Who's watching this with me? What are the odds of Jeff Weaver getting cuffed around and making an early exit? It's an absolute certainty at this point, right? And what of the Brewers' role in all of this? Can you imagine all of these guys grumbling about having to go on that one last road trip, just waiting to get home and ice whatever it is they need to ice and see their families? After a disappointing season they have a chance to be a significant part of a historical baseball moment. It's the top of the first, with runners on first and third with two outs. Can Weaver get out of the jam? No, he cannot, Geoff Jenkins singles in a run. Oh, man, this is like a snuff film.
Weaver manages to escape the top of the first allowing just the one run, but he's thrown 22 pitches already. You have to give the Cardinal broadcasters a lot of credit for staying positive here. They're currently going on about the fact that St. Louis could become the first team ever to suffer through two eight-game losing streaks in one season and still make the playoffs. Well....that would be something to be proud of, right? Here's Albert Pujols coming to bat with two out and nobody on. You think he might get pitched around a little bit? No, give Chris Capuano credit, he gets ahead of Albert 1-2 and induces a weak grounder to short on a pitch Pujols had to extend his strike zone for.
It's scoreless in Atlanta but the Braves are threatening in the sixth with runners on first and third and nobody out. Back in St. Louis, the Brewers get a hit batsman and a seeing-eye single to lead off the second. Capuano wants to bunt but Weaver pitches him pretty carefully and earns a called strikeout. Anthony Gwynn (it just seems wrong to call him Tony) hits into a double play. That helps a lot, although Weaver is already up to 35 pitches after only two innings. And the Braves are on the board! It's 2-0 with only one out still in the bottom of the sixth.
You've got to take a moment to appreciate this Cardinal lineup: David Eckstein, who's hitting .292/.349/.343 this year, So Taguchi, Pujols, Juan Encarnacion, Scott Rolen, Ronnie Belliard, Preston Wilson, Yadier Molina, and Weaver. That explains a lot. Just as I'm trying to think of a good way to make fun of him Preston Wilson comes up and hits a homer to the left-field power alley, scoring Rolen who reached on an error. 2-1, Dead Birds Walking. The Cardinal booth guys are obviously a little punch-drunk because they're talking about Yadier Molina shaving his body hair. Thankfully Molina quickly lines out to left to put paid to that, as Roger Clemens manages to get out of the sixth down two in Atlanta.
How damning is it of this year's National League that the Reds are still in playoff contention at 79-80? No more damning than last year's National League, I suppose. As I'm contemplating that, Juan Encarnacion makes a fine running catch to retire Tony Graffanino. Prince Fielder follows that with an infield fly, and here's Billy Hall. Did you know that Hall has hit 34 home runs this season? Over on the out-of-town scoreboard, you can put up a 1 for the Astros. Craig Biggio with a leadoff home run. Eric Neel wrote a good piece today listing the many reasons to root against the Cardinals. Not least among them was that a completed St. Louis collapse would give the great Biggio another shot at playoff glory. Hard to be against that. Neel also randomly works the city of Boulder into his Biggio paragraph, you should go check it out. Hall doesn't hit his 35th and we're on into the bottom of the third.
The Astros get another runner on, but they can't get him in and Clemens is pulled from the game in the process. Too quick of a hook in the top of the seventh? I guess it remains to be seen. Fernando Nieve will start the bottom of the inning for Houston. Over at New Busch Albert Pujols actually gets a chance to hit with a runner on and draws the fabled unintentional intentional walk. It's all down to Juan Encarnacion. Boy, that's a sentence you don't want to hear applying to your team. Encarnacion singles, it's a close play at the plate, but the ball gets away from Brewers catcher Mike Rivera and the Cardinals lead 3-1. Here's Scott Rolen looking to break the game open. Rolen flies to right. Nieve has pitched a 1-2-3 seventh and the Astros are into that vaunted Atlanta bullpen still trailing by one.
