ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Cardinals, searching for an explanation to their first-half fold this season, point to sour memories from last year's nightmarish finish.
"I still had scars from the World Series," said second baseman Tom Herr. "To have the kind of year we had and in the last game to fall short, that's hard to swallow and it's hard to bounce back.
"Hopefully, I learned a lesson from that. I should be fresh to start every year."
The Cardinals were expected to battle the New York Mets for the National League East Division title again this year. Instead, they have fallen 24 games behind.
It was a team flop with only Ozzie Smith producing at the plate. Herr, Terry Pendleton, Vince Coleman, Willie McGee, Jack Clark and Andy Van Slyke all struggled through much of the first-half of the season.
Pendleton said Herr's theory of the team suffering post-World Series blahs had merit.
"I guess psychologically the defeat could have carried over," said Pendleton. "It's not something you think about out loud though. What's happened to us this year is unexplainable but the Series loss (11-0 in the finale) is as good as any."
Clark, who was batting .237 when a thumb injury on June 24 put him out of commission for perhaps the rest of the season, is mystified.
"All I know is, this season hasn't been a whole lot of fun," Clark said. "I've been both frustrated and mad. It's also been kind of scary. It's been one of those things; it's been one of those years. Nobody has a crystal ball."
McGee, the league's batting champion at .353 last season, was equally stumped as his average hovered at .250 in June.
Is McGee a .250 hitter?
"Right now I am," he said. "In my history, I'm not. But I'm a realist. I'm not trying to fool anybody, myself included, that I'm a .300 hitter. Right now, I'm not. The potential is there. But you can predict a lot of things about yourself. Until you do it, you're not there."
The team slump was most evident in Herr, last year's All-Star first baseman.
"I was baffled up there," Herr said. "I just couldn't do anything."
One event on June 16 seemed to straighten Herr out--the birth of his son, Jordan Thomas. In the 10 days that followed, Herr had 13 hits in 23 at-bats.
"I don't know if it's that far-fetched but I've been on an emotional high since he was born," Herr said.
When Jordan Thomas attended his first game with his mother, Kim, on June 23, the proud father reached base six times and had his second five-hit game of his career.
"I don't know if I have turned the corner," said Herr, "but I know I have about 400 at-bats left and that should be plenty to make something of this season."
"Hitting is contagious. A few guys start to hit and then everybody starts to concentrate a little more. Pretty soon, the whole lineup starts to get more confidence. We got a good hitting club. The spell we went through was puzzling, but hopefully that's in the past."
While St. Louis manager Whitey Herzog has said at various times this year that the Mets are a shoo-in to win the division, he said he's encouraged by the recent improved play of the Cardinals.
"I really don't care so much about that (first place) as I do about being respectable and playing well," said Herzog. "If you don't finish first, it doesn't make any difference.
"You can make more money finishing second than Hank Bauer made for winning the World Series. It was like $5,000 or $7,000 last year. It can buy you a boat or a lot of beer."