Monday, June 29, 2009

When a Bad Weekend’s Good

If the cosmos suddenly allowed us 27 hours in a day, I’d give my extra three hours to baseball ...

Posted By on Mon, Jun 29, 2009 at 9:00 AM

If the cosmos suddenly allowed us 27 hours in a day, I’d give my extra three hours to baseball. At the stadium when possible and when not, via literature or the MLB Network. Even with merely 24-hour cycles, I managed to attend four games in four days last week, which only has me dreaming more about that cosmic bonus time.

-- June 25: Omaha at Memphis, AutoZone Park. What a difference six days make in the life of a pitcher. On June 19th, pitching for the Royals in Kansas City, Kyle Davies gave up seven earned runs in less than three innings in taking a loss against the St. Louis Cardinals. On this night, though, facing the Cards’ top farm team, Davies was brilliant: eight innings, three hits, no runs. These Royals had 11 hits before Memphis picked up its first (in the fifth inning). Kila Ka’aihue got things started for Omaha with a home run in the second inning. (I had to write that sentence just to frazzle my spell check.) Memphis never got a runner to third base in the 7-0 loss.

But here’s what caught my eye in this lopsided affair. Playing centerfield for the Royals was Tim Raines Jr. I just spent several weeks putting together a story on the 1979 Memphis Chicks, a team that starred the original Tim Raines. The birthday of this chip off the old Rock? August 31, 1979. Turns out Papa Raines was a little distracted in the ’79 Southern League playoffs (where the Chicks’ season ended with a loss to Nashville).

-- June 26: Minnesota at St. Louis, Busch Stadium. It was downhill for the home crowd Friday night after Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith threw out the first pitch. Someone named Glen Perkins looked like Sandy Koufax in a Twins uniform, holding St. Louis to four hits and a single run over seven innings. Eight former Memphis Redbirds took the field for the Cardinals, but the one player with no experience at AutoZone Park — third-baseman Joe Thurston – made an error that let in a critical run in the first inning. Albert Pujols came up in the ninth representing the tying run, but was struck out by Minnesota closer Joe Nathan.

Hats off to the contingent of Twins fans who made the trip south for an interleague weekend. There were enough hostiles in the crowd of 44,000 to make an audible roar when Rick Ankiel struck out to end the visitors’ 3-1 victory.

-- June 27: Minnesota at St. Louis, Busch Stadium. Pujols hit a two-run homer in the first, and another in the third, accounting for enough to beat the Twins in a Saturday matinee that saw temperatures approach 100 degrees, without a breeze. (The only other Cardinal run scored when Tyler Greene took a pitch off the helmet with the bases loaded.) For the second straight day, St. Louis cut down a runner at the plate, and for the second straight day it was Yadier Molina’s skill at blocking the plate that stood out. If there’s been a tougher Cardinal player over the last 20 years, I haven’t seen him.

This was a game won by the St. Louis bullpen, after starter Todd Wellemeyer walked four batters in less than three innings and coughed up the early 2-0 lead Pujols provided. The winning pitcher was Josh Kinney, who had been pitching out of the Memphis bullpen earlier this month. (Kinney is one of only four pitchers remaining from the Cardinals’ championship club of 2006.) Jason Motte and Ryan Franklin — another pair of pitchers with Memphis experience — handled the eighth and ninth inning, respectively, in the 5-3 Cardinal win.

-- June 28: Minnesota at St. Louis, Busch Stadium. The big news Sunday was the Cardinals’ newest cleanup hitter: Mark DeRosa. Long rumored to be destined for St. Louis, DeRosa was acquired in a Saturday trade with Cleveland that sent former Redbird Chris Perez (a relief pitcher) to the Indians. The fact that DeRosa — a multi-position role player with a career high of 21 home runs a year ago (as a Cub) — debuted as Pujols’ protection says much about the Cardinals’ offensive woes as the All-Star break approaches.

Much like Friday night, the Twins had all the runs they needed in the first inning on a 3-run homer from Justin Morneau. Another lefty — this time Francisco Liriano, who entered the game with a record of 3-8 — stifled the St. Louis hitters and the Minnesota fans left the Mound City smiling with a 6-2 win over a team somehow still tied for the National League Central Division lead.

Four days, four baseball games, and three losses by the home team. To borrow the fisherman’s mantra, a bad weekend at the ballpark beats a good weekend anywhere else.

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