Pujols Pulls It Out

Daniel ShoptawAnalyst IAugust 20, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 19:  Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals looks on during batting practice prior to the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on August 19, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

It's always good to have the best player in baseball on your team.

I've said before that the great ones get it done somehow, whatever it takes.  Albert Pujols proved that again tonight.  He only had one official at-bat, but proved that walking him is not always the brightest idea either.  His ninth inning steal made it possible for Matt Holliday to drive him in and win the game.

It's too bad that it came down to more Pujols heroics, though.  Adam Wainwright was pitching a gem last night.  No hits until the sixth inning is always a nice way for an ace to come out.  Then came the seventh, which is completely my fault.

I wasn't able to watch the early part of the game due to co-hosting last night's UCB Radio Hour and chatting with some of the bloggers after it.  So I get back to the game right about the seventh.  The first home run, I really thought was going to be caught.  The way the ball came off the bat, I thought it'd be a long fly out, but it just kept carrying.  The second home run was pretty much crushed off a hanging pitch.  At this point, I figure it's best for everyone if I roll over and go to sleep.  I do, the Dodgers don't score again, and the Cards win.  Apparently it was my night to be the Cardinal Nation jinx.

Save for that one inning, though, it was again a wonderful outing for Wainwright.  We discussed the NL Cy Young race on the show last night, and while Tim Lincecum probably does have it all wrapped up, especially when you look at the advanced metrics, you do have to tip your cap to what Wainwright and Chris Carpenter are doing.  They may not win the award, but they are definitely in the top 5.

I was leading toward Ryan Ludwick as the Goat for his strikeout with the bases loaded, but it's tough to argue with Julio Lugo's line of no hits in five at-bats, including stranding Brendan Ryan at third in the eighth in a tie game.  It'd have been nice to get that run and get Wainwright in line for his 15th win, but it was not to be.

Of course, the other big news of yesterday was the finalization of the John Smoltz deal.  There are indications that Smoltz still has something left in the tank, despite what his run in the American League might seem to say.  I found it pretty interesting that there is a fairly short leash on his starter role, as Tony LaRussa says they'll reevaluate after two starts.  With John Mozeliak indicating that part of the reason for him to start is to get more innings to get ready, it's hard to fault the move too much.

Honestly, for $100,000, you can't fault the move at all.  The best case scenario would be he reverts to more like John Smoltz of old and overtakes Kyle Lohse for the fourth starter role, putting him in the playoff rotation.  I don't really think that's going to happen, though it'd be great if it did.

More realistically, you think he could be passable in his starts, then move into the late inning role that most of us figure the Cards really wanted him for.  Imagine being able to go from Carpenter/Wainwright to Smoltz to Ryan Franklin in October.  The best way to win games in the postseason is to keep the other team away from the soft part of your bullpen.  If you could make that kind of transition, there is no soft part.  The lefties are strong, Blake Hawksworth has proven he can get guys out, so you might not have to see Jason Motte come into the game in a key situation after the regular season wraps.

I understand Mike from Stan Musial's Stance is planning to be at Sunday's game, which should be Smoltz's first start, so I'm sure he'll have some interesting points after watching him.  Be sure to check over there Sunday evening or Monday morning!

Smoltz was on XM Radio yesterday and had a few interesting things to say.

"I went home for 13 days, worked on a high school field, went to Georgia Tech and threw, got all the people who have ever worked with me looking at it and we've hopefully unlocked a simple secret but one that slipped away from me, [which] was the heel of my shoe was about two inches off the rubber pointed the wrong way and causing me to not get away from my arm side, to the left side of the plate which is where I've always been good, and it just really trickled down into a lot of bad habits.  So I wouldn't be doing this today if I didn't think I could make the necessary adjustments to really help a ball club. I could just as easily sit at home and watch baseball and get ready for fantasy football but I'm not ready for that yet."

I told someone yesterday, if there was any sort of mechanical problem, not only do you expect Dave Duncan to be able to find it (though it looks like Smoltz may have already done so) but Smoltz is veteran enough to apply whatever patch is needed.  He's not some young guy that needs to be told 10 times what to do.  If an adjustment to the mechanics will help, Smoltz knows how to do it.

"And for me personally this was the best fit.  It gave me the opportunity to get my feet wet again.  I need reps.  I need to get out there and feel good about my pitches and they need to see it.  They need to know and assess what role is going to be the best for them.  They've created a body of work that I've had nothing to do with and certainly want to be able to contribute in any way I can.  I really believe that I know still what it takes.  I know the difference between pressure and making big pitches.  Now I've just got to get myself in that position.  Their clubhouse, their guys that were there really all led to me making a decision that was the best for me and my family."--on why he chose the Cardinals

I know Wainwright and Mark DeRosa were really on him to come to St. Louis, with DeRosa saying the atmosphere was like those great Atlanta teams of the past.

"Whatever they feel is the best role.  I've done both but at this point I've trained this long comeback to start and to create this structure.  So I'd have to find out where I'm at physically and where I'm at, more importantly, pitch-wise.  You know, every game that I came out this year, with the exception of Washington, the first couple of innings were great.  And I know that a lot of teams were looking at that as saying that maybe I fatigued or got tired or whatever the reasons would be and I tend to think, mechanically, you flirt with fire long enough you're going to get burned and that's what happened to me.  Mechanically I wasn't as good as I needed to be so the longer you're out there and the more big league hitters you face the better chance you are to run into some innings.  So getting ready and pitching a big inning is not a big deal for me.  The big deal's going to be how many times can I do it and how many times can I get up and down?  So that's where getting my innings in right now will be important.  I'm not an idiot.  I realize I've got to get some results.  So the first couple starts or the first couple games I'm not going to put the pressure I put on myself and just go out there and make pitches."

It's easy to take a 20+ year veteran at his word when he says "whatever they want".  Mozeliak emphasized that Smoltz made no demands during the negotiations, which helps ease any uncomfortableness the coaching staff might have had about moving him to the pen later on.

This has been an amazing couple of months, really unprecidented in my following of the Cards.  When was the last time they filled this many needs, and did so in such a prominent way?  I know the early '00s, Walt tended to make a deadline move or two, like 2000 when he brought in Will Clark and Carlos Hernandez (and I know there was another move, but I'm blanking), but to get the top players on the market?  To get the two hitters everyone wanted in DeRosa and Holliday?  To get a couple of cast-offs in Lugo and Smoltz that still had some cache?  To fill basically every hole in a pretty leaky ship so that you don't even have to worry about Joe Thurston still being on the team?  Amazing.

Cards get to try to continue this run tonight in San Diego.  Joel Pineiro will take his groundball stuff to Petco, one of the best pitching parks in the league.  In other words, even if he gets something up, it's likely to stay in the park.  Pineiro has had some difficulties with these guys in the past, but he was able to limit them to three runs in just shy of seven innings last weekend

Padres counter with Tim Stauffer.  The Cards beat him around pretty good last weekend, and since he's only faced the Cardinals twice in his career, those career numbers are kinda skewed.  On paper, this one leans toward the Cardinals, but the only baseball that gets played on paper is rotisserie (and even that's on computer these days).