Missed opportunity for Cards in series opener

Kirk Wessler

Two games.

Even in Tony La Russa's one-day-at-a-time world, there was acknowledgement that this two-game series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers might be a little big.

'It's our last two games against them,' the Cardinals manager said Tuesday afternoon.


'I think it's more important for us than for them,' La Russa said. 'They've got the lead.'

When this theory was suggested to Brewers skipper Ned Yost, he looked as if one of the reporters huddled around his desk had scribbled on his lineup card.

'Are you crazy?' Yost said. Then, just in case we did not understand the implications of his rhetorical question, Yost added, 'Hell, no, it's not.'

A short while later, Yost's Brewers got a big win and La Russa's Cardinals a big loss at Busch Stadium. The score was 12-0, and a subdued crowd of 41,121 went home on the brink of feeling morose. They did not feel this way because of the

lopsided score, most of which was the result of a seven-run Brewers ninth inning that included, among other insults to Redbird dignity, a three-run double that traveled all of 180 feet off the bat of Jason Kendall. It was more from a realization that the Cardinals are about to miss the playoffs for the second year in a row, for the first time in a decade.

With the Chicago Cubs running away from the field in the National League Central, the Brewers and Cardinals are left to fight over the wild card. And with their victory Tuesday, the Brewers are threatening to lock up that playoff spot for themselves, sooner than later.

'We're trying to put as much distance (between us and) a damn good team as we can,' Yost said, trying to explain why he thought his pregame office space had been invaded by lunatics.

The Brewers now lead the Cardinals by five games in the loss column. If Milwaukee completes the short sweep tonight, that margin will be six, with the Cardinals' opportunities for redemption down to 28 games, and the Brewers' chances to screw up a good thing down to 29.

Now, with Adam Wainwright pitching for the Cardinals tonight, we could be right back where we started. Four games apart — 3½ in the official standings. Nothing gained, but nothing lost — except, in the Cardinals' case, opportunity.

Kind of like the game Tuesday.

Opportunity knocked on Milwaukee's door, and the Brewers squeezed out one run in the first inning, another in the third and one more in the fifth. Opportunity likewise came looking for St. Louis, but the Cardinals instead left runners all over the bases. They put two men on with one out in the first, third and fourth innings, but couldn't push them across the plate.

That the game turned into a major-league spanking is irrelevant.

They play again tonight, and it's just one game.

'Neither one of our October chances are going to be determined by this series,' La Russa maintained. 'There's a lot ahead.'

Sort of.

September can be a long and crazy month in baseball. Bigger leads than six games have been blown — or overcome, depending on your point of view. What appears safe can be squandered from one weekend to the next.

That's why Yost seems as uptight as La Russa.

'That's a good team over there,' Yost said of the Cardinals. 'They're capable of flying by us in a heartbeat.'



Likely to?

Stranger things have happened. But don't count on it.

KIRK WESSLER is Journal Star executive sports editor/columnist. He can be reached at kwessler@pjstar.com, or 686-3216.