St. Louis Cardinals leadoff man and right-fielder Skip Schumaker has drawn a lot of attention in his first season as a regular in the major leagues. The 28-year-old is in the midst of one of his hot streaks, with a .355 batting average, three home runs and 12 RBIs with a week to go in the month of June.
Yet there is more to Schumaker's contribution to these surprising Cardinals than his stellar defense, strong arm and good numbers.
Skip has been the team's most dependable performer late in a close game, not just in 2008, but also including 2007, using game-winning RBI in the seventh inning or later as the measurement. That is saying a lot, considering the likes of Albert Pujols, Ryan Ludwick and Rick Ankiel are his teammates, not to mention the fact that Schumaker had only 177 major league at-bats last season.
Specifically, here in 2008, Schumaker has five of the Cardinals' 12 game winning plays in the seventh inning or later. The most recent was his huge two-run home run Friday night to lead the Cards to a road win, starting the Boston Red Sox interleague series off on the right foot.
Eleven of Schumaker's game winners came on hits, while he was credited with another on an error.
It is just not singles that are doing the damage, though. Of these 2008 post-sixth inning game-winners by Schumaker, two of them came via the home run. To put that into perspective, the entire rest of the team has only one game-winning long ball among them this season. That was by Ludwick.
Schumaker himself appreciates the special importance of these hits.
"It's huge. That's what's most important about the game – winning. Being there and being the hero – everybody wants to be in that place. I've been lucky enough to be in that place more times than not," the outfielder acknowledged.
While Schumaker generally knew of his late-inning success, he expected teammate Ryan Ludwick to be the team leader in game-winning home runs. Skip certainly does not aim for the fences and doesn't know why they are going out.
"I can't explain why it is a home run. I never try to hit them because I know if I start, it's not going to work for me. I just try to hit the ball and when I catch one, I catch one," Skip explained.
Like many players, Schumaker doesn't treat these particular at-bats differently from others.
"I approach each at-bat the same way. I just try to get a pitch to hit, whether there is someone on, or nobody on or if I am leading off – whatever it is, I approach it the same way. I try to get on base, whether it is a hit or a walk. It doesn't make it any different for me," said the Cardinals leadoff man.
While Schumaker is pleased with the results of his late-inning hits, he isn't that particular about when he collects them.
"Anytime you can help the team win, it is great. For me, it happens to be late. I would like to score earlier and drive in guys earlier, too. I didn't know about it until you said it, but it is a great stat for me," Skip said.
His manager, Tony La Russa, is quite aware of Skip's late-game heroics, too.
"Skip is demonstrating that he is a very tough out in a clutch situation," observed La Russa.
Tony appreciates Schumaker's versatility and has no qualms about throwing him into virtually any scenario.
"With a short bench, he can do many things. Lead off an inning, defensive replacement… There aren't a lot of situations where I don't think he'd be a good choice," explained the manager.
Count La Russa among those who believe some guys bring a little extra to the plate in tough situations.
"He must get that adrenaline pumping," observed the skipper.
Same with the fans of Cardinal Nation when Schumaker comes to the plate with the game on the line.
Cardinals Game Winning RBI team totals – seventh inning or later
2008: Schumaker 5, Ludwick 2, four players with one
2007 and 2008: Schumaker 7, Ludwick 6, Pujols 4, Encarnacion 3, Taguchi 3
Cardinals Game Winning RBI detail – seventh inning or later in 2008 (12)
Cardinals Game Winning RBI detail – seventh inning or later in 2007 (25)
A tip of the cap to Tom Orf, whose research formed the basis of this article.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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