I can tell you everything you need to know about the 2008 Cardinals, and it will only take one at-bat to do so.
Please allow me to set the scene. Bottom of the fourth inning Wednesday night against the Houston Astros. One out.
Up to the plate stepped Cesar Izturis.
One out, men on first and second base. The Cardinals leading, 3-1. Wandy Rodriguez, the Astros' starter, was making his first appearance since suffering a groin strain back on the 20th of April. He had struggled badly with his control in the first, walking home a run and allowing another run on a wild pitch, but had since settled in a bit. Wainwright, the Cards' emerging ace, was cruising along, minus one center-cut fast ball to Ty Wiggington, but a two-run lead against a lineup as talented as Houston boasts is an awfully thin margin. The Cardinals needed some insurance runs.
Izturis probably isn't the first player you think of when you think ''insurance run.'' He's never been much of a hitter, making his money mostly with his glove. That hasn't changed much, though he has done a much better job of getting on base this year than he has in the past. Still, Cesar is never going to be confused with Albert Pujols.
Houston pitcher Wandy Rodriguez needed the strikeout or a double-play. But Izturis needed a hit.
Rodriguez kicked and delivered a sinker. Strike one. A low pitch, could have gone either way. Still, strike one.
The next pitch headed home. A fast ball, up in the zone, 88 mph, a four-seamer this time. Strike two. Without taking the bat off of his shoulder, Izturis was in the hole.
At this point, a collective sinking feeling began to circulate throughout Cardinal Nation. We knew this was going to happen. Izturis may have the glove, but man, this guy just can't hit.
Another pitch. A sinker again. Izturis flicked the bat out and fouled off the pitch. Tough pitch, good location, and Cesar spoiled it.
The next two pitches were both balls, and suddenly Cesar was back even at 2-2 in the count. Quickly in the hole, he had fouled off a tough pitch, then took two pitches, one of which was very close. He may still not get a hit, but at least he's making it tough on the pitcher, we all thought.
Another pitch, a curve this time, and another foul. Hanging tough. Fighting. What was an 0-2 hole was now a six pitch at-bat and a 2-2 count.
Rodriguez kicked, drove, and delivered the seventh pitch of the at bat. It was on the outside half of the plate, and it was up. Cesar didn't try to pull it, didn't try to do too much with the pitch. Izturis uncoiled on the ball, and drove a frozen rope toward the right-center-field gap. It was down, rolling, and went all the way to the wall. Molina chugged home. Barton flew around the bases, nipping at the catcher's heels. Izturis himself never hesitated, he just kept on running. He finally ended up at third base, smiling widely as the stadium erupted around him. What had been a two-run game, that felt like it might be settling in to a nailbiter, was now a four-run lead and felt like a breeze.
And that, my friends, is the 2008 Cardinal season.
This team is an imperfect bunch. They have some talent, sure, but this is by no means a juggernaut. Outside of a guy by the name of Albert, every player has a question mark by his name. Every one of them has doubts attached. Let's face it. Most of us counted this team out.
What they may not have in overwhelming talent, though, they've made up for with their approach and sheer tenacity. This team has drawn more walks than any other team in baseball. They don't strike out. Bottom line, this team does all the little things right.
This team may not be loaded, but they get the job done.
Maybe, when it comes right down to it, the questions you can ask about every player on this team aren't really bad things after all. Maybe, just maybe, those questions are good things. Maybe that's what makes this team good. Not the answers, not the sure things, but the questions.
These players have something to prove. Ryan Ludwick was a top prospect before injuries derailed his career. He's healthy now, he's playing, (at least, he's usually playing, but that's an issue for another day) and he's trying to prove that the long road, and the long wait to get to the big leagues, was worth it.
Kyle Lohse was one of the top free agent pitchers this past off-season, but got overlooked when the market dried up. Lohse wants to prove that a whole lot of teams made a mistake by passing on him. He's doing that.
Brian Barton, the dreadlocked, reggae-bumping outfielder with a degree in aerospace engineering, just wants to prove he belongs.
North County-raised Kyle McClellan is living his dream, playing baseball in his home town. He just wants this to last forever.
This team, supposedly overmatched, already in a hole, just keeps fighting back. They just keep battling, fouling off the tough pitches, staying alive until they get their chance. And when they do, they're not missing very often. When the opening comes, this team usually takes advantage. There's a reason why this squad is nine games over five-hundred and breathing down the first place Cubbies' neck. They get the job done.
Of course, Cesar Izturis did, in fact, complete the analogy. There was only one out when his line drive found daylight, and he found himself on third base, needing only a sacrifice fly, or a squeeze bunt, or a grounder to the right side to score. Brendan Ryan grounded hard back to the pitcher, and Chris Duncan just couldn't get the job done.
Cesar was truly the Cardinal season last night. He battled, struggled, and got the hit. Then, of course, he was stranded on base.
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