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Matheny's maddening decisions cost Cardinals another NLCS game

I have tried to be patient with St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny because, while his methods are maddening, it's difficult to argue with the results in his three years as skipper of the club.

But I'm about ready to lose my mind right now.

Matheny capped off a horribly managed National League Championship Series Thursday night with one of the worst-managed games I have ever seen. 

I still can't wrap my mind around how he allowed pitcher Michael Wacha to go three weeks without appearing in a game. Then he brought in the obviously rusty hurler to pitch the ninth inning of a tied elimination playoff game.

Not only was that a stupid move from a strategic standpoint. But is it fair to send Wacha out there under those circumstances? He was set up to fail -- and fail he did. Now, after an aborted comeback from a shoulder injury, he gets to spend the next 120 days mulling over how he was humiliated in front of a national audience?

Beyond that, I can't figure out why Matheny would pull his number three hitter for a defensive replacement -- and then put himself into a situation where he had to pinch hit for that defensive replacement with a poor fielder.

When he made the pinch hitter move, he opted for lefty batter Oscar Taveras -- and set himself up to be countered with dominant lefty specialist Jeremy Affeldt.

The Giants righty reliever was struggling to find the strike zone. Wouldn't it have been better -- with the bases loaded -- to leave Peter Bourjos in the game? Bourjos is a .255 hitter with a .320 on base percentage against righty pitchers. Taveras is a .238 hitter with a .289 on base percentage against southpaws. 

While I was trying to swallow how Matheny could make the mistake of pulling Holliday too soon -- AGAIN -- he yanked fifth hitter Matt Adams for a pinch runner. If Wacha would have overcome the mess Matheny laid in front of him, the Redbirds would have had to try to score the winning run with a couple of bench jockeys anchoring the lineup. The deck was seriously stacked against St. Louis for the remainder of the game.

Of course, that never happened. When it was clear that Wacha was as rusty as it gets, giving up a hit to the first batter and a four-pitch walk to the second hitter, Matheny continued to watch his young hurler twist in the wind. Wacha got behind the third hitter of the inning and, as broadcaster Harold Reynolds salivated that he wanted to see the batter rip a pitch, Wacha grooved a delivery that was blasted for the game-losing home run.

It was probably for the best. Because Randy Choate, who is infamous for failing to retire the one or two hitters he is brought in to face, was warming in the bullpen. Matheny seemed determined not to let Game 5 advance beyond the ninth inning at any cost.

It's a shame that Adam Wainwright pitched his guts out to put the Cardinals in a position to bring the series back to St. Louis only to have his effort wasted.

The Cardinals blew leads in games four and five due to odd pitching decisions and, frankly, had a good chance of winning every game except for the first one. It must be demoralizing for a team to be unable to feel confident -- even when it is winning late -- that its manager will push the right buttons to keep from blowing up seven or eight innings of work.

While the Giants are a very good team that deserves credit for playing the game the right way, there is no excuse to lose the NLCS as decidedly as the Redbirds were beaten. But, also, there was also no excuse for this team to under-perform for the entire regular season.

The Cardinals could have just as easily come home up three games to two as losing the NLCS four games to one. But at critical points of every game except Game 2, the Giants made a key play at a key time to change the course of the game. Meanwhile, the Redbirds tightened up -- even when they had the lead. It was as if they were waiting for something bad to happen. And it did.

Two weeks ago the Cardinals and their fans were congratulating each other for another successful season. But I'm not so sure everyone can be satisfied with how this promising run lurched to a halt.

The Giants were better prepared, better guided and they better executed than St. Louis. And that's not good enough.