ST. LOUIS -- They intruded, not unexpectedly but certainly without a welcome, during the middle innings of Sunday's National League Division Series opener between the Cardinals and Nationals. Indeed, those late-afternoon shadows that have been the source of ire in postseasons past were again a pesky problem to hitters trying to pick up the spin of pitches as Game 1 progressed at Busch Stadium.
A mid-afternoon start time makes shadows a regular problem in St. Louis during October. The two clubs had three shadow-free innings on Sunday before home plate found itself cast into the shade. It took several innings for the shadows to expand wide enough to cover the mound, leaving players with the task of focusing on pitches coming from a pitcher standing in bright sunshine.
"It's hard to hit when you can't see the ball, when you can't see the spin of the ball particularly," Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday said. "But I'm not surprised. It happens every year."
Those in the other clubhouse expressed that they had similar difficulties.
"I don't know how to explain it," Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "When they're throwing it, you don't see spin real well. The ball looks dark, and you can't pick up spin. If you're not seeing that, it can be tough to read sliders and curveballs. It just makes it hard."
The shadows could be an even greater hindrance on Monday, as Game 2 is scheduled to start at 3:37 p.m. CT on TBS. That is 90 minutes later than Sunday's start, meaning that the hitters will begin the game with shadows already over home plate.
It will be the third straight postseason game that the Cardinals will play with the added obstruction. Friday's Wild Card game in Atlanta also offered its own issues with shadows. St. Louis managed six runs in that game, but did not score after the shadows set in on Sunday.
"They may have been talking internally, but they weren't making a big deal about it," manager Mike Matheny said. "We have been pretty consistent about not giving the excuses. You know, the other team has to deal with them just like we do. Once you start going down that road, seems like you're on a trail to fail."
Cards stick with late-season lineup for Game 1
ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals manager Mike Matheny penned 122 different batting orders during the regular season, though it's the one he settled on with regularity during the final few weeks that he'll continue to utilize during the postseason.
The Cards' batting order for Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Nationals on Sunday was identical to the one the club used in its NL Wild Card game against the Braves on Friday. It's a lineup that has Jon Jay batting leadoff, Allen Craig cemented as the team's cleanup hitter, and Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma covering the middle infield and batting in the pair of spots in front of the pitcher.
The lineup is one Matheny first used on Sept. 10, though he ended up employing it in seven of the team's final 22 regular-season games. There is no other batting order that the Cardinals utilized more than five times all season.
"Well, I think that's been something we've been trying to accomplish since the beginning of the season, but you go through periods where it's just not working and you've got to adjust, and mostly around the second-base position," Matheny said. "You toy around with a couple other things, until Jon Jay established himself in that leadoff spot, and we lose our shortstop, which creates more options and opportunities for other people."
Cardinals continue 'High Socks Sunday' in NLDS
ST. LOUIS -- Started by Daniel Descalso, publicized by Jon Jay and picked up by various others in the Cardinals' clubhouse, the "High Socks Sunday" tradition will remain intact this postseason.
The phenomenon -- which has led to T-shirts and tweets -- was started by Descalso during the regular season. He started employing the fashion statement for Sunday day games and eventually coined the phrase "High Socks Sunday." Jay adopted the look, too, and the pair began to actively use the hashtag #HighSocksSunday on their Twitter accounts to spread the word.
"The stripes are cool and are a tradition that they've had in St. Louis for a while," Descalso said. "You don't see them too much, so we've tried to bring back that old-school look. We've just been having fun with it."
Descalso, Jay and Skip Schumaker are among those who have been fervent in keeping to the Sunday fashion this year. Others -- including Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Yadier Molina and Tony Cruz -- have joined in from time to time.
Participation grew last month when manager Mike Matheny also gave in, and the Cardinals haven't lost on a Sunday since. He noted before Game 1 of the National League Division Series that he'll continue to wear the high socks on Sundays this postseason, even though he isn't all that keen on the look.
"They told me about it and I said, 'I'm in,'" Matheny said. "I'll respect our guys and do it."
Whether willing participant or not, all the Cardinals' players now have shirts with the mantra #HighSocksSunday printed on the front. Those were courtesy of Jay, who had a friend in Miami design the outerwear.
Jay might need to order one more, however, as the delivery apparently came one T-shirt short.
"No shirt [for me] yet," Matheny joked. "I'll have to follow up on that."
Westbrook returns to mound in bullpen session
ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals right-hander Jake Westbrook threw 35 pitches during a morning bullpen session on Sunday and said afterward that "all went well." Westbrook had not pitched off a mound since cutting his Sept. 22 session short due to continued discomfort in his right oblique.
Though Westbrook hopes to build himself back to where he could be considered a bullpen option if the Cardinals advance past the National League Division Series, his schedule over the next week will be fluid.
Westbrook will head back to his home in Georgia when the Cardinals leave for Washington after Game 2. Westbrook's wife, Heather, is scheduled to be induced into labor on Thursday. The couple, who already have three children, are expecting their third son.
As a result, Westbrook did not know when he will take the mound next.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.