Momentum, meet Roy Oswalt.
The St. Louis Cardinals had no dramatic home runs up their sleeves Wednesday night. Two nights after Albert Pujols pulled their tail feathers out of the fire by hitting a ninth-inning home run that's still in orbit, his bat was quiet. All of the Redbird bats were quiet.
Oswalt, the Houston Astros' shortest, least famous and, often, including this month, most effective starter, shut them up and shut them down. The Astros beat St. Louis 5-1 to win the first National League pennant in their 44-year history. Oswalt was the series MVP.
So much for riding the emotional wave that follows dramatic game-winning homers in the postseason. The eternal lesson of baseball: One game has little to do with the next. Or, to quote the gospel: You're only as good as your next day's starting pitcher.
On Wednesday night, the Cardinals' had a good starting pitcher going, Mark Mulder. But he didn't pitch very well after the second inning and was gone in the fifth. The Astros had a better one going, Oswalt, and he was brilliant. He took a no-hitter into the fifth, and it didn't look flukey. He gave up a run on three hits through seven.
He got some help from a bad call at second base in the fifth, which turned a bases loaded, no outs situation into first and third, one out with the Astros up 3-0.
The Cards ended up scoring their only run that inning, but even Tony La Russa and company, still steaming over some hideous umpiring in the Game 4 loss, didn't have anything to say about the umps. They just got beat, ran into a pitching buzz-saw.
The Astros get two days off before opening their first World Series Saturday in Chicago against the White Sox, who are old hands at this, having just been to the Fall Classic in 1959, and before that in 1919.
Whoever loses the Series will likely say the same thing: We just ran into a pitching buzz saw.
It's the first time since the Cardinals played the Minnesota Twins in 1987 that an entire World Series will be staged in the Central time zone. The East Coast blats may not cover it, what with several right coast teams shuffling pitching coaches around, but that's why we have the Internet.
This summer we had an NBA Finals that wasn't just all flyover, it was all defense and fundamentals. The legions of supposed fans who allegedly don't like the modern game because it's all bling-bling and me-first and one-on-one finally had a series they could sink their teeth into. They stayed away in droves.
So here we go again. All you folks who complain about the jacked-up baseballs, juiced-up sluggers and bandbox ballparks, who can't stand pinball scoreboards, 50-homer seasons being commonplace and 3.95 earned-run averages being pretty nifty, your assignment will be to tune in or shut up about the whole thing forever.
Both teams were below average in scoring runs and at the top of their league in run prevention, Houston leading the National League and Chicago third in the American, but just three runs off the lead, for the whole year. They both have good starters. They both have good relievers.
Nothing ever goes according to form, but if this Series goes according to form, it'll be tense and low-scoring. Good old-fashioned 1950s- and '60s-style baseball.
You've got a good chance of missing some great games.
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Why do you ask, ump? [PERMALINK]
You catch it?
Did you see that question at second base? I didn't either. My friend Jon Schmuke pointed it out to me.
It was after the blown call at second in the fifth inning. Umpire Greg Gibson ruled that Astros shortstop Adam Everett had tagged Cardinals base runner Yadier Molina after being pulled off the bag on a force play.
Everett actually missed the tag despite an acrobatic try after catching the errant throw from pitcher Roy Oswalt. But Gibson, who originally signaled safe after seeing Everett come off the base, was screened out by Molina's body and made the out call. Emphatically. Twice.
Molina tugged at the front of his shirt and -- the rest of this conversation was clear from reading lips -- said, "He didn't tag me." Gibson's back was to the Fox TV camera, but as he answered he gestured that the throw had pulled Everett off the base. A new camera angle showed Gibson tapping his chest, nodding yes and saying, "He tagged you. You're out."
"No, no," Molina said, and then a couple more words I couldn't see, but probably more of the same.
"Yes he did. Yes he did," Gibson said, nodding, projecting absolute confidence in his call.
The play left the Cardinals with runners at first and third and one out. The next batter, John Rodriguez, hit a sacrifice fly to score Mark Grudzielanek from third. After he crossed the plate, Fox darted around to various cameras and views, as usual. One of them was a closeup of Gibson standing just behind Everett.
The two-shot of them was on the air for two and a half seconds, just long enough to catch Gibson's question.
"You tag him?"
Beautiful. A great, lucky shot by Fox, though the network made its own luck by pointing a camera at those two. Everett turned his head and opened his mouth to answer, but Fox cut away.
After the game, Everett said, "All I knew is I came off the bag, and I tried to tag him. I felt like I got him." Replays definitively showed otherwise.
Previous column: Fox announcers
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