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St. Louis Cardinals Are Getting Pushed Around by Los Angeles Dodgers' Antics

Manager Mike Matheny Needs to Channel His Inner Tony La Russa and Turn His Enforcers Loose

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | There's nothing really to dispute -- the St. Louis Cardinals got pushed around by the Los Angeles Dodgers and their childish antics at Dodger Stadium in Game 5 of the NLCS.

The players with the birds on the bat are caught in between here.

On one hand, the celebrated Cardinal Way suggests turning the other cheek and just playing the game when others choose to display their foolishness for everyone to see. More often than not, the Redbirds' focus and dedication to actual baseball wins out.

But players like Adam Wainwright and Carlos Beltran are also human beings, and being mocked or taunted -- or, yes, even challenged as the infantile Adrian Gonzalez did with his dugout-directed bat flip -- tends to irritate them.

I'm honestly surprised Chris Carpenter hasn't incited a benches-clearing brawl by screaming at Gonzo -- the goofy Muppet nickname kind of fits, now -- from the Cardinals' dugout. Come to think of it, considering the Cardinals' uninspired play lately, maybe he should.

Something has to jar the St. Louis squad out of its stupor.

If the tried-and-true method of ages past isn't working, maybe it's time to try a method employed more recently by former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.

Turn the enforcers loose.

Matheny's calm and cool approach is admirable, and is likely responsible for the Redbirds' ability to endure a season-long marathon afflicted by injuries and obstacles, but it seems to be handcuffing his players now.

Over the last several years, we've witnessed teams like the Milwaukee Brewers, the Cincinnati Reds and even the once-relevant Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros challenge the Cardinals on the field. And we've seen players like Jim Edmonds, Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina and Chris Carpenter push back.

No one pushes back from the St. Louis side of the field anymore.

When Mike Matheny took over, too many fans and Cardinals employees were ready to move on from the drama and bitterness that seemed to color the La Russa era near the end. Weary of heated disputes and on-field brawls with characters like Johnny Cueto and Dusty Baker, the Cardinals just wanted to play baseball.

But now we see why La Russa felt it necessary to push back.

Matheny's players are stuck. As they did with TLR, they're trying to emulate the personality of their manager. In Mike's case, that means keeping your head down and playing the game. For players in the heat of an October battle, that approach must be maddening.

This is an emotional game with mountain-top successes and deep-valley failures. And those roller-coaster experiences are only magnified in the postseason. They need an outlet. They need a way to push back.

They need permission to unleash their natural aggressiveness and regain some pride.

With Michael Wacha on the mound for Game 6, the Cardinals can't afford to drill anyone in the Dodgers' lineup early in the game. They can't risk losing their most dominant starter in a potential series-clinching game.

But Chris Carpenter has nothing to lose. Let him rant and rave from the top step of the dugout in Busch Stadium.

And surely Yadier Molina can say a few choice words to Adrian Gonzalez or Yasiel Puig when they're standing in the box. Just enough to set them off and get something started.

No, we're not looking for any punches to get thrown -- although I wouldn't mind watching Puig duke it out with Molina at home plate -- but a good 'ol fashioned push-around on the field could be just what this Redbirds team needs to cut loose.

And make no mistake, they need to cut loose.

It's clear the Dodgers are in the Cardinals' heads at this point in the series. The shadow of Mickey Mouse hanging over the Cardinals' at-bats is almost palpable. They can't hit, they can't execute, and it seems they can't respond.

Matheny needs to give them permission to push back.

The Dodgers enter Busch Stadium on Friday, October 18 with all the swagger of a team one win away from a World Series -- but it's the Cardinals who hold that distinction, not the Hollywood Showmen of the Cuban Theatrical League.

It's time for the Cardinals to remind their opponent of just who, exactly, they're playing. Busch Stadium is hallowed ground in St. Louis. It's time to defend it as such.

Kevin Reynolds is the author of Stl Cards 'N Stuff and host of The State of the Nation Address podcast at Stl Cards 'N Stuff. He's been writing and podcasting about the St. Louis Cardinals since 2007 and can be found chatting about baseball on Twitter (@deckacards).

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