Tony La Russa and the Cards bullpen shine as St. Louis beats Philly 5-4

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This was maybe the most Tony La Russa game ever.  Some mind games early, 125 double switches late, and a close game was won by the Cardinals, 5-4.  What did we learn, kids?

  • You can fall behind one of the Phillies’ aces 4-0 and still win.  I didn’t go back and look, but man, I bet that didn’t happen very often in 2011.
  • I’ll have some praise for La Russa below, but if that 4-0 had held up, a lot of people would have been asking why he pitched Chris Carpenter on short rest when he had never done so before.  He was probably wrong to run Carpenter out there, but he was right to have the quick hook on him too (though it did look like Carpenter was settling down a bit right before he left the game).
  • The strike zone was cause for some beefing.  Tony La Russa came out to argue about it early, thinking Carpenter was getting squeezed. Then, suddenly, it seemed like Cardinals pitchers were getting more calls and Cliff Lee was getting a bit squeezed. Little-known fact: La Russa knows how to use the Jedi mind trick.
  • Squeezed or not, Cliff Lee was able to strike out nine dudes. His problem was the death by a thousand cuts. Lots of bloops and balls that could have been caught but weren’t. It wasn’t bad defense, just great fortune, ground balls with eyes and broken bat singles for the Cardinals. It happens. Especially when you’re around the zone like Lee is. You can’t escape allowing 12 hits in the postseason, but nor can you really draw much of a negative conclusion about Cliff Lee because of this outing. Just one of those things.
  • As the game wore on, La Russa really went, well, La Russaian with his double switches and calls to the pen. Little known fact: he is allowed a 37-man roster in the postseason.  OK, not really, but seriously, he used a lot of players, with Jake Westbrook being the only guy remaining in the pen when the game ended. If it had gone extras, it could have meant trouble for him, though I suppose Westbrook is able to go forever considering he’s a starter by trade.  But let’s give some credit here: it worked.
  • And why it worked? Because the Cardinals bullpen was fantastic. Easily the weakest part of the team this year, so if you would have told me before the game that Chris Carpenter would be pulled after giving up four runs on five hits in three innings, I would have guessed that Philly won in a walk. Kudos to the 18 relievers who came through for the Cardinals. OK, it was only six, but they shut the Phillies out over six innings and allowed only two baserunners. That, my friends, is serious strength from an apparent weakness.
  • There was a great moment in the top of the eighth when Allen Craig was almost hit in the head and the Phillies fans cheered like it was the best thing ever. Never change, Philly fans! Never, ever change.
  • But at least cheer up a bit, guys. Tied 1-1, heading to St. Louis with Cole Hamels on the hill isn’t the worst thing in the world. Except for the fact that you’re going to face Jaime Garcia, and he has been tough on Philly over the past two years.

We have ourselves a series, everyone.

Will Middlebrooks carted off field with left ankle injury

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Phillies third baseman Will Middlebrooks suffered a serious injury during Saturday’s Grapefruit League contest against the Orioles. The infielder was chasing down a pop fly in the eighth inning when he ran into left fielder Andrew Pullin, who inadvertently trapped Middlebrooks’ ankle under his leg. Middlebrooks was unable to put weight on his leg following the collision and was carted off the field and taken to a local hospital for X-rays.

Per MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki, not much is known yet about the severity of the ankle injury or the recovery time it will require, though it appears serious enough to set Middlebrooks back considerably as he seeks a backup/bench role with the team this spring.

The 29-year-old is currently seeking another opportunity to extend his six-year major-league career in 2018. He’s coming off of two down years with the Brewers and Rangers, during which he slashed a cumulative .169/.229/.262 with four extra bases through 70 plate appearances.