In the course of this remarkable 2005 Cardinal season, we've seen Redbirds injured and on the DL, Redbirds injured and playing hurt, and Redbirds seemingly standing in line waiting to get hurt. Without knowing how the National League Manager of the Year voting will turn out, how Tony La Russa was able to cobble together line-ups day after day sans Scott Rolen, Larry Walker, Reggie Sanders, and other key players and still win 100 games was beyond me until yesterday.
When Cards starting pitcher Mark Mulder took a Joe Randa line drive off the bicep of his pitching arm in the second inning, my first thought was a resigned "Here we go again." That Mulder stayed in the game, gutted out the pain, and turned in a terrific effort is an absolute testament to the toughness, fortitude, and courage of the 2005 Cardinals. For all his ups and downs during the season, his performance Thursday has earned for him my undying respect and admiration. Mark Mulder is one tough dude.
Mulder, you'll, recall, was obtained in the '04-'05 off-season in an expensive trade that saw the departure of young phenom Dan Haren, reliever Kiko Calero (I know, I like to pronounce his name, too), and minor league batting whizkid Daric Barton. Mulder was to be the missing link in the starting rotation, the heavy lifter who would muscle up and become that crucial lefty starter to go alongside Chris Carpenter.
Although Mulder finished the regular season with an excellent 16-8 record with a 3.64 ERA, he was erratic on occasion. He was never better than during a workhorse, 10-inning complete game shut-out victory over Roger Clemons and the Houston Astros in April. Conversely, Mulder, like the rest of the Cardinals, muddled through September with a 1-2 record, although his ERA was a respectable 3.77.
He entered the play-offs with some justifiable questions about his consistency and certainly his ability to pitch and win in a day game. Incredibly, when Mulder pitched at night during the regular season, he was 14-3 with an ERA of 2.26. When he pitched under the sun, he fell to 2-5 and a 6.86 ERA. Not unlike Count Dracula, perhaps Mulder SHOULD only come out at night.
Given the previous paragraph, you can just about guess the conditions under which Mulder was asked to pitch in his first play-off game as a Cardinal. Yep, a 3:00 start at Busch Stadium. So, with all the circumstances presented, one would have a reasonable expectation of a shaky performance. One would be wrong. Against the Padres, Mulder was as solid as a rock. Not that there weren't moments. After he was hit by the line drive and with one out, Mulder hit the first batter he faced. He went 2-0 with the next batter, regained his composure and struck him out on three pitches. The last batter, pitcher Pedro Astacio, grounded back to Mulder, who tossed confidently over to first base and the inning ended quietly.
Mulder would finish the game after 6.2 innings surrendering one earned run before turning over the pitching reins to Julian Tavarez. Tavarez promptly got into trouble, but Randy Flores, now the leading lefty reliever in place of Ray King, struck out the troublesome Mark Sweeney with the bases loaded. Jason Isringhausen may have been shaky in Game One, but he pitched a strong ninth to put the game in the books.
No professional athlete should need motivation for appearances in
play-off games, but sometimes performances rise above the level of the ordinary
and inject an additional dose of adrenaline and excitement into a team. Mark Mulder's remarkable comeback from a
potentially game-ending injury sent an important message to his teammates about
his hunger to win, and also an important message to the rest of the play-off
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