Cardinals manager Mike Matheny not doing his team any favors

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It started with the lineup: Mike Matheny chose to go with Shane Robinson in center field in Game 5 and had him bat second, with Carlos Beltran dropping into the cleanup spot.

On the surface, it didn’t seem like a great move. Maybe it would have turned out better had leadoff man Matt Carpenter gotten on once or twice, giving Robinson a chance to play some small ball. That never materialized.

Really, though, the moment the move no longer made any sense at all was when the hobbled Allen Craig became a late addition to the lineup. But rather than juggle things, Matheny simply had Craig bat sixth, rather than his usual cleanup spot. Perhaps even better than batting Beltran second and Craig fourth: batting Craig second. With Craig severely limited defensively by his bad foot. hitting him at the top of the order might have earned him an extra at-bat before he needed to be removed for defense. But, no, it was Robinson. We’ll come back to that in a minute.

What else? Well, leaving Adam Wainwright in to finish the seventh was the move that really doomed the Cardinals. With Wainwright approaching 100 pitches and an off day tomorrow, there was no reason not to have someone warmed up and ready. That Wainwright issued his first walk of the game to an ice cold Stephen Drew with one on and one out in the seventh suggested he was about done. David Ross followed with an RBI double, giving the Red Sox the lead. Boston later made it 3-1 on a Jacoby Ellsbury bloop single.

I’m not going to blame Matheny for letting Wainwright face Ross; even if Martinez was a better choice in that spot, a move to pull the ace then would have been a true surprise. But leaving him in to face Ellsbury was a bad call. The easy assumption is that it happened only because Wainwright had made Ellsbury look pretty bad his first three times up. Of course, it’s not like Ellsbury ripped a ball into the gap that fourth time, either. Still, it was an assignment that should have gone to one of the Cardinals’ left-handed relievers. Kevin Siegrist was ready and could have taken over.

The other big choice Matheny had to make was whether how to handle the eighth after David Freese’s one-out double off Jon Lester. At that point, the Cardinals seemed to have a much better chance of scoring than they would in the ninth against Koji Uehara. However, the only right-handed hitter on the Cardinals’ bench was backup catcher Tony Cruz, and his last at-bat came in the regular season. Matheny chose to let Kozma hit. Predictably, he was an easy out. Really, any of the lefties would have been better bets. Matheny then chose to have Matt Adams bat lefty-lefty out of the pitcher’s spot, only to watch the Red Sox give up that advantage and go with Uehara. It didn’t matter; Uehara made quick work of the one power threat on the Cardinals bench.

At that point, the Cardinals had the top of the order set to go in the ninth. Unfortunately, that top of the order was Carpenter-Robinson-Matt Holliday. Jon Jay hit for Robinson, who went 0-for-3, and grounded out. For the second game in a row, Beltran could only watch as the Cardinals lost by two runs.

Umpire Cory Blaser made two atrocious calls in the top of the 11th inning

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The Astros walked off 3-2 winners in the bottom of the 11th inning of ALCS Game 2 against the Yankees. Carlos Correa struck the winning blow, sending a first-pitch fastball from J.A. Happ over the fence in right field at Minute Maid Park, ending nearly five hours of baseball on Sunday night.

Correa’s heroics were precipitated by two highly questionable calls by home plate umpire Cory Blaser in the top half of the 11th.

Astros reliever Joe Smith walked Edwin Encarnación with two outs, prompting manager A.J. Hinch to bring in Ryan Pressly. Pressly, however, served up a single to left field to Brett Gardner, putting runners on first and second with two outs. Hinch again came out to the mound, this time bringing Josh James to face power-hitting catcher Gary Sánchez.

James and Sánchez had an epic battle. Sánchez fell behind 0-2 on a couple of foul balls, proceeded to foul off five of the next six pitches. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Sánchez appeared to swing and miss at an 87 MPH slider in the dirt for strike three and the final out of the inning. However, Blaser ruled that Sánchez tipped the ball, extending the at-bat. Replays showed clearly that Sánchez did not make contact at all with the pitch. James then threw a 99 MPH fastball several inches off the plate outside that Blaser called for strike three. Sánchez, who shouldn’t have seen a 10th pitch, was upset at what appeared to be a make-up call.

The rest, as they say, is history. One pitch later, the Astros evened up the ALCS at one game apiece. Obviously, Blaser’s mistakes in a way cancel each other out, and neither of them caused Happ to throw a poorly located fastball to Correa. It is postseason baseball, however, and umpires are as much under the microscope as the players and managers. Those were two particularly atrocious judgments by Blaser.