Often we as fans take some games as a sign that things are going well. A win happens in an almost supernatural way and we think, “It’s on now. Here we go.” Now, sometimes it is a sign and sometimes it is just a game. Sometimes the team comes out flat and loses the next night. However, there are times when a game becomes the rally point, the start of something wonderful.
Last night, that might have been one of those games. Heck, forget the whole game. The 10th inning would suffice.
Before we get into that, let’s talk about how the club got there. A home run by Matt Wieters gave the Cards their first lead and a sacrifice fly by the catcher gave them their second. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen so often, the offense couldn’t really get on track. The Cardinals only mustered five hits in regulation and while they had occasional chances, especially early, they weren’t able to catch in.
While that’s going on, Daniel Ponce de Leon was having a hard time figuring out where the ball should go. He didn’t necessarily walk a lot of batters–well, yeah, he did, passing four in three innings–but he ran up a lot of full counts, to the point that when he was pinch-hit for in the top of the fourth, he’d already thrown 86 pitches. That’s a lot of work in not a lot of time and it’s the second straight start Ponce de Leon has been less than stellar. I mean, his results have been better than what Michael Wacha was bringing to the table, but if your starter just goes three innings, that’s less a starter and more an opener. And it’s getting pretty clear the Cardinal bullpen arms are starting to feel the burden.
Wieters hit his homer in the third, Ponce allowed a single-walk-single combination after getting a double play to tie the game back up. Wieters’s sac fly came in the fourth, but Wacha entered the game and gave up a one-out single, then a two-out walk and double to see the game knotted back up at two. That was the only run Wacha allowed in his three innings and his overall line was a touch better than Ponce de Leon. I’m not suggesting Wacha should return to the rotation. He’s given up seven runs in eight innings as a reliever, but six of those came in an inning against the Phillies. Since then, when he’s pitched out of the pen, the run last night was the only one he’s allowed in six innings. Small sample size, but maybe someone needing a bullpen arm will jump on that. It’s pretty clear the Cards aren’t going to use that to move him into higher leverage spots.
The game got pretty quiet for both sides until the 10th. But what a 10th it was.
Clay Holmes came into the game for the Pirates and started searching for something, but he didn’t have a clue how to get there. His study of the scarlet birds continued to take him through the valley of fear, as batter after batter committed a crime against him. Wieters, in the mix again, walked. Jose Martinez struck out swinging after running the count full. Tommy Edman singled and then Dexter Fowler was plunked, loading the bases.
That brought in Paul Goldschmidt. It had been another quiet night for Goldschmidt (0-3 with a walk) but this, well, this is exactly the situation the Cardinals acquired the slugging first baseman for and, quite honestly, the kind of situation we’ve not necessarily seen him come through consistently. And, when the count went to 1-2, it looked like he might not be able to come through here either. Instead, he crushed Holmes’s pipeshot, sending it soaring deep into the stands to put the Cards up by four. An excellent moment and one that Goldschmidt even seemed to enjoy, feeling good about being the Hero.
(Hang on, Mr. Goldschmidt. I name the Heroes around here and while you have a strong case, there’s another that saved the day.)
That seemed to be the end of things, what with home runs being notorious rally killers, especially after Tyler O’Neill grounded out. But Paul DeJong doubled and, in an elementary move, Holmes intentionally passed Kolten Wong to get to Chasen Shreve, who was going to stay in the game given the lead and the fact there wasn’t anyone left on the bench.
And, inexplicably, Holmes walked Shreve.
As Sheryl Crow sang, “No one said it would be easy/but no one said it’d be this hard.” The Cardinals needed every bit of that four run lead and, in all fairness, it shouldn’t have been enough.
Shreve stayed out there after having drawn his walk–he’d replaced John Brebbia with two outs in the ninth, hit a batter, but escaped with a strikeout–and immediately made everyone question everything. A double by Starling Marte was followed by a double by Josh Bell and suddenly it’s a three run lead with a runner on second and nobody out. Shreve had actually been a bit better at Memphis and done well in limited action since his callup, but the Pirates weren’t having it last night.
So Mike Shildt goes to Carlos Martinez. And folks, we might need to have a talk about Carlos.
Counting last night, Martinez has thrown in three of the last four days. He’s pitched in seven of the 11 games since the All-Star Break. Whether it’s fatigue or something else, the results haven’t been there as of late. Before last night, he had a 7.94 ERA in the second half, fueled by a stretch where he gave up five runs in three games before throwing a scoreless frame against the Reds last time out. Of course, for his career Martinez has a 3.91 ERA in the first inning as a starter, so it’s not completely out of character for him to have issues when he first starts. Last night was something extra, though.
