The Cardinals were fizzling Wednesday–on their way to a disappointing loss to the worst team in baseball–as they trailed the Phillies 5-0 after four innings.
And then, Tommy Pham happened.
Of course, it’s not quite that simple; the bullpen was splendid for the second night in a row, while Jedd Gyorko and Jose Martinez each produced a key home run to aid the Cardinals’ come-from-behind effort.
Pham, though, swatted two home runs. One accounted for the Cardinals’ first run of the game, the other accounted for their fifth–the tying run with one out in the top of the ninth.
More than that, he brought the Cardinals back from the brink in the field, gunning down two base runners at home plate. Pham nabbed Odubel Herrera trying to score the winning run in the bottom of the ninth, breathing new life into the Cardinals for the second time in the inning.
Pham permitted Seung-Hwan Oh to earn the save, but pretty much took care of the rest on his own, as the Cardinals beat the Phillies 7-6 in 10 innings Wednesday.
And still, he was far from satisfied with his own performance.
“Today’s a start, but… I struck out three times, so I’ve got a lot to work on,” Pham said to Jim Hayes of Fox Sports Midwest after Wednesday’s game.
Pham’s .521 SLG leads the Cardinals. So does his .896 OPS. With nine home runs, Pham is four off the team lead despite spending April in Memphis and registering more than 100 fewer plate appearances than Matt Carpenter or Dexter Fowler (both have 13 HR).
Though he’s hitting for a respectable average (.286) and drawing some walks (.374 OBP), Pham views power as a focus of his game–but only to an extent.
“Not at the expense of striking out, though,” Pham said in his postgame interview on Fox Sports Midwest. “You have to put the ball in play. Especially a guy like me–if I get on base, I can steal some bases.”
Some viewed Pham’s deadpan demeanor in that on-field interview as arrogant or pompous–how could a guy be so irritated by his failures after such a momentous evening of successes?
For those asking this question: Do you know nothing about Tommy Pham?
The reality is, that’s just who Pham is. He’s intense. He’s driven. He’s blunt. When Pham believes he could have brought more to the plate on a given night, he’ll let you know it. Pham routinely critiques himself–constantly searching for the next level of his game–to the point where the following–tweeted during the tenth inning Wednesday–wasn't even a particularly bold prediction:
Tommy Pham is the kind of guy that, after this game, he will probably still bring up some aspect of his performance he could've done better.— Brenden Schaeffer (@bschaeffer12) June 22, 2017
None of this is new for Pham, but it is remarkably refreshing–particularly on the 2017 edition of the St. Louis Cardinals.
These Cardinals feature a star player who, instead of owning up to a mistake earlier this season, attempted to dispute the indisputable. They have a manager who decided that "We've been on notice since February," was an appropriate response to a question about John Mozeliak's statements amid a coaching shakeup earlier this month. That quote from Mike Matheny seems to ignore the reality of the circumstances, serving to downplay the cause of that shakeup: the team's underachievement between February and early June.
It's probably an innocent quote, but it's one that aligns with a disconcerting trend. For hardcore fans that have watched the Cardinals play a decidedly bad brand of baseball for much of the season, it's frustrating to watch team stakeholders try to convince them over and over again that their eyes are deceiving them.
Tommy Pham, does... well, the opposite of that.
Pham says he's bad even when he's good. He grades himself more harshly than your college professor who touted 'There's no such thing as syllabus week!'
Does he take it to the other extreme? Sure. Is he even enjoying this? Probably. But his jarring brand of influence can be nothing but a positive for this Cardinals clubhouse.
As a disclaimer, sweeping generalizations about personalities in a clubhouse are rarely accurate. When a team wins, its players are team-first guys focused on the greater goal. When a team loses, it's comprised of selfish jerks with oversized egos. Except, it's never so cut and dry.
The Cardinals surely have a bunch of fine people and quality teammates on their roster. Complacency, though, can easily bog down a team from achieving its capabilities without it reflecting poorly on the personhood of the individuals on it. At some point, if guys aren't getting the job done, it doesn't hurt to have somebody willing to say so; sugarcoating reality won't save the Cardinals from a fourth place finish in the division.
But someone like Tommy Pham–unafraid to point out when things go off the rails–can help ignite the type of winning attitude that could.