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08 May 2011

McClellan's Mother's Day Masterpiece

Kyle McClellan (source: Wikipedia)
Kyle McClellan had a Mother's Day gift for the maters of Cardinal Nation on Sunday, pitching a gem as St. Louis beat the Milwaukee Brewers 3-1.  The Hazelwood West High School grad thrilled the home crowd by crafting eight innings of excellence.  It marked the longest outing of his big league career.

McClellan was impressively efficient, only throwing 108 pitches on the day.  Even more impressive is the fact that he had to throw 10+ extra pitches in the first inning due to a Tyler Greene error on a easy chance on a Prince Fielder ground-ball.  The Cardinals put the infield shift on for the left-handed hitting Fielder, and Greene did not come up with the play ranging slightly to his left on the outfield grass.

In Greene's defense, he did make good with the bat.  He went 3-3 on the day with one run scored.  But the big hit was by Colby Rasmus in the fifth inning.  Facing a tiring lefty in Chris Narveson, Rasmus stroked a two-out two-run double that gave the Cardinals a 2-0 lead.

Milwaukee starter Chris Narveson - the former Cardinal - was on his game early.  Often he had the Cardinals flailing wildly at his pitch.  He especially picked on the hot-hitting Lance Berkman.  Berkman, batting from his weaker right side, was exposed by nice change-ups from Narveson.  But Narveson was not as efficient with his pitches, and the Cardinals followed their now usual norm of wearing down a starter and pouncing on opportunities when they tire.

The story of the day was McClellan offering even more proof that he is more than just a capable fifth starter.  He showed moxie escaping the first-inning bases-loaded jam that was set up by the Greene error.  McClellan wasn't necessarily sharp at the beginning of the game, but once he escaped another jam in the fourth (thanks to a smart defensive play by Albert Pujols), McClellan found his groove.  He breezed through the next four innings, and started the ninth inning.

In the ninth, Prince Fielder lead off and poked a seeing-eye single through an infield skewed to the right because manager Tony La Russa employed the shift.  It was a weak ground ball, and would have been an easy put-out if not for the shift.  As thanks for coaxing the big-hitting Fielder into a what should've been an out.  La Russa pulled McClellan and inserted Eduardo Sanchez to get the save. 

I do not agree with TLR's handling of this situation.  If he had no faith that McClellan could handle a touch of adversity, why put him back out there in the ninth?  McClellan induced a weak grounder from Fielder that got through the infield because of the shift. McClellan did his job, strategy failed.  If the hook was coming simply because one batter got on despite McClellan's work, why not bring in the youngster Sanchez to work from a less stressful clean slate?  McClellan was in the zone, and got what he wanted fromFielder.  If he was good enough to do that, he should be good enough to handle the rest of the inning.  But big league managers pull this crazy stuff all the time, and no one knows why - including the managers that pull this crazy stuff.

Anyway, Sanchez sandwiched two outs between two walks, and with the bases loaded could not put pinch-hitting veteran Craig Counsell away.  On the 13th pitch of the at bat, Counsell hit a sharp grounder into the hole between short and third that Theriot made a good play to stop from reaching the outfield but had to wisely stick in his pocket as Fielder scored from third.  It was a run charged to McClellan, when it was anyones fault but his.

By then La Russa had seen enough of Sanchez' drama, and fetched Fernando Salas from the bullpen.  Salas promptly dispatched Rickie Weeks, striking him out on three pitches.  The game - and the series - belonged to the Redbirds.

1 comment:

azraider37 said...

This rotation has simply blown me away thus far. After Waino went down I was VERY worried. A wise man told me McClellan may fill in admirably. I was skeptical (you are right so far. Lets keep our fingers crossed). If we can get the pen straightened out and Albert becomes Albert we have a real solid shot at taking the whole thing!

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