Monday we looked at what went right for the Cardinals and yesterday we took a look at what went wrong. Today, we’re going to wrap up this little retrospective by looking at a few game that might have made the difference between sitting at home and at least playing a Game 163.
It’s fair to point that out. We talk about “missing the playoffs by one game,” but that’s not entirely true. Had the Dodgers done the minimum they could have done this weekend to help the Cardinals and took one game from the Giants, San Francisco would have flown to St. Louis and there would have been a one-game playoff to see who would have been the wild card team. Even if one of these games below flipped, there would have been some sort of playoff, which might have been particularly nasty had the Mets lost on the last day like they did. Three teams would have had 87 wins and chaos would have ensued.
Still, when it is just one game, it’s worth looking back and saying “if only….” Of course, we tend to focus on the negative, on losses that could have, should have been wins. It’s also fair to note that the Cards had a little luck at times as well. I don’t know that you could fairly expect them to win that 16 inning game against the Dodgers when they trailed in the ninth. What about that game in Pittsburgh, when Matt Carpenter tied it up with two outs and two strikes? And no inventory of should-have-been-losses would be complete without that gift five-run bottom of the ninth against the Reds. There was some good luck as well as bad in this season. (That’s not even mentioning that walk-off that probably shouldn’t have been in the last week of the season.)
Let’s say everything stayed the same, though. These five games might have been the most obvious places to “make up” the difference. There are others, of course. The most notable one might be the game the Cardinals lost on a questionable full count call against the Cubs, losing on a bases loaded walk. The problem with that one is that it was tied at the time and the pitch was on a 3-1 count. Even if it’s a strike, there no guarantee Anthony Rizzo doesn’t hit the next pitch or that extra innings would be kinder to the Cards. No, we are looking for games a little more definitive. Defeat snatched out of the jaws of victory, that kinda thing.
Let’s see what we have…..
–Texas 4, St. Louis 3 (Saturday, June 18): There’s no doubt Texas was a good team. They won the AL West, which is pretty indicative of that. The Rangers had also beaten the Cards 1-0 the night
before in their first visit to St. Louis since that little thing we like to call #11in11. (EDIT: As noted in the comments, Texas actually had come to St. Louis in 2013.) It looked like the Cards were going to even the series, though, when they piled up a 3-0 lead with RBI singles from Yadier Molina, Kolten Wong, and Stephen Piscotty. They only needed to get six outs.
The runs came before the outs did. Seung-hwan Oh got the first two outs of the eighth without incident before allowing what seemed to be a harmless single to Shin-Soo Choo. Unfortunately, Ian Desmond followed that up with a double and put runners on second and third. Oh, in a rare instance of wildness, threw a wild pitch that allowed Choo to score and Desmond to move up. He still almost worked out of it, but Matt Adams couldn’t come up with a grounder from Nomar Mazara and a second run scored.
Still, it was 3-2 going into the ninth. Trevor Rosenthal, who came into this game sporting a 4.09 ERA and had allowed two runs in 1/3 of an inning in his last outing against the Astros, looked to try to lock things down. He didn’t come anywhere close. Rougned Odor singled to first on a play Adams should have made, then Jurickson Profar followed that up with a single and Robinson Chirinos was hit by a pitch.
Loading the bases with nobody out was enough to get Rosenthal out of the game. It would have taken a remarkable outing by Kevin Siegrist to get out of that with no damage and Siegrist had less than perfection that day. He got a fly out, opening the door for a Houdini act, but then walked in the tying run and allowed a sacrifice fly to Desmond on a solid play by Tommy Pham. The Cards went quietly in the bottom of the ninth and a seemingly certain victory went right down the tubes.
–Seattle 4, St. Louis 3 (Friday, June 24): In the first meeting between the two teams in quite some time, especially out in the Emerald City, St. Louis had put together an eighth inning rally to come back from a 1-0 deficit. Aledmys Diaz walked with the bases loaded and Kyle Seager threw away a Matt Holliday grounder, allowing two more runs to score. The Cards were up 3-1 and Seung-hwan Oh locked down the eighth. Nothing happened in the top of the ninth and Trevor Rosenthal then came out to seal the deal.
As noted above, Rosenthal had been struggling all year and the fact that Oh had retired the side in the eighth on 12 pitches wouldn’t have ruled him out for the ninth. Mike Matheny, showing some of the loyalty that frustrated folks all year, ran out the closer-in-name to see if this couldn’t give him a shot in the arm. Instead, it was the last straw.
