In a season full of big wins, big disappointments, big comebacks and a big World Series Championship, sometimes it is important to take a step back and take a look at some of the little things that made all of that possible. This time, we will take a look at Ryan Theriot.
Ahhh, Ryan Theriot. The ex-Cub that Cardinals fans love to hate, but it is so much more than that. Cubs fans invented a new metric, the TOOTBLAN (Thrown Out On The Bases Like a Nincompoop), just to track Theriot’s base running blunders. It’s no wonder that he fit in so well with the Cardinals as base running blunders were a specialty of this team.
There is no doubt that had the Cardinals faltered down the stretch, Ryan Theriot would have been a convenient scapegoat. He was brought over from the Dodgers in an offseason trade to improved the offense, while sacrificing a bit of defense. For the most part he accomplished the former, but it was his defensive play that continually frustrated Cardinals fans. Forgetting the oft times brilliant defense from his predecessor, Brendan Ryan, Theriot was proving to be a liability on the left side of the infield, so much so that the Cardinals sent a most promising young outfield prospect to the Dodgers for Rafael Furcal.
After the acquisition of Furcal, Theriot moved over to second base, at least for the short term. With Skip Schumaker heating up in August (.329 batting average) and Nick Punto coming off the disabled list in early September, Theriot found himself on the bench more often than in the daily lineup. His late season production suffered a little bit, but he still found ways to make key contributions. That brings us to the little things, of which there are three.
September 20 – New York at St. Louis
There were 9 games left to play in the season, and the Cardinals were still 2 1/2 games behind Atlanta for the NL Wild Card (2 out on the loss side). The Mets had jumped all over Cardinals starter Edwin Jackson, sending six men to the plate in the first, and eight men in the third. By the time that inning was over, the Mets had a commanding 4-0 lead.
The Cardinals began to inch their way back into the game, but Jackson continued to struggle. Things got worse when Tony La Russa called on Kyle McClellan in the sixth inning. Two walks and a bunt in the seventh inning brought Angel Pagan to the plate, and McClellan walks him, giving the Mets a 6-5 lead. That set the stage for one of the better Cardinals comebacks of the season, and it all started with 2 outs.
Trailing 6-5 in the seventh inning, Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman get a pair of two out singles. No panic on the part of the Mets, they are still one pitch from getting out of trouble. They are still waiting for that pitch. David Freese works the count full, eventually walking to load the bases. Left hander Tim Byrdak comes into the game to pitch to Daniel Descalso and Tony La Russa counters with Ryan Theriot off the bench.
Ryan Theriot turns on the third Byrdak delivery and lifts a solid line drive into the left center field gap that splits the defenders and bounces over the wall for a ground rule double. That gave the Cardinals a 7-6 lead, but more important, it got the huge crowd into the game. After an intentional walk to Yadier Molina, Adron Chambers delivers a bases clearing triple, sending the crowd into a frenzy. By the time the Cardinals were through with the inning, they had an 11-6 lead. Marc Rzepczynski and Fernando Salas would make that lead hold up.
Unfortunately, Atlanta also won, but no ground was lost – thanks to Ryan Theriot’s clutch hit.
September 27 – St. Louis at Houston
After a heartbreaking extra inning loss in the series opener, the Cardinals had run out of runway on the 2011 season. They had to win the last two games, and hope for some help down in Atlanta. The latter didn’t matter if the Cardinals couldn’t hold up their end.
It didn’t look good early as Houston jumped all over Jake Westbrook for a quick 5-0 lead. Westbrook did not even make it out of the third inning before Tony La Russa had to go to his bullpen, this time for Mitchell Boggs.
Fortunately for the Cardinals, Houston starter Henry Sosa lost it in the third inning. The Cardinals would send ten men to the plate, the first six facing Sosa and the remainder against former Cardinals prospect, David Carpenter. When the long third inning came to a close, the score was knotted at 5 runs each.
Marc Rzepczynski would give up a single and a pair of walks to load the bases in the fifth inning, but worked out of a difficult jam allowing just a single run. With just a handful of innings left in the regular season, that run looked gargantuan on the scoreboard.
