Many of us know the Jack Buck call of Kirk Gibson‘s World Series home run in 1988. We can hear Jack saying, “I don’t believe what I just saw!” as Gibson limps around the bases. Just like with Ozzie Smith‘s “Go Crazy” home run, though, there’s a Vin Scully version of that moment. The key line from that?
“In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened!”
It’s only early May. Perhaps this early run will dissipate and we’ll wonder in August what we were thinking here in the cool of the season. Perhaps this is the highlight of what will be a fairly ordinary season. (Which would be fine, as fairly ordinary seasons lately see the Cards in the NLCS.) However, more and more it seems like this is a special team and games like last night only serve to illustrate that uniqueness. This season so far has been fairly improbable, with Adam Wainwright and others going down and the club not missing a beat, with a pitching staff that tends to finding giving up runs severely distasteful, with now the best start in Cardinal history. Last night, especially given the fact that the offense has not been a huge part of this season so far, the impossible happened.
When we were talking about this game yesterday, there was one key element. We all knew that, if the Cardinals were to win, Carlos Martinez was going to have to go deep into the game. The bullpen was worn out, having had three extra-inning games this weekend, and there were limited options to cover the late innings. However, that didn’t seem like too much of an issue, given that Martinez was routinely going six this season. While seven would be better, at least it would be manageable.
Then the game started.
You could speculate that having Tony Cruz behind the plate took him out of his comfort zone. You could also point out that Martinez is a young pitcher and the one thing to expect from young pitchers is the unexpected. You could also note that every pitcher has a blowup every once in a while, as we’ve seen Wainwright melt down at times as well. Sometimes it’s just not your night and it wasn’t Martinez’s, giving up five runs in the first inning.
I’ll admit, listening to that top of the first on my way back from a church softball game, I expected the game was over. Not only has this offense, save those games against the Phillies, not been anything dramatic, but again, the bullpen was going to be a tough thing to manage. I thought we might see Martinez or someone else just have to take a beating to spare everyone else. There didn’t seem to be much of a path to a victory.
Then our Hero showed us the way.
There could have been a lot of Heroes last night. We’ll talk about some of them as we go along. However, without Mark Reynolds‘s grand slam in the bottom of the first, cutting the deficit to one, none of those other folks get a chance to shine, I don’t think. After a draining weekend, you couldn’t have faulted the Cardinals for going through the motions, just getting this one out of the way and saving their resources for tomorrow. Instead, Reynolds’s poke gave them some new life and fired them up for what was to come. Reynolds tallied another hit and scored another run in this one as well as making a diving stop in the eighth, after the Cards had taken the lead, to make sure the Cubs didn’t start a rally.
Given new life, Martinez righted himself somewhat. Still, he allowed a home run to Anthony Rizzo in the second and then a two-out walk and a double to Miguel Montero as his pitch count hit 100 in the fourth. As Mike Matheny said after the game, he probably would have pulled Martinez in the first if there had been other options. Getting almost through four was better than nothing, but not really what this bullpen wanted.
In stepped another hero in Carlos Villanueva. We’ve seen him come into situations time and again and be able to mitigate any damage. It’s one of the reasons I didn’t want to see him take the starting spot today, because he’s so valuable in these type of roles. (And it’s a good thing they’d already planned for Tyler Lyons, because otherwise there might have been a scramble to find today’s starter!) Villanueva finished Martinez’s fourth and added two innings of his own, allowing just an unearned run in the process. So the Cards were at the sixth inning, needing to make a pitching change as they expected to be, just with it taking two pitchers instead of one.
Still, it was 8-4. As great as it’d been to get a little more stability in the pitching staff, it was looking like that grand slam might be all the offense could muster and it’d be a moot point. Then three straight hits drove in a run and chased Travis Wood from the game, bringing in our old friend Jason Motte. What a surreal experience that must have been for Motte, trotting in wearing road grays to face the Cardinals in Busch Stadium. Motte got two outs, though one was a sacrifice fly, and the Cards were within two.
With three innings to go, Matheny was hoping to get solid innings of work so that he didn’t have to try to mix and match throughout the rest of the game. Miguel Socolovich came into his second game in a row where it was crucial he not give up anything. As with Sunday’s game, he threw a scoreless inning and got rewarded with a win. Someone noted on Twitter that now Socolovich has more wins than Max Scherzer, who leads the league in pitching WAR. It’s possible–possible, mind you, that pitching wins aren’t all that indicative of a player’s season. I know, radical concept.
Down two. If things are going to happen, they need to happen. They do.
Two singles and a walk load the bases for Jason Heyward. Heyward may not be the offensive force that we were hoping for so far, but he did get two hits in this game. Not here, however, though his groundout forced in a run. Heyward, though, showed that he plays all out as Kolten Wong singled in his second run of the night, tying the ballgame up. It was a little flare over the shortstop, but Heyward never stopped running, making it to third and letting Wong trail him into second as the throw went through. It was a small play, something that doesn’t show up in the boxscores, but it became crucial.
