Wow Dave Duncan is crazy!!!
BY RICK HUMMEL
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
CINCINNATI — Veteran righthander John Smoltz, who had walked only three hitters unintentionally in his first 34 innings as a Cardinal since coming from Boston, walked more batters (five) in the second and third innings Wednesday night than he had walked in a game since 1995.
Smoltz said he wasn't able to get a grip on most of the baseballs he tried to throw — and he exchanged baseballs regularly with home-plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth. After the Cardinals' 6-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, he gave credit to Reds righthander Bronson Arroyo for handling the situation much better.
Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan, who raised the issue of what he termed unrubbed baseballs with Culbreth and crew chief Gary Cederstrom on the field, wasn't so generous in assessing Arroyo's success with the same baseballs Smoltz was using.
Duncan, who said the umpires told him the baseballs indeed were rubbed up, said Arroyo was able to deal with the issue because "I'm sure he had pine tar on his cap. He didn't have any problem getting a grip. Balls like that can generate a lot more movement than a slick ball that hasn't been rubbed up."
Asked if he had seen Arroyo go to his cap, Duncan said, "Just every pitch."
Then Duncan said, "That's not the point. The point is that a pitcher should never be able to have control over how a ball is rubbed up, whether it's more or less. And since the umpires don't rub the balls up and their clubhouse guys do, I'm sure he had some control over it."
Duncan said he didn't and wouldn't ask the umpires to investigate Arroyo's head gear. "It's gamesmanship," Duncan said.
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa obliquely said, "There's a way to improve your grip. The balls weren't slick for (Arroyo). There's probably a reason why they weren't slick for him. Different fingertips or something. I don't know."
But Duncan noted, "I've been around for 40-plus years now and I've never seen a major-league baseball game played with balls like that."
The 42-year-old Smoltz, who has been around almost as long as Duncan, said, "These are the worst baseballs I've pitched with in my life. The other guy pitched with them, too, and he did a nice job. But I've walked three guys all year and I walked five today. I felt helpless."
In his bizarre two-inning stretch, four of the five batters Smoltz faced scored and the other forced in a run as the Cardinals continued sliding, this time before 11,930 fans.
Smoltz found himself asking for a new ball virtually every couple of pitches. He didn't have to ask for a new one, though, after Laynce Nix had delivered the most telling hit of the game, a third-inning grand slam off an 0-2 pitch.
"I just had no feel for the baseballs," Smoltz said. "That's the worst thing you can have as a pitcher.
"They were brand-new. The balls were not rubbed up. They were all white."
Historically, umpires have rubbed up balls before the game with what is called Delaware mud, but that job has fallen to clubhouse attendants at all the parks.
"I normally don't get that frustrated but that was a frustrating experience," Smoltz said. "I'm not a guy who walks five guys. I warmed up with really good baseballs. Ours.
"But no excuses. I definitely struggled. I was angry. I explained to the umpire I was frustrated and he said he knew what the situation was and there was nothing he could do. I've pitched a long time and not to find one or two or three baseballs that are remotely close ...
"I threw too many balls that just rolled up there. The other guy today (Arroyo) did extremely well with it. He shut us down. He's a guy who flips frisbees and sailers ... it could be what he likes. (Arroyo) dealt — with the same kind of baseballs."
When it was suggested that Arroyo, 8-7 at home and 7-6 on the road, had used that type of baseball before here, Smoltz said, "One would think."
Smoltz seemed upset that Reds rookie Drew Stubbs stole a base with the Reds six runs ahead in the third, as Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker held up three fingers, probably signifying the game was only in the third inning.
"I was frustrated. I'm not going to comment (on the matter)," Smoltz said.
Cardinals backup catcher Jason LaRue, handling Smoltz for the first time, didn't lay the whole blame on the baseballs. LaRue said, "Both sides are pitching with the same balls. You've still got to go out and make your pitches and do your job. But the question is: Were the balls rubbed up? No, they weren't rubbed up."
The Cardinals managed just five hits and scored three or fewer runs for the fifth time in six games and 10th time in their last 13.
La Russa said, "There's more (than one run) that I think our talent should produce."
Not surprisingly with this lack of offense, the Cardinals have lost five of their past six and 11 of their past 17 games, and their chances for having home-field advantage for the playoffs are evaporating quickly.