I haven’t exactly been excited a whole lot this 2017 season. I mean, sometimes I’m excited, like I’m excited when the Cardinals are getting blown out early, and I know that I can do something different with my night. I’m excited for off days, because I’m not subject to watching 3 hours of defensive blooper reels, and blindfolded base-running. Beyond those scenarios, it’s late June and my fist has shaken plenty, but rarely pumped for joy.
But last night, last night was beautiful.
No, I’m not talking about an 8-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds. That’s what you’re supposed to do to the Cincinnati Reds. Winning the game was nice, and a relief, but it didn’t exactly erase memories of a guy called “Scooter” going all greatest offensive night in history against them. The Cardinals, in other words, didn’t excite me.
Tommy Pham excited me.
He alone dismantled the Cincinnati Reds.
Tommy Pham, leading off, put a display on in the bottom of the 1st that set the tone for the entire game.
Facing Brandon Finnegan, fresh off of the DL, Pham started off the inning by drawing a 5 pitch walk against Brandon Finnegan.
Brandon Finnegan was not pleased with this start, in what I’m calling our first “Phace of Phailure.”
The hands are deceiving, as he was simply stretching his arms, but the lip curl of angst is palpable. One batter in, and Pham had gotten into their heads.
The Cincinnati broadcast didn’t credit Pham for this as much as they credited the Cardinals as a whole, talking about how the Cardinals “of course know that” Finnegan has control issues, and that you could look for the Cardinals to continue to be patient throughout the game.
Hahaha, yes, I’m sure that was the team plan. I can just picture Mike Matheny giving a talk about how important it was to be patient and work the counts, before adding “Grichuk, you’ll be batting 2nd tonight.” For the record, Cardinals not named Tommy Pham drew 2 walks on the evening. Tommy had 2 himself.
Next up, Grichuk, showing the aforementioned plate patience, swung at a borderline down and in sinker that was impossible to do anything with, and popped it up to first time center fielder Patrick Kivlehan, who caught the ball, and casually threw it in not like what happens every night at every ballpark.
Pham took advantage. At a time when most runners would be returning to first with their back to the play, Pham got a normal lead, saw the casual toss and took off towards 2nd, making it easily. This was a text book definition flat out hustle play. He tagged up from first and ran to 2nd on a pop up to SHALLOW CENTER FIELD.
The Reds announcers called it embarrassing. Check out the look on Kivlehan’s face:
Awww, he’s happy! look at that toothy smile! After this he immediately jerked away from 2nd base in disgust. Beautiful.
Al Hrabosky said “To do something like that, you have to anticipate it.”
Dan Maclaughlin declared, “There’s no reason Tommy Pham should be standing on 2nd base.”
The Reds announcers declared that this was “something the Cardinals talked about before this game ever started,” along with, “That’s the kind of thing you can prepare, watching a scouting report, developing a plan.”
It’s almost as though the Reds announcers don’t watch the Cardinals every day. If the team that is currently leading the majors with 62 unforced outs on the bases was plotting shallow center tag ups to any base, holy lord.
No, this was all Tommy Pham being 100% aware of his surroundings and 100% prepared to take any advantage he can to help his team win.
Now, on 2nd, Pham wasn’t done. On a 2-0 runners count, Finnegan gave a cursory glance back to 2nd, and Pham was off, sliding into 3rd headfirst, beating the bouncing throw from the catcher Devin Mesoraco, who shook his head in anger after giving us this beauty:
I don’t know what to call it, but he puffed up his cheeks and exhaled like when the entire world seems to overwhelming for you to handle. His eyes were closed, frustrated from having to watch Pham dismantle his team.
The Reds announcers were exasperated. “You know Pham is not the speediest of runners…may be a tick above average, but he’s no burner…it’s the attitude sometimes on the base paths when you go from 1st to 2nd on a fly ball to center and then you take advantage of what you see with the pitcher.”
This time they had it right. It was Pham who was doing this. He knew his own abilities, and he looked for ways to take advantage. He knew he could do it, and he did. It was pure determination.
Now, with both ends of the battery rattled, Finnegan threw a ball low that went through the legs of Mesoraco without the slightest attempt to get down and block the pitch. His focus was clearly not on his job. The ball slammed off the back wall enough force, that the play at home should have been close. It wasn’t. Pham was the 1st to react, and as such made it to home before Finnegan could, even though he had almost 30 feet farther to run.
“If that doesn’t pick up your team, nothing will!” exclaimed McLaughlin.
The Reds announcers solemnly spit out “Boy it just seems like the Cardinals just stole a run.”
No, Tommy Pham did.
Mesoraco again, shook his head.
Finnegan did the same, before staring off to nowhere. It was a early, and it was a paltry 1-0 game, but Finnegan had the look of a defeated man, ready to get this night over with.
Naturally Jedd Gyorko, the next batter, hit a two run home run. It was all the Cardinals would need.
Pham finished his night with 2 hits, 2 walks, 3 runs scored and an RBI. After being written off this spring, his fWAR is 1.3 – tied for 2nd on the Cardinals with Dexter Fowler in 21 fewer games.
There are a lot of good reasons to trade Pham. He’s 29 years old. He’s been injury prone. We all know about his eye struggles. He’s at his peak. The Cardinals have a glut of outfielders they consider starters. Pham has made comments that probably don’t sit to well with the organization. Pham, playing like this, could probably get a pretty decent return.
Let me make my nonsensical emotional appeal to keep Pham: It’s been a season of sloppy, dreary baseball almost void of any energy or personality.
Tommy Pham plays with the attitude the fans crave. Tommy Pham plays the kind of baseball I’ll pay to see.