I thought this was pretty good.


Cards' loss serves as new reminder of vulnerability
By Bernie Miklasz

CINCINNATI In 2004 and 2005, the St. Louis Cardinals would have put this game in the bank as early as the first inning. Give them a 4-0 lead, with Chris Carpenter on the mound and Albert Pujols still in line for at least four more at-bats? Forget about it. A comeback, in these conditions, is the impossible dream.

But these are the 2006 Cardinals. They have winning streaks and losing streaks. They are sensational one day and terrible the next, and they baffle their fans and themselves by swerving to these extremes. We are never quite sure what to make of these Cardinals, except to conclude that something has changed, something is missing, something isn't right.

Much of the supporting cast is different. And so is the method, and the mood. This season is a grind. And it's a grim endeavor.

Wednesday night at Great American Ball Park, what used to be inconceivable was reinforced as a new and disturbing reality. The Cardinals suffered one of their worst losses of the season, getting jolted by the Cincinnati Reds 8-7 in an outcome that didn't seem possible in 2004-2005.

Carpenter is the reigning National League Cy Young award winner. But he couldn't hold leads of 4-0 and 6-3. And in his last three starts, against the Cubs, Brewers and Reds, Carpenter has been pushed around for 15 runs and five homers in 17 innings. This simply should not happen to a No. 1 starter.

Give Carpenter a 4-0 lead last season, and it's over. Not now. Given a 5-0 lead Monday, Jeff Weaver did something Carpenter could not do Wednesday: He locked the game down.

Pujols won the NL's Most Valuable Player award last season, and he's making a bid for another MVP. But this was not an MVP night for El Hombre. In the sixth, Pujols had one of his most feeble at-bats of the season, whiffing with the bases loaded and the Cardinals up 6-3 and poised to put the Reds away.

It was a huge miss by Pujols and the Cardinals. The Reds, given a reprieve, attacked Carpenter anew in the bottom of the sixth for three runs and a 6-6 tie. And though the Cardinals recovered for a 7-6 edge on a splendid RBI single by David Eckstein, you just had an unsettling feeling that the Reds would answer.

And sure enough, the fireworks were ignited in the bottom of the ninth. Cardinals closer Jason Isrighausen, brought into the contest in the eighth to record the final five outs, came up short by two outs. Izzy served up a high fastball to catcher David Ross, who nearly gunned it into the Ohio River, the ball landing 442 feet away for the winning, two-run homer.

"You want your best guy winning it for you or losing it for you," manager Tony La Russa said, referring to Isringhausen. MORE BERNIE
E-Mail Bernie
Sound Off in Bernie's Press Box
Sound Off in Cards Talk
More Bernie columns

But La Russa also could have been talking about Carpenter and Pujols.

It was a walk-off homer for the Reds, who have 27 comeback wins and seven after the eighth inning. And it was another sulk-off night for the Cardinals, who had their division lead over the Reds chopped to 21/2 games.

There is something fresh about these Reds. They're like a college team, with an abundance of energy and enthusiasm. They play stretches of inadequate baseball, but they won't go away. As Ross touched home after his blast, he took his batting helmet and tossed it high into the air, a figure of complete exuberance.

The Cardinals, on the other hand, look stale. After winning 205 regular-season games over the previous two seasons, winning had become a way of life, a business routine, something that came to be viewed as ritual.

There's a stark difference between the dugouts in Cincinnati this week. The Reds are jumping around, bright-eyed and emotional and determined to prove their readiness. The Cardinals are more controlled. They expect to win. Isn't it their right? Isn't it their destiny? But the Reds are teaching the Cardinals a lesson. If you want to win, go grab it. Seize the moment. Nothing will be handed to you.