Seriously, who is scripting this baseball season? Because yesterday’s game was a mix of tired repeats and cliched writing. And, by the end, it was glorious. Yesterday, the Cardinals won their home opener 3-1 in a game that will only be remembered for one moment. The moment that Nolan Arenado became, truly, a St. Louis Cardinal.
I don’t usually include pictures in my posts, as you probably are aware. With rights issues and credits, I’m not always certain what’s fair game to use. However, this picture from the Cardinals twitter feed, probably taken by Taka Yanagimoto or one of his staff, was too good to pass up. It shows the excitement, the fire, that Arenado is bringing to this team and how glad he is to be in this new environment.
After the game, Adam Wainwright talked about how Arenado would send him video of Arenado hitting or making plays to send along to the front office. (Which Waino, being no fool, did.) Even at the time of the trade, when the small return was being discussed, I felt like part of the reason for that was the fact that Arenado controlled the whole process. The size of the contract limited his landing places, for sure, but the no-trade clause meant that he wasn’t going anywhere he didn’t want to go. My guess is, the list was the Cardinals and the Dodgers, as he had grown up as a Dodgers fan. However, the Rockies made it clear they weren’t going to trade him to their division rival, so that left just St. Louis and that allowed the Cardinals to dictate some favorable terms. I know I’ve seen fans of the Braves and other teams wondering, “Why couldn’t we beat that deal?” They probably could have. They just didn’t have the chance.
Also, I do want to point out that a guy that worked so hard to get to this place isn’t going to opt out, especially not after one year. Arenado is going to be a Cardinal for a long time to come and that’s a wonderful thing.
Arenado’s home run was one of those moments you expected out of Albert Pujols. Opening Day, game in the balance, and boom. The only thing missing was the sound of 40,000 people absolutely losing their minds, but the 13,000 that were there did their best to approximate it. Besides, 10 years from now, there will be 40,000 people that say they were there anyway.
That was a moment that you’d write into a movie. The rest of the game was what you’d write into a game recap from the last two years.
You got the sense there were going to be some issues when Tommy Edman tripled to lead off the game….and didn’t score. (As Alex Crisafulli noted, that was one more way to make Kolten Wong feel at home.) After that Corbin Burnes settled in and there was nothing the Cardinals could do about it. Burnes allowed only one more baserunner, plunking Matt Carpenter, through his six innings. He had nine strikeouts, including five in a row during his first time through the lineup. He struck out 10 Cardinals in a start last year, so at least he didn’t set a career high or anything.
The Brewers have a very good end of the bullpen in Devin Williams and Josh Hader. However, I don’t know how good their bridge between the starters and those guys is normally, but it crumbled yesterday. (To be fair, Williams pitched the day before so he might not have been an option yesterday.) Eric Yardley got two outs and it looked like he’d just pick up where Burnes left off. Yadier Molina, playing in his 144th home opener, got a two out single and then Dylan Carlson changed his “I only hit homers” status to “I only hit extra-base hits” by doubling. With Molina running, he had to stop at third and I was convinced that the opportunity was going to pass them by.
It tried to, but the Cardinals didn’t let it. Justin Williams was intentionally walked to bring up Tyler O’Neill, which wasn’t the worst move though it might have been a little too cute. Williams was 0-2 on the day and, as we know, has had his issues with the strikeout. O’Neill, though, was 0-2 with two strikeouts, raising his season total to 14. Given how this day and the series in Miami went for him, you can understand why the Brewers took what they felt was the sure thing, especially since that gave them a right-on-right matchup.
Everyone focuses on how far Tyler O’Neill can hit a ball but we tend to underrate just how fast he is. Not even “fast for a muscular guy” but just generally fast. He has been in the top 3% of the league in sprint speed every season. The man can run and that, plus the fact he actually put the ball in play, is why the Cardinals tied it up. However, let’s not over look Williams there either. If he’d been running slower, the Brewers might have been able to get the out at second. As it was, Daniel Robertson, who had just taken over for Kolten Wong as Wong had to leave with his oblique injury, couldn’t get to second in time and then went to first, where the ball arrived after O’Neill.
In the aftermath of those last two innings, it’s hard to remember that things were so terrible early on. It helps that the Brewers have an offense that struggles as much as St. Louis’s does. Not that we should slight the work Adam Wainwright did yesterday. He wasn’t as sharp as he could have been, throwing 25 pitches in the first inning, but wound up striking out six in five innings. He also allowed five hits and two walks, but that’s going to be part of Wainwright’s game these days I think. He’s not going to have long runs of perfect innings, but he’s going to minimize damage.
Though, ironically, he’s the one that created the damage that led to the 1-0 deficit the Cards looked at most of the game. His pickoff throw to second to try to get Keston Hiura went sailing into center field, where Carlson, who had made a marvelous catch at the end of the first to keep the Brewers from scoring, wound up overrunning the ball, allowing Hiura to score. It would have been terribly frustrating to lose a game on a play like that, especially when it happened in the third inning.
Obviously Arenado is our Hero, but we do have to find a Goat. With Paul Goldschmidt scratched due to back issues (and hopefully he’s well by Saturday but it sounds like there’s a chance it could be a couple of days), Mike Shildt changed the lineup some but put Matt Carpenter in the second spot. Hitting Carpenter second makes sense if you want him to get fastballs, with the idea pitchers will challenge him with Arenado behind, but we saw Wednesday in Miami that fastballs aren’t helpful either. Carp struck out in the first, helping to defuse that potential rally, and went 0-2 with that HBP on the day before coming out in a double switch.
While that wasn’t a good day, Paul DeJong had a worse one. 0-4 with a strikeout and two left on base. Someone on Twitter yesterday pointed out that DeJong hasn’t been hitting the ball hard this year, though he did have the two home runs against the Reds. Right now his average exit velocity is 83.1, which is in the bottom 8% of the league and six mph down from last year (which, granted, was almost a career high but he still is usually in the 86-87 range). Could be just a slow start and a small sample, but something to watch.
We got to see the traditional ceremonies before the game, which were wonderful to see. The Cardinal Hall of Famers were out by the batting eye, the players fist bumped instead of shook hands with the DeWitts and John Mozeliak, and Scott Rolen‘s first pitch wasn’t from the mound. Other than that, you’d have thought it was a regular Opening Day. Normalcy is coming back, slowly but surely.
As the game started, there was one more traditional ceremony to take part in. As Kolten Wong stepped to the plate to start the game, Yadier Molina playfully bopped him on the head, then stepped in front of the plate to let the love of Cardinal Nation wash over Wong as he returned to the place that had formed him and where he had done such great things. Wong admitted after the game that he could hardly see as Wainwright wound up walking him because of the tears in his eyes. Wong’s always going to be welcome in St. Louis and I’m glad there were fans there to show him that.
After the excitement of yesterday, many are going to complain that today’s an off day. I get that and it would be nice to have another game today. However, this allows us to just soak in those emotions from yesterday, to rewatch and rewatch that home run, without moving on just yet. Let’s take advantage of that!