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"Our pitching has taken the brunt of the criticism," says Claude Osteen, the Cardinal pitching coach. "But that hasn't been the entire problem. I'm not pointing my finger at any one person, but we have lost games because of poor defense many times. Pitching has been the culprit on some days, too, and we've also lost because we didn't get timely hits. I'm tired of hearing about the pitching. It's hard to put your finger on who's to blame."
Osteen is right. While the pitching staff, particularly the bullpen, has taken the most heat for the Cardinals' failure, the real reasons go much deeper. St. Louis' shortcomings are complex, and by nature interacting. Taken as a whole, they offer a case study of how an apparently strong young team, a seemingly sure contender, can suddenly turn into a straggler.
Despite the Cardinals' abundance of hitting, it is often inefficient and ineffective. Defensive play has been sporadic. At times Boyer relied on questionable tactics. When the Cards are hitting, they frequently get no pitching; when they get pitching, as they have of late, the bats tend to go silent. And there have been a number of debilitating injuries.
The injuries have been particularly damaging to what had promised to be a solid starting rotation, which in turn has put more pressure on the chronically weak St. Louis bullpen. John Fulgham, the 24-year-old righthander who had a 10-6 record and 2.53 ERA last season, strained a biceps tendon in his right shoulder so severely that he couldn't lift the arm for three weeks in late April and May. Silvio Martinez, whose 15-8 record led the staff last year, injured his right elbow in early April, was hit hard thereafter and went on the disabled list on June 1. On the same day, Reliever Mark Littell, who had 13 saves in 1979, was also put on the list because of a sore right elbow. Littell's ailment set off a scramble to find a replacement. The Cardinals have already used 16 pitchers this year, including such old-timers as Darold Knowles and Pedro Borbon, neither of whom lasted. Desperate, they even tried starters Pete Vuckovich and Sykes in the bullpen. And 41-year-old Jim Kaat, who signed April 30 after the Yankees released him, has suddenly found new life as an occasionally reliable reliever and starter.
"It's kind of funny," Osteen says. "At one point Kaat retired 12 consecutive batters. It was like he was a savior who had come down from the sky. The first two or three batters he faced, it was bam-bam-bam, all strikes. The crowd went crazy; they weren't used to that. Jim finally told me, 'Hey, wait a minute: I'm no Goose Gossage.' " And he isn't, as his 6.16 ERA in eight subsequent relief appearances showed.
The pitching staff wasn't all that was hurting. Bonds was expected to add speed and power to the lineup, but he injured his hand in the first days of the season and for weeks couldn't swing the bat properly. Last week he was hitting .231, with two home runs, and was just beginning to come back. On May 10 the Cards also lost their second baseman, Ken Oberkfell, when Steve Garvey slid into him and partially tore a ligament in his left leg.
But injuries are too easy a cop-out. Boyer saw the same high batting averages that everyone else did, but he wasn't impressed. He knew better—and just two days before his firing, he gave a good analysis of the Cardinals' failings: "We've been at fault in two areas—not being able to hold teams close and not being able to come back and score runs. And this is a lineup that should be able to come back. A lot of guys are hitting for average, but when you look at our record there's got to be some 'out' men who aren't hitting with men on base."
There is plenty of evidence of that in statistics such as the ones shown in the chart on the bottom of page 27. Failure to advance runners into scoring position is a significant reason why the Cardinals have suffered 21 of their 34 losses by one or two runs. And in their losses they have averaged only three runs per game.
But when they win, they often run up prodigious scores. They don't just kill, they overkill: the average score of their victories has been 7-3. St. Louis has enhanced its run-production figures and batting averages in lopsided wins—10-1 over Philadelphia, 8-2 over Chicago, 9-1 over Houston and 12-2 over San Francisco.
The recent games against the Mets and Expos continued the pattern of Cardinal wins and losses. St. Louis beat New York in the series opener 8-1, giving Pitcher Fulgham far more of a cushion than he needed. In the second game with the Mets, Kaat used all the guile accumulated during his 20 years of big league experience to beat the Mets 1-0 in 10 innings. The Cardinals could do almost nothing against New York Starter Pat Zachry and finally won when Reitz homered off Reliever Neil Allen in the 10th. Nor could the St. Louis hitters do much against Mets Pitcher Craig Swan, who beat them 2-1 in the game that Frazier lost in the ninth.