If I had one gripe about the Cardinals win Friday night over the Pittsburgh Pirates it would be manger Mike Matheny's use of the bullpen.
He brought it John Axford, presumably, the serve as the enforcer. Axford hit a Pirates batter with a 95 MPH fastball after Pittsburgh hitters had already hit Jon Jay and knocked down Yadier Molina. Axford did the job admirably, sending a high and hard message to Pittsburgh that St. Louis won't be pushed around or intimidated. But then Matheny brought it Jake Westbrook to try to close out the game with an 11-run lead. And Westbrook was woefully inadequate.
Westbrook gave up five runs and forced the Cardinals to bring close Edward Mujica into a game that shouldn't have even been close.
Axford gave up a hit before hitting a batter to put two on and no out with St. Louis up 12-1. Westbrook got a ground ball but Pete Kozma screwed it up and allowed a run to score. But, as the Pirates pulled their starters, taking down the Jolly Roger and putting up a white flag of surrender, Westbrook served up a three-run homer to Josh Harrison batting in place of Neil Walker. After getting the last out of the eighth, the Redbirds led 12-5 and Westbrook had a clean slate to start the ninth.
Hit hit the leadoff batter -- with a pitch that had to little mustard on it that the home plate umpire had no doubt it wasn't intentional. Then he gave up a pair of singles and a walk before the Cardinals had seen enough and Westbrook was told to get the heck off the field.
I can't help but think it would have been a lot prettier ending to the game had Matheny brought in Westbrook to do the dirty work by protecting his teammates. Then he would have only had to throw one pitch and he could have got out of there before any more damage was done. Westbrook couldn't break a pane of glass with his fastball. So there would be the added bonus of sending a message without the worry that someone would get hurt.
The broadcasters, by the way, insisted that the didn't think any of the batters were intentionally hit or knocked down. And I am going to have to respectfully disagree on this one. First, the Pirates have had a history of throwing at the Cardinals for several years dating back to the time that Lloyd McClendon was their manager.
Matheny had every reason to protect his players because it's an extreme advantage for one team not to have to fear retaliation while the other's players have to worry not only about hitting the ball but also about the possibly need to jump out of the way of a blazing heater.
Axford's move was pretty textbook. He skipped the first batter for a bit of cover. Then he hit the batter high enough to be scary but not high enough to be deadly. And, one could tell from the reaction of the hitter, that the message was well received.
I'm not sure if Axford was selected because he's the new guy and this was his chance to get in good with his new mates by taking one for the team or if he was selected because he throws so hard. But I don't mind either way. The Cardinals needed to send a message to the Pirates that they're not going to take it anymore. Sorry Pittsburgh, you may still be out front at the moment. But that doesn't mean you're the king of the hill. You haven't accomplished anything yet.