Phillies' Howard smiles after scoring the game-winning run against the Astros during their National League baseball game in Philadelphia

Ryan Howard is delusional


Ryan Howard had a great game last night — 4 for 4, a homer, two doubles, a walk and two RBI — and he’s had a hot start. So maybe what he had to say after last night’s game can be chalked up to adrenaline or something. But whatever caused him to say this, it’s not reality-based:

“The statement we’ve made is us being us,” Howard said. “A lot of people counted us out.”

Who counted you out, Ryan?  Who counted out the team that has only dropped one game? That has the best rotation in baseball? That has won its division for four straight years and even on the young season remains in first place? That was picked by a plurality if not a majority of commentators (this one included) to with the NL pennant?  I’ve seen concern voiced about the lineup and team health, but I’ve not seen anyone’s concern that even approached a level of counting you out.  People have counted the Pirates out. No one, unless they’re just trolling for a reaction, has counted the Phillies out.

I don’t mean to pick on Howard. For one thing it’s possible that this was taken out of context and he was referring only to the team’s offense (UPDATE: confirmed, he was talking just about the offense), though that would be silly, because they’ve only had one game in which they haven’t scored at least five runs (they’ve gone 5, 9, 7, 1, and 10).  And of course he’s a sensible and thoughtful guy who normally gives sensible and thoughtful quotes. But it says something about the athlete’s psyche if even someone as level-headed as Ryan Howard feels like he has to play the “no one believed in us card.” I think someone — maybe Nick Swisher or CC Sabathia — said something along these lines about the Yankees last week. too. That was still crazy, but it was even less crazy for a 2011 Yankees player to say it than a 2011 Phillies player.

But hey, if this kind of thing is motivating Howard — and the fact that he is now batting .524 on the season shows that, yep, he’s motivated — good for him.

(thanks to Jeremy for the heads up)

Cardinals take 1-0 NLDS lead over the Cubs behind John Lackey’s brilliant outing

John Lackey
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
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John Lackey flirted with a no-hitter but settled for 7 1/3 terrific, shutout innings to beat the Cubs in Game 1 of the NLDS on Friday. The right-hander held the opposition to two hits and a walk while striking out five. Lefty reliever Kevin Siegrist struck out two to finish the eighth without issue. Closer Trevor Rosenthal worked around a one-out walk and a two-out single in the ninth to seal the 4-0 win, recording all three outs on called strike threes.

Lackey brought a no-hitter into the sixth inning, but lost it quickly when Addison Russell hit a ground ball single up the middle to lead off the frame. Russell would steal second base but was stranded.

Opposing starter Jon Lester wasn’t too shabby himself, relenting three runs on five hits while walking one and striking out nine in 7 1/3 innings. The first run came around in the first inning on Matt Holliday‘s RBI single, which followed a one-out double by Stephen Piscotty. Tommy Pham pinch-hit in the pitcher’s spot in the eighth inning and launched a solo home run off of Lester to double the Cardinals’ lead. Lester walked Matt Carpenter before exiting. Pedro Strop came in and promptly served up a two-run home run to Stephen Piscotty.

The closest the Cubs came to scoring was when Dexter Fowler sent a deep fly ball to right field with a man on base and two outs in the sixth inning, but Randal Grichuk caught it with a foot or two to spare in front of the fence on the warning track.

The two clubs will play Game 2 of the NLDS on Saturday at 5:30 PM EDT. Kyle Hendricks will start for the Cubs and oppose Cardinals lefty Jaime Garcia.

Astros err in letting Scott Kazmir start sixth

Scott Kazmir
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Scott Kazmir went winless with a 6.52 ERA in six September starts. He allowed 41 hits, eight of them homers, in 29 innings, posting an 18/11 K/BB ratio. When the Astros got five innings of two-run ball from him Friday against the Royals, they should have thanked their good fortune and moved right along to the pen.

And they knew this. They must have. Josh Fields got up in the pen after Kazmir issued a one-out walk in the fifth. The left-hander got out of the frame, making himself eligible for the victory in what was then a 4-2 game, but it was still very surprising to see him come back out for the sixth, particularly with the switch-hitting Ben Zobrist (.926 OPS against lefties) and right-handed Lorenzo Cain due up.

Kazmir retired Zobrist, but he gave up a double to Cain. He was then pulled, even with the left-handed Eric Hosmer coming up. Manager A.J. Hinch had committed my biggest baseball pet peeve: he sent his starter back to the mound with the idea of pulling him after his first mistake.

It worked out terribly. Oliver Perez gave up a pair of soft hits to Hosmer and Kendrys Morales before walking Mike Moustakas. Fields then entered and walked the unwalkable Salvador Perez to tie the game at 4. The Astros gave up another run in the seventh and lost the game 5-4.

Maybe that’s the way it would have worked out anyway. Kazmir did give up just the one baserunner. It might not have even harmed the Astros if Perez had better luck.

Still, the thinking that went into the decision was disturbing. It’s always better to bring that reliever in with no one on base when you can. That’s especially the case with this Astros pen, which lacks a double-play specialist, much less a Wade Davis. But anyone in that pen would have been a better choice than sending Kazmir out to face Zobrist and Cain for a third time. Hinch needs to be more aggressive going forward.

Cardinals’ giveaway incorrectly claims ownership of 2001 division title

cardinals logo

The Cardinals have won so many division titles, it’s tough to keep track of them all. At least, it would be tough if it weren’t for Baseball Reference.

40,000 rally towels were given away to fans at Busch Stadium ahead of Friday’s NLDS Game 1 against the Cubs. The towel listed all of the years the Cardinals won the NL Central… and 2001. That year, they tied with the Astros for the best record in the National League at 93-69. However, because the Astros won the season series 9-7, they were awarded first place and the Cardinals took the Wild Card.