The Unhappy Flight

Missed chances paired with a throwing error crashed the potential party in St. Louis Friday night.

Instead of popping champagne bottles and relishing the organization’s 19th National League Pennant, the St. Louis Cardinals are onboard a flight back to the Bay Area. San Francisco won their fourth straight elimination game to force a Game 6 in the best-of-seven NLCS.

Cardinals starter Lance Lynn was once again victimized by the 4th inning. After allowing just one base runner through the first three innings, the Giants offense woke up with four runs, thanks in part to shoddy defense. Lynn induced what would have been an inning ending double play only to throw the ball into center field, opening the flood gates. A clearly rattled Lynn lost his composure. He walked the 7th place hitter (hitting .207) and left a 3-2 breaking pitch up to Brandon Crawford (.222) and the Giants never looked back.

This is the third postseason appearance for Lynn that has gone haywire the second time through the lineup. It happened in Game 2 of the NLDS, and Game 1 of the NLCS against these same Giants. Should the Cardinals advance to the World Series, Lynn will likely find a spot in the bullpen. Joe Kelly has earned the starting nod having thrown 5.2 scoreless postseason innings.

The play was devastating. Here Lynn gets the tapper back to the mound, and a late break to the 2B bag by Pete Kozma forced Lynn to hesitate the throw. Even if Kozma was standing on the bag, the ball goes into CF. Obviously the play happens so fast, but in hindsight Lynn had time to stop, settle, step and throw a strike to 2nd base. Unfortunate game changing play, but that’s baseball.

On offense, the Cardinals managed six hits off Giants starter Sandy Koufax Barry Zito. Zito looked like the $126 million man Brian Sabean signed in 2006. The Cardinals had a chance in the 2nd inning to blow the game open. Here’s how the inning went down.

LYNN: 6-4-3 DP.

Descalso’s deflating strikeout should have changed Mike Matheny’s game plan. At the very least, decoy a pinch hitter on deck to make Bruce Bochy think twice about putting Kozma on base. But, he didn’t. So I would have pinch hit for Lynn, considering his recent tendencies the second time through a lineup. Why not? Game 5, a chance to win the series, with a fully rested bullpen.

Instead, Matheny opted to have Lynn bat…and actually SWING. Now how dumb is that. Lynn has THREE hits in 69 career plate appearances. At the very, very least let Lynn strikeout and put the game in Jon Jay’s hands. But no. He swings and grounds into a tailor-made double play.

All in all, the Cardinals went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and stranded 7 men on base. Aside from Game 4, the Cardinals are 4-for-24 with RISP.  They’re 0-for-14 in both losses to SF.

The largest NLCS Busch III crowd went home disappointed Friday night. But the season isn’t over by any means. Nothing has come easy for the Cardinals in 2012, and that trend continued Friday. They’ll have to win one of two games at AT&T park to keep their season alive. The continuation sets up some remarkable pitching match-ups with Chris Carpenter v. Ryan Vogelsong on Sunday and Kyle Lohse v. Matt Cain on Monday.

Should be fun. Or heartbreaking. We’ll find out soon enough.

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