If you were to ask a fan of the Cardinals before the season what kind of winning games you’d expect to be the hallmark of this team, they’d have probably responded with “a very good outing by the starter, just enough runs to win, and then it is locked down by the bullpen.” They haven’t really had any games like that at all this year, though. There were the two in Miami that were close, especially the second, but there wasn’t a good start to go with them. Most of the other games have been decided one way or another by the sixth, it seems.
Last night, though, was exactly how you would have drawn it up. Our Hero, Adam Wainwright, was brilliant. The only flaw was a fly ball from Josh Bell that happened to find the seats. For a while, that looked like it was going to be enough to ruin everything, but it wasn’t. Wainwright went seven innings, the longest any starter has gone this season, and struck out 10. As much as we were complaining about the Cardinals being unable to hit Patrick Corbin, you have to figure there were some Nationals fans saying, “Why is this old guy dominating us?”
Because, of course, the Cardinals couldn’t hit Patrick Corbin. I wrote some yesterday at Substack about the variances in the offense and it’s true that we’re seeing more swings from boom to bust, feast to famine, or any of the other options from this Twitter thread from last night. That said, even if they didn’t have that sort of reputation, Corbin is not a 21 ERA pitcher. He was going to find his feel at some point and, with two starts to look at, it made it more likely that he’d correct. Maybe not to six shutout innings, but it was never likely going to be a romp. From what I could see, Corbin threw the ball well and the Cardinals did what they could with it.
Perhaps Davey Martinez–who, ironically, last series was very slow to pull a struggling Stephen Strasburg–didn’t want to press his luck because after six scoreless and only 76 pitches, Corbin was pulled and Tanner Rainey came in. A single by Yadier Molina, a triple by Dylan Carlson, and a one-out sacrifice fly by Austin Dean and suddenly the Cardinals were up 2-1 and this game is lined up exactly the way you’d want it.
Wainwright struck out the side in the seventh–seriously, at the end of his night, he goes out with such a flourish–and Giovanny Gallegos (who, spoiler alert, becomes the Goat) comes in for the eighth. Jordan Hicks was the first to warm up and they sat him back down for Gallegos. I thought one of the “Jordan Rules” was that if he warms, he comes in. Maybe that’s if he warms twice. Anyway, Gallegos comes in.
Lots of people were saying last night, especially afterwards, that Gallegos is the best reliever on the team. That well may be, but sometimes you get impressions that are hard to shake, you know? And my mind still lingers on the back to back outings that he allowed a run recently. How recently? Against the Nationals. They’d already gotten him for two runs in three innings, including a home run. Outside of that, of course, he’s been great and I don’t disagree with the assessment, just that my personal bias was a little worried when he came in.
He walked Andrew Stephenson (which, I have to say, in the limited time I’ve seen him over the past week, I’ve liked him as a player) on a full count, then hit Josh Harrison with the next pitch. Suddenly it becomes real difficult to get out of the inning with a lead. What are you going to do, though? The three-batter minimum means he’s got to stay in for one more hitter at least. If he gets him, he’s on track to get out of it. If he doesn’t, good chance it’s not a situation you want anyone else in.
He got Trea Turner in an 0-2 hole, then wound up allowing a base hit that scored the tying run and put runners on the corners with nobody out. (That didn’t last long as Turner stole second.) If you had someone ready, could they have come in then? Maybe. I don’t know when the pen got active but you wouldn’t think it would have been until after Harrison was hit. Would someone be warmed up in time to take this dangerous slot? I don’t know. If so, maybe you go to Alex Reyes there, but Gallegos also isn’t getting hit around. He’s been getting strikes and came into this game with 13 strikeouts in nine innings. You need a strikeout, so leaving him in makes some sense.
With the infield in, Bell grounds out to a very shallow Paul DeJong, meaning the runners can’t advance. Mike Shildt then orders the intentional pass of Kyle Schwarber. I know it makes sense for many reasons–you have a force at any base, you can get the double play, Schwarber can hit the ball hard–but I never enjoy loading the bases with one out in such a situation because of what we wind up seeing in a bit. I’m not saying I’d pitch to Schwarber, but Schwarber has a K rate of 30.8% and Gallegos is a strikeout pitcher. I might have taken my chances, but it’s probably best Shildt didn’t.
Besides, that led to some chicanery. Shildt replaced Scott Hurst, who had come in at the beginning of the inning as a center field defensive replacement, shifting Carlson over, with Edmundo Sosa and then ran a five man infield with Starlin Castro up. That’s not something you see every day and, while Castro struck out making it moot, it was still creative and good to see. After the strikeout, Tommy Edman moved out to the outfield and Sosa took his spot at second. All well and good and the Cards are one out away from going to the ninth tied, which is not ideal but better than the alternative.
The alternative showed up. Gallegos was not extremely close on the next four pitches and walked Yan Gomes, forcing in a run.
Many people would have liked to see Shildt go to Reyes there (Reyes did come in after the walk to get the final out) but Adam Butler made a good point about Reyes’s walk rate. I would agree, bringing him into a bases-loaded situation isn’t what you would like to do, though he did eventually come into one and succeed. Gallegos had been more effective as the inning went along, so it was a little surprising that the walk happened. All in all, it was probably best to ride or die with Gallegos. It just didn’t turn out well.
The ninth brought a little more of a head-scratcher. With one out, Molina doubled–and stayed out there. Usually pinch-running for a catcher there would be automatic. I know Molina had scored on Carlson’s triple but when the game could turn on an inch or two at the plate, you’d want to go for the speed. Unfortunately, both Hurst and Sosa had been burned in the conflagration that was the eighth. So Shildt could have run with Andrew Knizner, who is faster than Molina (because who isn’t) but not necessarily fast; John Nogowski, who has no particular claim to speed; or a pitcher (and we’ve seen what happens when Jack Flaherty runs). I know none of them would have been superb choices but I think you have to upgrade where you can. Carlson flew out next and a faster runner might have been able to tag up and go to third, ready for a wild pitch or the like. It was a moot point–DeJong flew out to end the game–but it seemed like the wiser decision.
Close games bring out a lot of second-guessing, which is one of the great parts of baseball. We haven’t had much chance to do that this season and while you’d rather be second-guessing some choices in a win, it was at least nice to see the Cardinals play a more normal game for once.
Unfortunately, the loss means that if they are going to win their first series since Miami (and only their second on the season) they have to beat Max Scherzer to do it. It’s not impossible–they’ve put up runs on Max before–but it’s not really what you want when you are needing a win. Afternoon game with an off day tomorrow. Let’s hope for better results than last Wednesday!