For those of you too young to remember Earl Scheib, he ran a nationwide company specializing in collision repair. In the early days of American television, you would see his commercials where he would proudly proclaim, “I’ll paint any car, any color, for $29.95”. By the time I was old enough to drive and possibly make use of his service, I think the price had risen to $99.95. Still a bargain, but as with most things in life, customers got exactly what they paid for. It was not a masterful paint job, especially if you lived in a climate wear the weather (rain, snow, salt on the roads) put a stress on the exterior of your automobile.
And so it was with Kyle Lohse, as he faced the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 15, 2011. As he had done in most of his outings, including a sharp spring training, he made quick work of the Dodgers in his first time through the batting order.
Dodgers starter, Jon Garland, was not so fortunate. On the strength of not one, but two Lance Berkman home runs, a balk with a runner on 3rd base, and the surprising clutch hitting of Ryan Theriot, the Cardinals jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead.
Since May 23, 2009, we had seen many such games. The Cardinals would jump out to a quick lead, just to have an injured and struggling Kyle Lohse give it all back, and then some. We had learned what to look for – a breaking ball that sort of glided across the plate screaming “hit me, hit me hard”, the inability to hit the corners of the plate, and finally a fastball that started finding the big part of the opponents bats. It was not if, but when. It might be the third inning, maybe the fourth. It was rarely the sixth, because Lohse was long gone by then.
2011 seems to be a different year for the veteran right hander. Perhaps those injuries sustained in 2009 were real and they did seriously impact Lohse’s control and movement on his pitches. Maybe he is finally healthy again. He is certainly pitching as well as he did in 2008, and that is a very good things for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Let’s fast forward to the fourth inning of this game between the Cardinals and Dodgers. With that 4-0 lead, Lohse got into a bit of trouble. I’m sure that some in Cardinals Nation were saying things like, “here we go again”, but perhaps with some stronger language that I can’t use and remain a kid-friendly blog site. Many more watched with fascination to see what Lohse would do, trying to decide if it is safe to jump on the bandwagon, or waive it farewell as it departs into the sunset.
After a leadoff double, and a dribbler infield single, Matt Kemp looped a ball over the infield for an easy RBI. OK, that’s only 4-1 the optimists say as they keep searching for the pony. A few more sided with the “here we go again crowd”. What we were watching was a pitcher who was struggling, trying to find something that worked. Like Earl Scheib’s paint job, Lohse was technically pitching, but it was not masterful in any way.
He did tighten up his big boy pants and retire the next two batters without allowing another run to score. Still trying to find anything that resembled the strike zone, Lohse bounced a hard breaking ball in front of the plate that had so much spin, it kicked high over Yadier Molina’s right shoulder. A bit of criticism for Molina’s nonchalance recently on pitches in the dirt started flying over Twitter, but he did every thing he could to block that pitch. That was Lohse’s fault, without any question. Another run scored, cutting the lead in half. This is make or break time for Lohse. With those big boy pants cutting off all circulation below the waste, Lohse fans Rod Barajas to end the inning, and the Dodger rally.
The Cardinals pick up their struggling hurler by tacking on a pair of runs on a most welcome sight – a two run homer off the bat of Albert Pujols. That restored the 4 run lead. It was now up to Lohse to hold it.
Earl Scheib returned to the mound to start the fifth inning. A single and double put runners on second and third with just one out. At this point, Tony La Russa had seen enough and started to get an arm working in the bullpen. Oh, the number of times we had seen this same story over the last two years.
Then came the turning point in the game, but it did not seem that way at the time. With a 1-2 count on Casey Blake, Kyle Lohse made the pitch of the game. It was a fastball that just painted the lower outside corner. It was a thing of beauty. Not only did it fool Casey Blake, it also fooled home plate umpire Chad Fairchild. He called it ball two.
A lot of other pitchers would have fallen apart with that missed strikeout. Maybe the adversity of the last two years has made Lohse a tougher competitor, because he came back with exactly the same pitch – but it was just a bit farther outside. Yadier Molina framed it perfectly for Chad Fairchild and he punched out Casey Blake. It might have been subconscious payback for missing the previous strikeout pitch, but what Fairchild did on that call was establish the lower left hand corner of the strike zone. In the span of those two pitches, Kyle Lohse had transformed himself from Earl Scheib to Leonardo di Vinci, from throwing paint all over the place to a master artesian, carefully working on the accents perfecting the smile on a portrait.
A completely different pitcher took the mound for the home half of the sixth inning. Many in Cardinals Nation were surprised to see Loshe still in the game with his recent struggles. What he did over the course of the next two innings was as remarkable as the major league debut of Eduardo Sanchez a few days earlier. With only two strikeouts to this point in the game, Lohse would strike out four of the next seven batters. The only base runner would be a two out single by Jose Uribe. The other two outs were a harmless ground out and a loud fly ball to the outfield.
We then saw something we hadn’t seen in quite some time. Kyle Lohse would start the eighth inning. After retiring Ivan de Jesus, Tony La Russa decided to go to his bullpen. With a pair of left-handed bats coming up, it was time to turn the game over to his lone LOOGY, and end Kyle Lohse’s evening on a positive note. He was being taken out of the game, not because he was struggling. It was because he had hit a pitch count, and there was nothing more to prove.
The story of the game will be recounted as Lohse struggling for the win, without his good stuff. A closer look at the game within the game will reveal a pitcher that finally found something that was working, and repeatedly went to it time after time. It was actually a masterful performance when you step back and watch the entire game. It was also fun to watch.