The Weaver collapse is taking its sweet time in arriving, huh? St. Louis has three runs on two hits and Milwaukee only has one on four. Tyler Yates is now pitching for the Braves. I have no idea who that is. Stupid unbalanced schedule. I don't see how the Astros ever wear those rust-red alternate jerseys; they're ugly as sin. Back to Busch. Corey Hart singles with one out. David Bell hits one directly at So Taguchi in center and Taguchi completely misplays it. It kicks off the heel of his glove after an ill-considered flailing backhand attempt, and now there are runners on second and third. Here we go, Weave. Show me something. The Taguchi play was correctly scored an error. Mike Rivera at the plate. I have no idea who he is, either. A catcher, evidently. I'm trying to remember whether Chris Capuano can hit or not. 3-2 on Rivera. I wonder what Ned Yost will do if he walks. Well, it's a moot point now as Rivera hits one sharply right at Ronnie Belliard, who flips it to Eckstein at short for another double play. Boy, the Cardinals are really getting the breaks tonight. I guess they had to get some eventually. Lance Berkman is up with two out and nobody on in Atlanta. The Braves have brought in lefty Macay McBride to face him. Macay McBride is a pretty cool name, but not necessarily for a pitcher I think. And Berkman...walks, after fouling off a couple. Nice at-bat.
Milwaukee really needs a quick inning here. Capuano gets off to a good start by striking out Belliard. Here's our-hero-so-far, Preston Wilson. Billy Hall makes a hell of a play to retire him. Molina pops the first pitch he sees up to Hart in left and there's your quick inning. In Atlanta McBride strikes out Luke Scott and the Astros only have three more outs left.
If Chris Capuano can hit, he didn't show it there. Weak popup to shortstop. Uh-oh, Edgar Renteria leads off the bottom of the eighth in Atlanta with a homer off of Nieve. 3-1 Braves. And Chipper Jones hits another one. Make it 4-1. Not-Tony Gwynn grounds to Pujols and the New Busch crowd has absorbed the news of the score changes in Atlanta. Watch out, the Cardinals have some momentum for the first time this month. Milwaukee needs to get a two-out rally going here if we're going to keep this collapse train rolling. It's not happening. Graffanino strikes out.
Let no one say we here at Bad Altitude don't know how to move with the change of the wind. Assuming this winds up being only the closest of close calls for the Cards, does that help or hurt them going forward into the playoffs? Last year's White Sox certainly reacted well to the late surge by the Indians, but that was a little different. They didn't lose eight in a row, and it wasn't this late in the year. In that case it wasn't so much that Chicago cratered as Cleveland played out of their minds. Houston has certainly been hotter than hot lately, but for St. Louis seeing such a large lead evaporate that fast, and that close to the finish line, is completely unprecedented. And it's had to see how the same problems that precipitated the regular season collapse won't follow them into the postseason. The rotation is still not so good, the lineup is still devoid of threats besides Pujols, and the manager is still Tony La Russa. Anyway, back to the action on the field. After a walk and a beautiful bunt by Eckstein, the Cardinals have runners on first and third with one out. Pujols is up. Well, this certainly looks like an excellent opportunity to make things academic from here on out. Bob Wickman is on to try and close it out for the Braves, by the way. Guess what Albert just did? Well, he hit a three-run homer. That was a little predictable. It's 6-1 St. Louis and I think we have an MVP.
Back to Atlanta. Pinch-hitter Orlando Palmeiro flies out, as Encarnacion and Rolen hit back-to-back doubles to increase the Cardinal lead to 7-1. Biggio flies out to center. It looks like the Cardinals will have a game and a half lead with two (or three) games to play. Adam Everett represents the last chance for Houston. And he singles! Okay, well, they have some work left to do, but it's not over yet. Unfortunately the next guy in the Astro lineup is Brad Ausmus. My blatant attempt to reverse-jinx Ausmus succeeds. He singles and the Astros are just a long fly away from tying this thing up. They're going to need to because it's now 8-1 in St. Louis and I'm not even going to bother keeping up with the play-by-play over there any further. So who is Houston's secret weapon off the bench in this their great hour of need? It's...Aubrey Huff! Huff strikes out on four pitches and so much for that. Dang, I should have said some more mean things about Huff there. His at-bat hardly lasted long enough for me to have a chance.
Now, with the Astros in the direst of straits, will they pitch Andy Pettite on short rest Saturday or go ahead with some random rookie as scheduled? The Cardinals have Jeff Suppan and Chris Carpenter going Saturday and Sunday, the best they have at this point. It's not over. But it's a whole lot closer to over than it was tonight.