The Cardinals have had their issues on Opening Day recently. Last year, the Diamondbacks used a three-run fourth to win 6-2. In 2011, victory was within their grasp until Ryan Franklin allowed a two-out, game-tying home run to Cameron Maybin. The Cards lost in extra innings. In 2009, Jason Motte allowed four runs in the ninth and the Pirates came back to win 6-4.
Those were all odd-numbered years. Thank goodness this is 2014.
There was plenty of late drama, but when Trevor Rosenthal got Roger Bernadina to fly out to Allen Craig, the Cardinals had sealed a 1-0 victory, starting this year of promise and possibility off on the right foot. And while a number of people had a piece of this, the largest chunk goes to one man: Yadier Molina, our first Hero of the year.
Let’s take the obvious stuff first. Yadi went 2-4 with the home run of Johnny Cueto that was all the scoring in the game. That in and of itself would get you a Hero tag most days. Add on top of that another strong defensive game, including a heads-up double play that I wish I could find video of, because listening to it on the radio it sounded amazingly heady, and how could you pick anyone else.
Plus, and there’s been no mention of this in the media so it’s just speculation, but remember we talked yesterday about Molina working extra hard to come up with game plans when the pitcher has struggled with an opponent? That might have come into play yesterday as well. It was obviously a much different result than Adam Wainwright was getting last year against this team. How much of that goes to Yadi, I don’t know. Has to be a portion of it, at least.
Of course, most of the credit for that well-pitched game has to go to Wainwright himself. He came in focused on getting a win on Opening Day and he did just about everything in his power to achieve that, winning his 100th game in the process. Wainwright struck out nine and left after the seventh inning with the slimmest of margins. It would have been a tough thing to take to see Waino lose that game. (I imagine Reds fans found it tough to see Cueto lose as well as he pitched, but we know how we feel about Cueto around these parts.)
You hear a lot of times in other sports, most often football, about how a team bends but doesn’t break. That they stretch the limits of having a lead without actually giving it up. That seems to be the only way to describe the eighth inning from yesterday’s game. How Cincinnati was unable to score in that hot mess is one of the enduring mysteries of this age.
You have to give the bullpen some credit for not losing their composure. Pat Neshek didn’t have the best Cardinal debut, walking the leadoff man in the eighth and then being replaced due to the upcoming matchups. Kevin Siegrist got Joey Votto to hit into a tailor-made double play, save for the fact Kolten Wong picked that moment to remember he was a rookie and watched the ball go through his legs.
Siegrist didn’t falter, though, and got Jay Bruce to hit a little infield ball that Matt Adams alertly used to run down Brandon Phillips at third. It was an incredibly smart play and, save for what came next, a symbol of the all-around good day Adams was having. With the lefties being exhausted, Carlos Martinez comes in and gets another double-play ball, except Adams can’t hold on to that one. Finally, Martinez strikes out the last guy, making sure that the defense can’t mess up something else.
Five men came to the plate. All but Todd Frazier, Martinez’s strikeout victim, reached base in one fashion or another. There should have been no possible way the Reds didn’t at least tie that game up. Yet after eight it was still 1-0. That’s either a great boost for the bullpen or a sign that all of us need to buy stock in Tums this season.
The Cardinals only mustered five hits. Two, as we’ve noted, were by Molina but two more were by Adams, including one going away from the shift. I’m really excited to see what Adams can do this season, because I think that he can be much more than a one-dimensional, hit-only-righties kinda guy. Plus I love to give Wes Keene a tough time everytime Adams does something good.
Wong had the other hit and he also drew one of only two walks (Matt Carpenter the other). It was good to see that his spring surge seemed to carry over instead of having to start anew once the calendar flipped.
Gotta find a Goat for yesterday, of course, and looking at the box scores there are plenty of options. I’m going to go with Matt Holliday, because after his strong spring you weren’t expected 0-4 with two strikeouts and three left on. Other options included Craig and Jhonny Peralta, though Peralta did have a nice defensive play in the game, which helped him escape getting that tag in his first Cardinal game.
Now we have a day off, that insurance day baseball tends to build into the first week of the season in case Opening Day gets rained or snowed out. Remember that you can still cast your vote in the finals of the Favorite Living Cardinal Tournament today until noon. It’s a tight one between Bob Gibson and Red Schoendienst and it’s likely to go all the way to the wire.
We’ll come back tomorrow to preview the first night game the Cardinals have played since that night in Boston last October. Try to enjoy the day off if possible, though I know it’s a tease to have baseball for one day and then have to go without!