Knuckleballs, Albert and the Heat (no not Miami)
As temperatures here in St. Louis hovered around the 95 degree mark over this past weekend and much of the nation experienced a dose of summer, some early season baseball disappointments or questions were addressed.
In New York, the Mets RA Dickey, who’d shown signs of finding the form he demonstrated in 2010 (which earned him a nice 2 year deal) came out Sunday night and pretty much dominated the Atlanta Braves as the Mets took 2 of 3 from their longtime NL East rivals. Sure this was a decimated and depleted Braves club with no Larry Jones and the continued absence of Jason Heyward and Nate McLouth, but in fairness this is a skeleton of what had been projected as the Mets 2011 line up. Dickey’s dipsy doodle knuckleball confounded the Braves on a night that saw the continued, surprising offensive production from the likes of Daniel Murphy, Justin Turner and second baseman Ruben Tejada along with more excitement from Jose Reyes, fueling the “Keep Jose” campaign at Citi Field...
Dickey’s 8 solid inning effort was marred by a Brian McCann 7th inning solo homer before Francisco Rodriguez allowed a pinch hit 3 run homer to Diory Hernandez in the 9th making the score closer at 6-4, while showing signs of a possible dead arm issue per the manager’s post game remarks. The game also saw right fielder Carlos Beltran (Who has thus far made me eat some of my early season comments by playing productively virtually every day) foul a pitch off his right shin forcing Collins to remove him from the game in the 2nd inning. I wouldn’t be consistent if I didn’t cast a wary eye on Beltran and his ability to return quickly from this latest injury but hope to see him and his productive bat back in the line up during the upcoming series in Milwaukee.
The manger’s use of Willie Harris to replace Beltran in the lineup and not utilizing Jason Bay (who was sitting out last night’s game) may point to yet another smoldering pile of embers regarding the deeply slumping, highly paid left fielder.
Dickey, Dillon Gee and Jon Niese have now provided some outstanding starts which along with the remarkable production from the “fill in” players were big bright spots in the past week which saw the Mets take 4 of the last seven games. Hopefully the heat will continue to provide Dickey with the ability to make that pitch dance and baffle opponents for a few more months.
Here in hot and humid St. Louis the Redbirds opened a 3 game set with the hated Cubbies on Friday and got another outstanding pitching performance from lefty Jaime Garcia as the Cards recorded a 6-1 victory over Chicago’s northsiders before Kyle Lohse pitched well before giving up 4 runs in the 6th inning on Saturday only to see the Cardinals rally to tie the game and watched as the two teams played scoreless into the 12th inning when Albert Pujols sent the overheated downtown Busch crowd into a frenzy with his second home run of the game this one a 2 out walk off winner.
Pujols wasn’t quite done for the weekend when Cards ace Chris Carpenter battled Chicago’s Carlos Zambrano and a pair of Cubs relievers for nine innings, surrendering only 2 runs on 7 hits before the Redbirds tied the game in their half of the ninth as Ryan Theriot extended his hitting streak to 19 games with a 2 out run scoring double as Carpenter (who has received an average of less than four runs of support in his 13 starts this year) was lifted by Tony LaRussa for closer Fernando Salas in the 10th inning.
Salas pitched a scoreless 10th before the big first baseman led off the bottom of the 10th with his tenth career walk off homer becoming the first player since Albert Belle in 1995 to hit a walk-off homer in successive extra-inning games. Needless to say a hot Busch crowd was sent home happy once again as the team heads to Houston on Tuesday hoping to build upon their 2 game lead over Milwaukee with a little help from you know who…
Pujols finished the Cardinals seven game homestand with 5 homers (4 against the Cubs).
It might be safe to say that the summer heat of St. Louis has also warmed Albert Pujols into being Albert Pujols.To be honest I did watch about the final 3 minutes of the Heat – Mavs game 3 last night and could not care less who wins, though I was sort of rooting for Dallas because of the LeBron James nonsense that dominated far too much of the sports news over the past NBA off season (Is there really an NBA offseason?)