Walk-off wins are some of the most exciting kind of wins that you can have. You suddenly go from playing the game to not playing the game with one swing of the bat (usually). It’s a great feeling no matter what the circumstances, but there are levels. There’s the upper boundary, defined by Game 6, to the lower boundary, which well may have been last night’s game.
Most of the positive emotion had come a couple of innings earlier. As expected, Adam Wainwright and Kyle Hendricks had hooked up in a pitcher’s duel. Wainwright walked a little more of a tightrope, given that he often wound up with the leadoff runner on in an inning, but he did that balancing act superbly. He got touched in the third with Nico Hoerner led off with a single and an out later Rafael Ortega tripled him in, but with two outs the Cubs tried a delayed double steal that the Cardinals snuffed out expertly. The Cubs just got one run, but with Hendricks on the mound you could be forgiven to think that might have been the game.
It truly looked that way until the seventh. The Cardinals put a threat together in the fifth, finding themselves with runners on the corners with one out. That brought up Wainwright, whom you couldn’t pinch-hit for there, not the way he was going and the way the bullpen is. Wainwright bunted Harrison Bader to second, though I think the real attempt was to do it in a way to bring Tommy Edman home, but it didn’t happen. Dylan Carlson then came up and worked the count to 3-2 before taking a pitch that had been called a ball earlier in the at bat. It was not called a ball here. Instead of bases loaded with Paul Goldschmidt up, the rally was snuffed out. (What wasn’t snuffed out was Mike Shildt’s anger on the call, which led to his ejection and the longest manager/umpire dustup we’ve seen in a while.)
Finally, the dam cracked in the seventh. Paul DeJong hit a little dribbler that was just out of the reach of Willson Contreras, who threw the ball away rushing to get DeJong at first. Runner on second and nobody out is pretty solid in a one run game. For some inexplicable reason, Edman then tried to bunt, only to pop it up to Hendricks. Bader picked him up, as good teammates will do, with a double that scored DeJong, tied the game, and sent David Ross to the mound to make a pitching change.
With Hendricks out of the game, there may have been a weight lifted off of a lot of shoulders. Matt Carpenter pinch-hit for Wainwright and flew out, but Carlson got revenge from his last at bat, doubling in Bader for a 2-1 lead. Goldschmidt struck out but reached on a wild pitch, but that was less effective of an offensive strategy than it was for the Cubs on Tuesday when Nolan Arenado struck out swinging.
So all the emotion of a great comeback was right there. We all felt good, excited, happy. All the bullpen had to do was get through two innings. That was one out too far.
The Cardinals, in one fewer game, have 19 more walks than their closest competition, the Reds. (This weekend could be a drag if you like balls in play.) They have hit 72 batters, 14 more than the Padres. There are other factors, I’m sure–the last couple of years, HBP per game in the National League has been higher than anytime since the 1800s–but when you continue to put that many free runners on base, it is going to cost you, because even in this offensively-challenged era, teams still average close to a hit an inning.
Genesis Cabrera was the call to be the first person out of the gate. In a 2-1 game with lefties due, that’s usually going to be the call. I’m still a little surprised that they don’t use Andrew Miller a little more often, especially since Cabrera was pitching in his fourth game since the All-Star Break, but you go with your big guns in a game like this if at all possible. Cabrera walked a man but got two outs, so the call went to Giovanny Gallegos.
I said yesterday that I’d have gone to Gallegos with the bases loaded instead of Alex Reyes and I still stand by that, but Gallegos wasn’t really sharp yesterday either, plunking Javier Baez with his first pitch before getting Ian Happ to ground out to end the eighth. No harm no foul on that, right? And when Gallegos got the first two outs in the ninth and went 1-2 on Hoerner, all was forgotten.
Until another pitch, up and in, clocked Hoerner on the elbow.
