, for example. The Cubs drew three walks off Smoltz, who had walked only one in 22 innings for the Cardinals since his acquisition last month. And why didn't the Cubs try to sign Smoltz, anyway?
The win by the Cardinals reduced their magic number to clinch the NL Central to six, and clinched the season series against the Cubs; they lead 9-5 with two games remaining.
Enough. They'll try it again this afternoon. The game preview thread will be up at 1 pm CDT.