St. Louis, Mo. – It’s a three – two game in the bottom of the ninth with the edge belonging to the Milwaukee Brewers. There is one out with runners on first and third. One of the team’s most clutch hitters, Yadier Molina, is up to bat; speed is on the base paths with Carlos Beltran occupying the base in front of the Cardinal’s dugout and Tyler Greene standing smack dab in front of the Brewers bench. Greene is on a streak of straight stolen bases to start off his career.
The pitch. Beltran takes off for second base. The strikeout of Molina. He reaches the three quarters mark to second when Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy throws the pick-off attempt, Beltran retreats. It’s a play that’s used in high school and lower collegiate levels all the time; one player gets caught in a pickle so the man on third can steal home. Greene races towards the plate and slides wide to the right; he misses the golden prize by six inches before being tagged out.
The new Cardinal’s manager, Mike Matheny, has proven himself to be a man with an eye for the dangerous side of life. He is a man who wants to play an aggressive game. He is a man who wants to use speed as well as power to win.
St. Louis, who ranked last in the National League in stolen bases just a season ago have already tied their 2011 snatch n’ grab total. With 16 stolen bases this year the Cardinals rank eighth in the NL, but are just four steal n’ deals behind the 20 that the league leading Miami Marlins currently own.
Four members of the Red Birds are the proud recipients of double digit stolen bases. Carlos Beltran leads the team with five, Furcal and Jay have both acquired three, and the deceivingly excellent base runner, Yadier Molina, has ninjaed his way through for two sneak n’ peaks.
This aggressive, yet alert, style of play is reminiscent of the Whitey Herzog with a modern day twist; the Cardinals have some serious pop in their bat. St. Louis, who is second in the National League in homeruns (24), has discovered that this proves to be an excellent complement to their speed on the base paths. Not only are opposing pitchers required to be alert as to the challenge of having a homerun slugger at the plate, but they must worry about having excellent, heads up base runners with some serious speed on the base paths; they are bound to make a mistake sooner or later.
Yester’ evenings game against the Brewers may have proved unsuccessful due to what can be perceived as a risky call by a young, inexperienced manager, but consider the rather abundant number of times that Tony LaRussa wagered games on bold pitching changes and double switches. Whether one agreed with the moves that TLR made or not, his record speaks for itself.
Now this is not to say that Matheny will have the astonishing career that the highly esteemed Mr. LaRussa was able to achieve, but to simply draw a comparison between their boldness at this stage of the young manager’s career. Matheny is willing to take chances when the reward of the risk is high. He is willing to be bold and be assertive when needed.
When one gambles with house money, things do not always pay off. Sometimes the roulette table lands on red when you guessed black and sometimes you have a 20 in blackjack but that dang house dealer gets a 21.
The difference is that Matheny is not gambling millions of dollars on a random eight of hearts and six of spades; he is counting cards.
He may be a young manager, but Mike Matheny has an exceptional knowledge of the game. Sure, he may lose track of the card count every now and then or take a risk that doesn’t pay off, but he is taking the chance and, more times than not, he is hitting the jackpot.
With enthusiastic young players who are willing to run on a moment’s notice and a core of veterans that combine for what is probably the highest baseball IQ of any group of vet’s in the game, the Cardinals are in a position to win with this style of play. A rather minute number of mistakes in a small sample size may seem devastating at this point in the season, but these are learning experiences for the younger players on the team as well as the young Cardinal’s manager. Overall, these mistakes should prove inconsequential come seasons end due to the advancement in knowledge that the previous listed parties will possess by that time.
Get used to this Cardinal fans. Get used to the depression of a close play at third gone wrong. Get used to a close play at home gone right. Get used to dramatic Cardinals victories. Get used to the Rally Squirrel.