Momentum is a funny thing. It’s one of those “intangible” things that can’t be quantified by numbers or statistics. It’s more than just an attitude, a mentality, but it may have little to do with a physical adjustment. And yet, it’s spoken about in sports as that thing, the “it” that can turn entire seasons around.
By definition, momentum is the “force or speed of movement; impetus, as of a physical object or course of events.”
If I counted the number of times we’ve heard, “This is a momentum-changing kind of win!” or even, “That is the kind of play that could really shift a team’s momentum!” over the last month, you’d think the Cardinals had not only reached the top of the hill, but had made a nice little snowball, and were now watching it roll steadily along, picking up steam and power as it went. That’s the kind of “movement of a course of events” we all keep hoping for.
Instead, this week has felt more like they’re at the bottom, trying to roll the snowball up the hill … and losing ground. Cardinal Nation doesn’t like that. Just ask twitter. This week has induced plenty of panic.
After another brilliant come-from-behind winner Monday night — a sure momentum builder, said many — Tuesday night built to an almost-identical scenario in the 9th inning. The Cardinals again had the perfect opportunity: down by a run, runners on the corners, nobody out. A sac fly ties it.
Apparently Monday Magic doesn’t carry over to Tuesday.
Let’s back up, though, to the good parts.
Joe Kelly turned in another solid start. Now, “solid” for Kelly isn’t always pretty. His M.O. seems to be something along the lines of getting into trouble, but managing to avoid serious damage. (That said, ask the baseball Rickie Weeks hit out of the park about damage! He destroyed that pitch, one Kelly later said he was just hoping Weeks wouldn’t swing at. That would also break the 2-2 tie, and eventually give the Brewers the 3-2 win.)
Still, Kelly went six innings, giving up three runs (two earned) on six hits; he certainly did enough to give his team a chance.
Barret Browning took over for Kelly in the seventh, which, of course, means an obligatory poetry break!
A Poem For The New Poet — July 18
Into the seventh, you came with a task:
To keep the game close, give your offense a chance.
First, Maldonado took two off the plate.
But, five pitches later he grounded to Craig.
Ex-Cardinal Cesar Izturis was next.
In play, no outs, and there was a threat.
But Morgan flied out and Aoki hit a grounder
That should have been it, but instead Furcal floundered.
E6 on Raffy, and your night was done.
With two runners on, things weren’t looking so fun.
Luckily, though, Sir Salas was on
And despite Gomez’s walk, Ishikawa was gone.
Fernando Salas would also pitch a scoreless eighth … even though I had hoped we’d see Trevor Rosenthal’s debut.
I know, they probably would like his first experience to be a not-so-high-leverage situation. It’s just, well, there haven’t been many of those lately.
But I digress.
In non-pitching news, Matt Holliday was drilled by a pitch from Randy Wolf in the first inning and removed from the game in the second inning with a “left thigh contusion.” Word after the game was that it wasn’t serious, just painful.
Now back to that ninth inning almost-rally.
The Redbirds hadn’t scored since the fourth inning, and had only produced two base runners since then (both in the seventh).
David Freese leads off with a double, followed by a Yadier Molina single. The tying run is 90 feet away, and with no outs, Matt Carpenter, Skip Schumaker, and Daniel Descalso had three chances to get a single run in. A sac fly would do it. A Carpenter ground-out could have done it, had Jose Oquendo sent Freese from third.
No, Freese isn’t exactly a speed demon. He may very well have been out at the plate. You could argue that Matheny could have pinch-run for him. Who knows what the logic was. Regardless, he didn’t go anywhere. And when Schumaker struck out, and Descalso popped out, the game ended with Freese and Molina standing on base.
About that momentum thing…
Perhaps it’s less lightening-strike and more slow-building. Call it “improvement,” instead of momentum, maybe.
There were some good things about tonight’s game, but it’s no secret this team has had trouble turning “momentum” into execution.
Here’s the thing. It’s still July. The Cardinals are within five games of the division leaders. Joey Votto is hurt. The Pirates are hot and cold. Lance Berkman is back. The trade deadline is approaching. … it’s certainly not a time for panic. However, something‘s got to give before long, because the next three weeks present a strong opportunity to gain back some ground.
Matheny said of Monday night’s win that, even if they didn’t back it up with a win on Tuesday, the come-backer would stay in their memory and they could pull from it another time. Hopefully he’s right. And hopefully the slow-rolling momentum starts to turn into wins.
Tara is a St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball and a contributor to Around the Horn. Follow her on Twitter @tarawellman.