Two outs and you’d like to think that runner wouldn’t matter, but Gallegos was also in his fourth game since the break. That’s the downside to winning all these games with a bullpen that’s untrustworthy, the big guns are going to get used and used often. We saw it earlier in the year and it goes back to what Shildt said in the press conference Tuesday night, you can’t throw the same guys all the time. Eric Sogard, a guy that has more than half a win of negative bWAR this season, doubled in Hoerner and the game was tied. That high from the seventh, that high of getting a big win against Hendricks and the Cubs, just gone.
Gallegos had reached the end of his rope, so they went to John Gant. Not exactly who you really want into a tie game but he had value if he could keep it tied. That looked problematic when he HIT THE FIRST TWO GUYS HE FACED. Suddenly the bases were loaded, Anthony Rizzo was at the dish, and this game looked over. I mean, if anyone was going to be hit, you would have expected it to be Rizzo. Plus Gant hadn’t walked a guy yet and we know what happens with sacks jammed with this team. Gant went to 2-0 on Rizzo and it looked like he’d fulfill that prophecy, but he came back and got Rizzo to ground out.
The Cardinals hit five batters last night. Five! That’s a record for the team, snapping the record of four that was set way back on June 4…..2021. Tell me your pitching staff is erratic without telling me your pitching staff is erratic. I honestly can’t believe the Cardinals are just eighth in being hit by a pitch as I’d figure there are some teams that wouldn’t mind pitching in on this team and if people get hit, oh well, sorry about that.
Cardinals were able to get a couple of runners on in the ninth, but the second was an unintentional intentional walk of Carlson so that Craig Kimbrel could come in to face Paul Goldschmidt. Goldschmidt ran the count full before grounding out, but you wonder in hindsight if those extra pitcher added up for Kimbrel.
Gant started the 10th and gave up a base hit to Baez, putting runners on the corners (since zombie Rizzo was on second) and ending his night. T.J. McFarland came in, threw one pitch, and got the most heads-up double play I’ve seen in quite some time. The ground ball went to short, where Edmundo Sosa was. Sosa ran over and tagged second, but instead of continuing on and throwing to first, he watched the runner on third head home, threw there, and got him in a rundown. Suddenly, instead of being behind, the Cards were still tied and had two outs.
It was a glorious thing to watch in a game that had so many great defensive moments. Nolan Arenado had two, one a pick and throw home that (again) got the runner in a rundown and was so amazing to watch, then another dive, spear, throw to get a runner. Seriously, just watch the highlights of this one.
Finally, the Cardinals got it done in the 10th. Zombie Goldschmidt was on and Arenado walked, giving the Cardinals two on with nobody out. Tyler O’Neill struck out and I really thought that was it. With Yadier Molina up, the double play was a strong possibility and even if not, Molina was 0-4 on the night and hadn’t been particularly a threat. However, if there’s one thing Molina can do, it’s live up to the big moment. He singled off of Kimbrel, bringing in Goldschmidt and giving the Cards a win they had to have and one they should have been celebrating at least half an hour sooner. I mean, I don’t want to be grumpy about a walk-off win, but it really shouldn’t have come to that.
Let’s do the thing. Hero: Adam Wainwright, because he never let them get out of the game (with a little help from his friends). Goat: Wow, this is tough because everyone seemed to chip in one way or another. I’ll say Giovanny Gallegos, even though he pitched pretty well right up until he didn’t. Thought about John Gant, but without that Gallegos HBP, none of that happens.
Still, they got the win. Somehow, Milwaukee got swept by the Royals, which means that right now the Cards are 7 1/2 back (7 in the wild card) and just a game out of second. A win today, while Milwaukee is idle, would be ideal. You feel good about the chances with Kwang Hyun Kim on the mound, but I imagine it’ll be another pitcher’s duel. Hopefully one that doesn’t hinge on a walk or a hit batter.
There are some good things happening with this team. Whether it’s enough still remains to be seen, but it’s nice to at least have them playing better than they were in June!