Rosenthal allowed an 0-1 double to Seager and followed that up with a seven-pitch walk to Dae-Ho Lee. That brought up Adam Lind, who crushed a 1-1 changeup over the wall for a walk-off winner for the Mariners. After that game, Rosenthal was removed from the closer position and never regained it. The damage, of course, was already done.
—Los Angeles 9, St. Louis 6 (Sunday, July 24): This one might be a little more what-if. A rainout earlier in the week and the resulting doubleheader had forced a temporary opening in the rotation. While some clamored for Alex Reyes and some suggested a short rest turn for Carlos Martinez, the organization instead went with Mike Mayers, a minor leaguer that had pitched well in Springfield and Memphis on the year but was on nobody’s list of top Cardinal prospects. The overwhelming response to the news was “Huh?”
The Dodgers were a bit more emphatic in their response, putting up four runs before he registered an out and nine runs before he was relieved in the second. The frustrating part about this was that the Cardinals then wound up scoring six runs on the night and making it somewhat of a game. Would they have done that if the Dodgers hadn’t had such a lead? Who knows. The chances of a Cardinals win with Martinez on the mound, though, were much higher than the callup of Mayers.
—Cincinnati 7, St. Louis 5 (Tuesday, August 2): This was not the birthday present I was looking for. It was a wild back and forth game, but again, this was a Reds team that challenged 100 losses. You should win most of your games against them but as this game and the next proof, the Reds were still a thorn in the side of the Cards.
Joey Votto got the Reds on the board first with a double, but Adam Wainwright even the ledger with a homer. Two innings later, Tucker Barnhart broke the tie with a longball of his own. The Cards retaliated with a double by Jhonny Peralta and a home run by Jedd Gyorko to take a 3-2 lead after six and a half.
It seemed Pham’s shot would be the final blow. The Reds didn’t score in the eighth. The Cardinals were able to load the bases in the ninth, but Seung-hwan Oh, who had come in to keep the Reds in check in the eighth, wound up batting with two outs, which obviously didn’t turn out well for the Cards. There was plenty of Mike Matheny double-guessing in this one, as you can imagine.
It’d have been a moot point had Oh been able to be as effective in his second inning of work. Instead, he allowed singles to Votto and Duvall (Votto had an OPS of 1.141 against the Cardinals this season, Duvall .918) before getting Brandon Phillips to fly out on a nice play by Jeremy Hazelbaker. It was all for naught, though, because Scott Scheibler launched his second homer of the season, driving a stake into the hearts of Cards fans everywhere.
—Cincinnati 2, St. Louis 1 (Wednesday, September 28): When you think back over games the club should have won, you naturally think of blown saves or late leads that got away. This one, the last loss the Cardinals suffered in 2016, may have been the most frustrating when you factor in the stakes, the opponent, and how tantalizingly close things were to going the other way.
Unsurprisingly, the Reds’ runs came off the bat of Adam Duvall, who singled in two runners in the third. The Cards answered in the fifth when Matt Adams hit into a double play with runners at the corners. It got a run in, but it could have been so much better. That, however, isn’t the frustrating part. Look at the last few innings of a one-run game against a team known for terrible pitching:
Bottom of the sixth: With two outs, a Stephen Piscotty single and a Jhonny Peralta double puts runners at second and third, only to have Brandon Moss strike out.
Bottom of the eighth: Matt Carpenter walks and, an out later, Yadier Molina is hit by a pitch. Both move up on a wild pitch, putting runners at second and third with one out. Piscotty strikes out and Peralta grounds out to end that threat.
Bottom of the ninth: Kolten Wong triples to lead off the inning. A runner at third with NOBODY out in the ninth. The tying run is just achingly close. Instead, Aledmys Diaz grounds out to third, forcing Wong to hold. Greg Garcia flies out, but not deep enough to let Wong try for home. Jedd Gyorko grounds out, ending the threat and the game.
One well-placed hit and that game’s paradigm shifts. Heck, in the ninth all that was needed was a sacrifice fly, but no one could come through. Given the inability to get the key hit this season, it might be appropriate that game was the one that wound up being the difference.
These are just a few of the games that could have gone other than they did. That’s not even factoring in Matheny lineups that didn’t work, losing to teams like Atlanta when there was no reason to think they would, or other games where a play made or not made seemed to tip the scales. Perhaps you have some to add to this list? Drop them in the comments!