10/15/2002 02:52 am ET
Cards can't get timely hit
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- Members of the Cardinals, as well as box score-studying St. Louis fans, will be seeing the same seven letters in their sleep for the next six months: RISP and LOB.
A Cardinals team that was rolling, that looked like the class of the National League, was whisked away by the Giants in five short games in the NL Championship Series. St. Louis wasn't even able to bring the series back home to what would have been a raucous Busch Stadium.
All because of those seven letters.
Again and again and again, Cardinals hitters couldn't get a hit when they needed it. The Redbirds batted a respectable .257 in the NLCS, 10 points better than the Giants. They had more extra base hits, more total bases and a higher slugging percentage than their opponents. And they were outscored by seven runs.
That's because they batted a gruesome .077 (3-for-39) with runners in scoring position, and left 39 runners on base over the five games. In the last two games, both one-run losses, St. Louis stranded 21 runners.
"It's frustrating," said Albert Pujols. "Both of the guys that we threw out there, Big Bean (Andy Benes) yesterday and Matt Morris today, as the offense we just didn't do enough. Including myself. First and third, and I strike out. Last night I had the same situation. It's pretty hard when you don't do the little things. But that's how this game goes. It was their series and they won it."
In Sunday's loss you can point to questionable decisions in the pitching staff: should Rick White have been left in to throw 41 pitches? After Monday, it will be hard to ignore Steve Kline's inability to retire lefty Kenny Lofton with the game on the line.
Through it all, Scott Rolen's absence was felt.
But if there is one common thread through the four St. Louis losses, it is this: the failure to come up with a timely hit.
"It's really hard," Pujols said. "We had a lot of opportunities, you know, and we didn't take advantage."
In Game 4, the Cardinals had plenty of chances to dispose of Livan Hernandez early. They couldn't put Hernandez away, however, and he stuck it out for 6 1/3 innings. Hernandez gave up nine hits and didn't strike out a batter, but he allowed only two runs.
In the ninth on Sunday against Robb Nen, the situation seemed perfect. Pujols and J.D. Drew, one out, runners on the corners, down by one. Surely they could push across at least a single tally. But they could not. Both batters struck out.
It was more of the same in Game 5. Facing Kirk Rueter, who has repeatedly been a thorn in St. Louis' side, the Cardinals couldn't keep a rally going.
They had two on with two out in the first, and didn't score. They had a runner on second with one out in the second inning. Again, no runs. In the third it was runners on the corners with one out and the heart of the order coming to bat. Zip.
Once Rueter got through all that, he began to cruise. But in the sixth, it was another chance -- another missed chance -- for St. Louis. Runners on first and second, two out, and Eli Marrero grounds out to second.
The only run the Cardinals scored in Game 5 came on a sacrifice fly. With runners on the corners and nobody out in the seventh, then runners on first and second with one out, they tallied just one run.
"That's the playoffs," said starter and losing pitcher Matt Morris.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. He can be reached at Matthew_H_Leach@yahoo.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.