Cruz came to the plate. Only in there because Yadier Molina was being forced to sit–likely literally; I didn’t see a dugout shot but I wouldn’t be surprised if Lance Lynn‘s job yesterday was to physically keep him restrained–Cruz came through with what may be his biggest hit of the year, a double right down the third base line that scored both Heyward and Wong. Would Wong have been able to score if he’d been at first? I don’t know. Wong’s got good speed, of course, but the play would have been right there. My guess is they probably would have held up Wong, which would have been huge later on. Again, playing smart baseball pays off.
Two run lead and it holds up. Matt Belisle throws a scoreless eighth, though he scared folks when he walked two Cubs with two outs. Seth Maness allows a two-out homer to young phenom Addison Russell, but gets the last out and another crazy game is in the books.
(I know I don’t usually recap a game like this, but it was wild enough that I had to, if only for my own benefit to understand just how that happened.)
There’s something about these two teams that brings out the insanity of big comebacks and memorable games. There have been a lot of them over the years, which I documented a couple of summers ago over at Baseblog as part of a guest posting. You had a game where the Cards scored six in the ninth, capped by an Edgar Renteria home run. You had the game where Albert Pujols hit three home runs in Wrigley to come back from an 8-2 deficit. When the Cardinals and Cubs get together, it seems like you’ve got a good chance of seeing something special, no matter where the teams are on the success curve. We can now add this one to the pile, a wonderful game that we’ll be talking about for years to come.
While I didn’t note it above, it’s pretty obvious that Carlos Martinez is our Goat of the night. While these kind of games happen, hopefully the fact that his team picked him up and won in spite of his outing will be a cheering thing for the young man and we’ll see more of what we expect out of him when he faces the Pirates this weekend. There’s no reason to think this wasn’t some sort of anomaly and he should be fine next time out.
Interestingly enough, Sam Tuivailala was sent down to Memphis after the game to make room for Lyons. Given that Tui didn’t pitch last night, I figured they might send down Socolovich since he’s probably not available for the next day or so. Apparently if you win two games, though, you get to stick around and Socolovich is a multiple-innings guy, even though he’s not done that yet. He might be more available for longer periods than Tui, who’s been a closer in Memphis.
The Cardinal Hall of Fame Class of 2015 was announced last night, with Ted Simmons, Curt Flood, Bob Forsch and George Kissell getting the call. I don’t think you can fault any of these selections at all and they’ll be worthy additions to the Hall of Fame. Hopefully more will find out about what Flood did for baseball and I, as I’ve noted before, could use some knowledge about Simmons’s career. It’s sad that he’s the only one that is alive to see this honor, but baseball is about honoring legacies and there’s no better way to do it than this.
Quickly, let’s finally finish the approval ratings. Wainwright is the last player to look at and, unsurprisingly, is one of the highest ranked. This year he comes in at 89.8%, which is actually down from his usual mark in the 90s. I’m just going to chalk that up to the couple of sour grapes in the smaller sample, though, as I don’t think Waino’s done anything to rate a downgrade, especially since this is from before the injury. For media, we wrap with Joe Strauss, who always comes in at the bottom of the rankings. Strauss comes in at 59.4% this year, which is actually a five point increase over last season. I credit that to the fact that he doesn’t write about the Cardinals as much any more, honestly. Finally, the United Cardinal Bloggers check in at 79.4%, down about five points from last year. I’m still proud of the group, though the nature of the blogging game does mean that the activity waxes and wanes.
As noted last night, the Cardinals are 19-6 for the first time in team history. That puts them on pace to go 123-39, which just isn’t going to happen. A correction is coming at some point in time, though it’s been pointed out that even if they play .500 the rest of the way, they are going to get 87-88 wins, which is a pretty nice season, and odds are they’ll play better than that over the next five months.
It’s good to be a Cardinal, but there’s pressure on the Patron Pitcher tonight. For one, winning streaks don’t often go out as far as seven games. Now, to be fair, we’ve already seen the Mets and Astros have double-digit winning streaks this season, so there’s no reason to think that St. Louis is doomed to lose tonight, but even though each game is not dependent on the one that comes before (you can flip heads 100 times and still have the odds be 50/50 the next time), the longer the winning streak the more likely it is that a loss is coming, at least from a historical point of view. Secondly, as with last night, the bullpen still isn’t fully ready to go. Villanueva’s out for sure, probably Belisle as well. I hate to say we need six solid innings from Lyons tonight, but we do. If he struggles, chances are he’s going to have to wear it. He’s done that before against the Cubs.
The good thing about the Cubs bringing up all these prospects is that a lot of the guys that did the damage to Lyons have moved on. Lyons has faced these young guns in the minors, though, and hopefully will have a plan for dealing with them.
Kyle Hendricks takes the hill for Chicago tonight. He’s done well against the Redbirds in the past, though when they saw him in September last season they were able to get him for three runs in 5.1 innings. Hendricks is off to a slow start, so perhaps St. Louis can keep that going.
Those are actually better numbers against him than I was expecting. Let’s hope that eight is great tonight!