Thursday, March 31, 2011

Maybin, victory

Cameron Maybin whomping a rolling curveball 420 feet for a home run easily ranks as the most encouraging individual performance from Opening Day for the Padres. Maybin reputedly struggles to "recognize spin," but he drew a bead on Ryan Franklin's 77-mph get-me-over pitch with two outs in the ninth inning.

Will Venable contributed with both his bat and fast feet. In the big leagues, one shouldn't be able to tag up and score on a shallow, high flyball to a strong-armed outfielder with the cleanup man due to bat. Don't tell that to Venable, who applied heat by being observant and fleet of foot. While Cardinals center fielder Colby Rasmus made three or four fundamental mistakes on the flyball (bad angle, flat-footed catch, extra step as if surprised, slow release), Venable punished him by scoring after getting an excellent jump. I couldn't help but think to last year's flap between Rasmus and Cardinals management, from which I took that Rasmus is a talented player who frustrates his baseball elders by lapsing mentally.

That's how a lot of the game went, the Cardinals bungling like they'd spent spring training on Mars, not in Jupiter. The Padres, meanwhile, nailed the fundamentals, notably Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson, who were in peak form defensively.

For so many years, it was Tony La Russa's Cardinals who played the smarter, sounder game when the Padres and St. Louis met. There's no getting around it. The Redbirds were amateurish on Thursday. Obviously it's too early to read much into it. Let's just say the goofs were all too familiar to St. Louis partisans who watched last year's team.

On the flip side, the Padres made their opponent earn the victory. The Padres were the more alert team. They played the cleaner game. Do that, and pressure mounts for your opponent. Sure, it's way too early to see any patterns. We'll merely note that the same M.O. served Bud Black's team well last year. What the Padres didn't have last year was a super-fast center fielder who swatted  lazy curveballs over the center field wall to extend the game.

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