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Crotch grabbing, pitchers sweating, players caught like deer in headlights... the St. Louis Cardinals are doing a lot of talking about how they were able to beat the Washington Nationals in Game 5 of the NLDS last Friday night.
So is it time to start researching statistical achievements by 20-year-old major leaguers? Washington Nationals' 2010 no.1 overall pick Bryce Harper, who turned 20 today, finished his rookie campaign with the second-highest home run total (22) ever collected by a teenaged major leaguer, behind only former Boston Red Sox' outfielder Tony Conigliaro (24). Over the course of his first year in the majors, Harper passed the likes of Mickey Mantle (13), Ken Griffey, Jr. (16) and Mel Ott (19), but fell two home runs short of taking over the no.1 spot. While talk of Harper's teenaged accomplishments will have to end, the stories of his "immaturity" continue with a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article by Bernie Miklasz focusing on what's being referred to as a "crotch-grabbing" incident that took place after Harper K'd swinging on three pitches in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 5 of the NLDS this past Friday night:
"[Jason] Motte retired the Nationals in order in the bottom of the ninth. Jayson Werth flied out. The second hitter was the brash Nationals' rookie Bryce Harper. Motte struck him out, and Harper responded by grabbing his crotch in a gesture meant to insult Motte. The 'diss didn't work out the way Harper had intended. (That's a clown move, bro.) A few of the Cardinals that saw it hooted at Harper. After disposing of the immature Harper, Motte got Ryan Zimmerman on a pop up to Descalso, and the Cardinals sprinted from the dugout to begin a wild celebration."
[ed. note - "He said, 'diss.'"] Elsewhere in the article full of quotes from the Cardinals who talk about their ninth-inning, two-out comeback, an anonymous Cards player explains that they knew they had something when they saw Nationals' left-hander Gio Gonzalez start to "sweat" on the mound. "Encouraged by batting coach Mark McGwire," Mr. Miklasz writes, "the Cardinals began taking pitches to make Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez sweat.":
"Gonzalez, who seemed to be feeling the pressure, began obsessing over ball-strike calls by home plate umpire Angel Marquez.
"The Cardinals could see Gonzalez weakening, and that fired them up. As one Cardinal said, 'Gio looked like he didn't want to be out there. The guy has a 6-0 lead, then 6-1, and he's panicking out there. We smelled blood.'"
Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell mentioned yesterday in a chat with readers that the biggest mistake Gonzalez made in his Game 5 start was arguing with the home plate umpire as he left the field after the 36-pitch, 16-strike top of the fifth:
"I didn't think the Nats got squeezed. But when Gio came off after the 5th, he was screaming at Marquez about strikes. That's not a good idea for your teammates for the rest of the game. He knows he's out (with 100+ pitches). But the other guys still have to deal with it."
Cards' infielder Skip Schumaker, on the record, tells the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer that he saw signs the Nationals were cracking under pressure:
"A lot of guys had the bright-eyed, deer-in-the-headlights look. And I'm not going to mention names, but we saw them taking a couple of deep breaths between pitches, and they were up four or five runs. When we saw that, we started talking. We weren't taking any deep breaths."
So... good for the Cardinals, they got the win, got to look back on it with the benefit of hindsight and act like they knew all along that they would rally with one out and one strike left to beat the Nationals. At least they got it out of their systems and we can all move on from this and not have to hear any mor--- Oh, wait. I'm told Cards' starter Adam Wainwright felt the need to weigh in once more on the story of Stephen Strasburg's shutdown.
The Cardinals' 31-year-old right-hander, who missed the 2011 campaign when he too had Tommy John surgery, appeared on MLB Network Radio's NLCS Preview show with Jim Bowden and Mike Ferrin yesterday and, of course, felt the need to talk about the Nationals' 24-year-old right-hander and the limits he was under in his first full year back from surgery. Asked how his own arm felt after a year off and 198.2 IP this season, Wainwright said it felt good.
"In my mind," Wainwright continued, "I had a year off. A year off of not throwing a baseball, so I'm pretty rested. That's something that 10 years from now they might look back and say, 'Man, they should have rested him,' or, 'Man, they shouldn't have rested Stephen Strasburg. One of the two."
"They shouldn't have rested [Strasburg]," Jim Bowden interjected, "But you're here, so it's okay for the Cardinals."
"I agree consistently," Wainwright said, "And I've always said that... I don't know... that's a different story."
"But they're at home," Bowden continued, "And you're standing on this field, look at the difference."
"You know what though, [Strasburg] would have probably pitched Game 1, right?" Wainwright asked rhetorically, "And we had that game 3-2 going into the eighth inning, we were in good shape to win that game, so unless he was going to out there and throw 9.0 shutout, you can't guarantee a win from anybody, especially in the playoffs. So, those kinds of things, you just can't guarantee... for one thing you can't ever guarantee how many time you're going to go back to the playoffs, and how much success you're going to have leading up to get you into another chance to win a World Series. I mean, very few people have done that. Cal Ripken won a World Series his first year, never won another one the rest of his career. You look at Mark Prior, guys go out there and [are] the best pitcher in the game for two years, three years and then you don't see them anymore because he has injury problems. So I mean, the timetable on this game we have right here is just not enough for me to sit out."
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