The first pitch he threw was hammered by Jung Ho Kang into the bleachers, suddenly making it a one run game. His second pitch was hit out to left for a single, putting the tying run on and bringing the winning run to the plate. There could have been worse ways to start an appearance, but there weren’t many.
Martinez then did get a ground ball from Kevin Newman, but it was a bit of a reach for Paul DeJong and he muffed it. Without that, there’s a solid chance that the Cards could have gotten the double play. It would have at least gotten the lead runner. Instead, two on, nobody out, and things are looking bleak.
Elias Diaz grounded to the left of the mound. Martinez pounced on it and threw to third base. Either he forgot it was Tommy Edman there (who is a bit shorter than most others that would be manning third) or the ball got away from him, but it soared almost out of Edman’s reach. He was able to hold on while keeping his foot on the bag, but it was close enough that the broadcast team was surprised Clint Hurdle didn’t review that. They probably should have but then it turned out they would need their challenge in a moment. That’s because Jacob Stallings singled to Jose Martinez (who gets the Hero tag) and somehow, someway, Martinez threw a rope to home plate, allowing Knizner to put the tag on a sliding Newman. The play stood after the review and, after Adam Frazier flew out to Jose, the Cardinals had their wildest win since….the comeback game against the Reds less than a week ago.
It was a game that the Cardinals, quite frankly, didn’t deserve to win. They did, though, and the Brewers and Cubs lost. As of this moment, the Cards are in second place, a game and a half behind the Cubs, in the second wild card spot, and just 1/2 game out of the first. Right now, this is a playoff team. Could change by tonight, but at the moment, things are looking up for the Cardinals.
Still going to give Carlos Martinez the Goat tag for that one. His ERA went up to 8.10 for the second half, though last night was the first of four inherited runners he’s allowed to score. I assume Giovanny Gallegos was off limits given 1.2 innings the night before, and Andrew Miller the same given 1.1. In fact, the Cardinal bullpen has provided 19.1 innings over the last four days. The starters? 17.2. That’s going to be a problem really, really quick. Shildt seems to be more aggressive with his hooks, as noted with Jack Flaherty on Sunday, but he can only do that if they have fresh arms. Ryan Helsley can’t come back for a while so you wonder if maybe John Mozeliak will actually get around to making a move, even if it’s for a reliever. I don’t expect that before Thursday, though, and probably not until after the weekend.
Watching this team since the break, though, something seems to be happening here. What it is isn’t exactly clear, but it’s looking like it might be something good.
Friday (12-11 win at Cincinnati)
Hero: Jose Martinez. Two hits, including a three-run homer that capped the 10-run sixth inning, an inning that also makes you think this team is stirring.
Goat: Adam Wainwright. Waino has this amazing knack of putting his team down big, only to see them rally to win and take him off the hook. Most famously, of course, 2012 NLDS Game 7, but there have been others. Here he gave up nine hits and seven runs in 3.1 innings.
Notes: Great work by the bullpen to hold the line until the Cards could rally….less good work after they got the lead, though that was mostly Dominic Leone (two runs, no outs) and Carlos Martinez (two runs in the ninth on two hits and two walks, somehow getting Joey Votto with the tying run at third and the winning run at first….good night for Paul Dejong, with two hits, one of them a home run, and four RBI.
Saturday (3-2 loss at Cincinnati)
Hero: Tommy Edman. Three for four, though he didn’t score either of the runs.
Goat: Paul Goldschmidt. 0-4 and five men left on base, and in big spots as well: in the eighth when there was the tying run at third with two outs, in the sixth when he struck out with runners at first and second and just one out, and in the fourth when he struck out with a runner on third and one out.
Notes: If you are going to lose a game, it makes sense to lose the game Luis Castillo is starting….solid start for Miles Mikolas (three runs, six innings) and Ryan Helsley was excellent in relief….Edman had three hits, the rest of the team combined for three hits.
Sunday (3-1 win at Cincinnati)
Hero: Yairo Munoz. His homer in the ninth really sealed it, but he was three for four with a triple as well. No wonder he started in center last night–you have to play that bat when you can.
Goat: Tommy Edman. 0-4 with three strikeouts and four left on.
Notes: Key move by Mike Shildt to remove Jack Flaherty with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth to go get Giovanny Gallegos, who struck out Josh VanMeter and Scooter Gennett to end the threat. That easily could have been the game right there and that’s the kind of managing we have expected to see from Shildt all year long….Flaherty was OK–seven strikeouts and no runs in his 4.1 innings–but he did allow six hits and walked two in that span. Still, even there, it’s possible to see that Flaherty is continuing to take that next step….Andrew Miller still has that penchant to give up a home run, but he did so after 1.1 innings and it made things closer but didn’t ruin the game.