Once again, it is a 2 out rally that saved the game for the Cardinals. This time it happened in the top of the seventh inning. Lance Berkman singles to start the rally. On a 3-2 pitch with Berkman running, Allen Craig delivers with a double, scoring Berkman with the tying run. Again, there is an intentional pass given to Yadier Molina. Houston manager Brad Mills brings in left hander Wesley Wright to face Skip Schumaker. As he did against the Mets a week earlier, Tony La Russa counters that move with Ryan Theriot off the bench.
On Wright’s third pitch, Theriot hits the ball about as hard as he can, and it sails high over all of the outfielders for a bases clearing triple. It gave the Cardinals an 8-6 lead and turbo charged a rally that would feature a three run homer by Allen Craig as well as a solo blast from Nick Punto. The Cardinals win the game by the score of 13-6.
Looking up at the scoreboard for the first time, we notice that Philadelphia has defeated Atlanta, 7-1. The Cardinals had just caught the Braves. Both teams had an identical record with just one game to play.
September 24 – Chicago at St. Louis
When the season began, who would have imagined that Ryan Theriot would get the single most important at-bat during the regular season. Not many. But that’s exactly what happened, and it took place in late September, the next to last home game.
Time was seriously running out on the regular season. The Cardinals had already given away one game they couldn’t afford when the Mets scored six runs in the top of the ninth two days earlier. The make matters worse, the Cardinals followed that by squandering away a brilliant outing by Chris Carpenter, losing the series opener to the Cubs.
Kyle Lohse struggled early, giving up three hits in the first inning, leading to the only Cubs run of the game. After that rough start, Lohse would only give up three more hits over the next six innings, collecting seven of his eight strikeouts on the afternoon while walking none. Throw on two more scoreless innings by the Cardinals bullpen, and this great performance was about to go to waste as the Cardinals entered the bottom of the ninth with a zero on their side of the scoreboard. Things got much worse when Carlos Marmol came into the game.
With one out in the ninth, Matt Holliday singles. No panic by Marmol yet – he has the stuff to retire the next two batters without them even hitting the ball. Tyler Greene enters the game as a pinch runner and immediately steals second base. When Giovanni Soto’s throw sails wild, Greene takes third base. Now a fly ball can tie the game.
The Cardinals have the right man at the plate in David Freese, but he looks terribly over matched by Marmol’s slider and strikes out. With Marmol now struggling to find the strike zone, Yadier Molina patiently works the count and eventually walks. Adron Chambers pinch runs for Molina.
Skip Schumaker is the next batter and Marmol’s struggle to find the plate continues. He also walks and the bases are now loaded. Adron Chambers is in scoring position, and anything hit in the outfield that isn’t caught will give the Cardinals a win.
In the thousands of managerial decisions Tony La Russa made in the 2011 season, this was his most brilliant, and it involved Ryan Theriot. The scheduled hitter was Corey Patterson. Patterson had been struggling at the plate and had gotten a bit aggressive with his swings. That was exactly the wrong player to be facing Carlos Marmol in this situation, so La Russa went with Ryan Theriot, knowing he would be far more patient than Patterson. That patience saved the Cardinals season when Theriot stared at a 3-2 pitch that just missed the strike zone, walking in the tying run. Marmol would make just two more pitches, the second nearly hitting Rafael Furcal. It rolled to the backstop and Adron Chambers scampered home with the winning run. Somehow, the Cardinals had just stolen back a game, and the key at-bat was Ryan Theriot.
For many Cardinals fans, this was the moment when hope turned into belief. In the big picture, it was just one more thrilling come from behind win, but it was more than that. We recognized this one win for what it was, the Cardinals refusing to lose. We would see that play out many more times over the next month.
Winning cures everything
All of the defensive misplays, wacky running mistakes and offensive struggles in July have been forgotten. The Cardinals completed their unbelievable season with a thrilling Game Seven win over the Texas, the eleventh championship for the franchise. All that matters now are Ryan Theriot’s contributions. It took every one of them to make that possible.
Smile Ryan, you are now a World Champion.