CHICAGO • Although he can recite the details of each instance when he’s been caught stretching for an extra base, Cardinals infielder Matt Carpenter doesn’t have to because his teammates have ribbed him with reminders.
“We’ve talked about being aggressive all spring and all season so far,” Carpenter said. “That mistake that I’ve made is I’ve been aggressive at first and then I’ve doubted myself at the last second. If you’re going to be aggressive, you’ve got to stay aggressive.”
That’s the message manager Mike Matheny has stressed.
In the fifth inning of the Cardinals’ 5-4 victory at Wrigley Field on Wednesday, Carpenter tried to advance from first to third base on a single to left field. He hesitated after rounding second and was tagged out trying to go back to the base. Even though the out momentarily cost the Cardinals the potential tying run, Matheny encouraged Carpenter to remain aggressive.
It was the second time in as many games that the Cardinals had an out on the bases – Yadier Molina was caught stealing trying to take third Tuesday and halted a rally – and it continued a trend from the road trip. The Cardinals wanted to push on the bases.
“We were taking a chance (with Molina),” Matheny said. “Taking an extra base, I think, is aggressively what our guys should be doing all of the time until they’re shut down. They should be thinking an extra base all the time. … It sometimes really ignites something. It can change a whole inning, change a whole game.”
On Friday at Milwaukee, the Cardinals had three runners thrown out at the plate, two of them getting the sign to round third and make a try for it. It was a day earlier that the Cardinals beat those throws and scored a couple of runs as a result. At least twice during the four-game sweep in Milwaukee, the Cardinals used a hit-and-run to ignite a rally.
Matheny has said since spring training that he wants the hitters to force a play on the bases. In Milwaukee, he said he was OK with several of the attempts because “it took a perfect throw” to get them out. That risk is worth it, he said.
“We’re not going to be a team that does that a lot, but we’re not going to turn our eyes or our heads to opportunities when they show up,” Matheny said. “When it doesn’t work, it stings bad. When it does, it can be a real momentum-starter.”
RIVALRY IN REPOSE
Midweek afternoon games while school is still in session are a notoriously difficult sell for major-league teams at this time of year, but for more than a decade the Cardinals and Cubs and their historic animosity had been somewhat immune. The rivalry sold seats. Not so this week. The crowd of 26,354 that attended the Cardinals’ win Wednesday was the smallest for a Cubs-Cardinals game at Wrigley Field since May 1, 1998, when 25,598 attended.
In 2011 and 2010, the two largest home crowds for the Cubs were for Cardinals games, and of the past 30 games the Cardinals have played at Wrigley, 16 have drawn at least 40,000. But, five of the other 14 were last season.
“I didn’t even really notice,” Matheny said. “It always seems to be pretty intense. That was a typical game for me in Chicago. They’re tight. Anything can happen at any moment. That’s kind of been what I’ve always expected here and will probably continue to expect here.”
On Tuesday night, Toronto lefty J.A. Happ took a line drive off his skull that witnesses described as the sound of a pitch hitting two bats – one crack for the hit and the other when it ricocheted off the left side of the starter’s head. Happ was released from the hospital Wednesday. Conversation in baseball had already turned to a familiar topic – protecting pitchers.
Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright was one of the pitchers who tried on a hat that was lined with protective Kevlar. The closest he has come to being drilled in the head was a shot off his shoulder earlier this season, and “close line drives that are past me before I can move.”
He would welcome more protection on the mound.
“I could see (the Kevlar-modified hat) working,” Wainwright said. “It could see it definitely worth wearing. They have to make it so it’s not hot and doesn’t work as an insulator when you’re pitching in 110-degree heat. To some extent it’s a necessary danger of our job. We understand that danger of pitching and take that risk because we love baseball and this is our job. But it would be silly not to at least investigate other ways.”
Whenever possible during last weekend’s series, the Milwaukee Brewers shifted their fielders against Carlos Beltran so that three of the infielders were on the right side of the diamond. It’s a defense he’s seen several times already this season. In his first three at-bats Saturday, Beltran pulled a grounder to the right side, in the direction of the shift. He has learned through the years not to fret about the defense.
“You can’t think about it or you’re going to get caught up in doing things differently at the plate,” Beltran said. “You’ve got to go with your approach.”