So Close and Yet So Far

Right about a month ago, I invoked Director Krennic when talking about a game that got away against the Cubs when everything was set up for a big day.  So we’ll go with another cultural reference instead this time.

Going into the game, the Cardinals already knew that the Padres had lost to the Rockies and the Cubs had taken care of the Reds.  They had a chance to get within three of the wild card and pull just a game and a half behind the Reds.  A win wasn’t going to be easy, but Jack Flaherty was on the mound so there was a solid shot at it.

We expected Freddy Peralta to match zeros with Flaherty, but instead the Cardinals got to him for five hits and three runs in two innings before he left for what turned out to be precautionary reasons as he was uncomfortable swinging the bat in the top of the third.  So three runs with Master Jack on the mound seems like a winning combination, right?  Especially since the Cardinals should then get to go against some of the lesser lights of the Milwaukee bullpen.

The problem was, those “lesser lights” gave up a total of two hits between the third and the ninth.  They gave out a few walks (four in that span) but nothing that allowed a rally to start forming.  The only real chance to add on came in the sixth, when Paul DeJong walked and Harrison Bader singled, putting two on with one out, but Jose Rondon pinch-hit for Flaherty and struck out and Tommy Edman grounded out to end the threat.

Still, it’s three runs and Flaherty.  Until it was two runs because Willy Adames homered in the fourth.  Until it was one run because Avisail Garcia, who after last night is hitting .360 with five home runs and 11 RBI in seven games (six starts) against the Cardinals, homered in the fifth.  Suddenly what was comfortable became cramped.

At least with the lead Mike Shildt could stick to the plan that’s been fairly successful this season.  Genesis Cabrera took the seventh and retired the Brewers on seven pitches.  You could argue that Cabrera should have then gone out for the eighth, but it seems many times this year when a reliever does well one inning, he struggles in the next.  With rested arms, there was no reason not to go to Giovanny Gallegos in the eighth and Shildt did so.

We’ve talked about how less than dominant Gallegos has been lately, though last night was the fourth straight game he’s not allowed a runner.  Only the first of those outings was clean, though, and he’s put seven runners on in those 4.1 innings.  Last night counts in those numbers, as he gave up a single to Kolten Wong with one out and then promptly saw Wong steal a base (Wong’s reaction after it being confirmed via replay was great, looking in at Yadier Molina and pretending to take the base as a trophy).  He then walked Adames but got Christian Yelich to pop out.  He ran the count to 3-2 on Eduardo Escobar, then struck him out on a pitch that was called a strike.  It wasn’t the worst call of the inning, but that doesn’t mean it was good.

Another umpire decision, though, wound up playing a larger role.  In the seventh, with one out and a 3-2 count, Nolan Arenado checked his swing.  I’m never good at looking at those things, but it truly looked like he had checked it and should get the walk.  First base umpire Alan Porter, for the second time on the evening, thought differently.  Arenado had some choice words but went back to the dugout.

Still fired up about it at the end of the frame, Nolan continued to chirp as he went out to his position.  He didn’t go up to Porter or anything, just looked his way while talking about the situation and continuing on to third.  Porter took offense and tossed out Arenado, which really got him fired up.

Lots of thoughts around the ejection, especially since it played a role in the end of the game.  First off, one of the things that I love about Nolan Arenado is the passion he brings to this team, a passion that honestly has been lacking for a while.  Yadi has it but he might be about the only one that will lose his fool head about the game.  Most of the time, that passion is a great thing.  Arenado cares about the results and it shows.  We saw that passion early on, when he jumped into the fight in Cincinnati on the opening weekend barely knowing the team.  It’s part of who he is and one of the reasons he’s so great at what he does.

As Terance Mann said in Field of Dreams, “I wish I had your passion, Ray.  Misdirected as it may be, it is still a passion.”  I would imagine (I’ve not read if he gave any quotes) that Arenado wishes he had contained himself a bit so he didn’t get run but he also likely feels he was in the right and shouldn’t have been run.

There was a lot of arguments online last night that Shildt should have been tossed to protect his player.  I completely understand that, though I’m not sure when Shildt could have done so given the way things developed.  If he’d gotten tossed when Arenado initially struck out, there’s no guarantee things would have cooled off enough that Arenado doesn’t chirp on his way out like he did.  Given that Nolan wasn’t anywhere around the ump when he got thrown out, Shildt may have been planning for the inning and missed that Nolan was yelling.  He also may not have felt like it was going to rise to the level of ejection until it was too late.

There’s no doubt that it’s easier to win a game without a manager than without an All-Star third baseman and I feel like if Shildt thought he could make that trade or saw it coming, he’d have been out there.  What I am a little surprised at is that he wasn’t tossed along with Arenado.  The report was that like four coaches, including Shildt, rushed out there when Arenado was ejected.  We’ve seen Shildt give umpires plenty to listen to.  I am very surprised he didn’t defend his player until he got tossed.

That flashback sets up the ninth.  Alex Reyes comes on and, again, Reyes hasn’t been the same force he was before the All-Star Break.  Since the shindig in Colorado and before last night, Reyes has thrown 11.1 innings and given up nine runs, seven of them earned (5.56 ERA).  He has 11 strikeouts but ten walks.  Now, small sample size and the four walks, three runs, no outs outing against the Braves definitely skews things, but again before last night he’d come into 13 games and given up runs in four of them.  That aura of inevitability was always shaky around Reyes given his walks but it really has been pierced of late.

Reyes starts well, with a little help from the man in blue.  On a 2-2 count, strike three was called on a pitch that was obviously a foot outside.  It was an absolutely terrible call and Omar Narvaez (who was the recipient) and Craig Counsell argued enough to join Arenado on the sidelines.  It’s not often such a bad pitch goes the Cardinals way but they weren’t going to turn down the help.  The problem was Reyes didn’t use that to right the ship.  Instead, on the very next pitch, Garcia hit his second homer of the night, tying things up.  Tyler O’Neill almost stood on top of the wall trying to catch that one to no avail.  After leading ever since the first, the game was tied in the ninth.

Reyes got the next two out, sending it to the bottom of the ninth.  Tommy Edman led it off by being hit by a pitch, but no one–including Edmundo Sosa, who was now hitting third and playing third–could bring him in.  Sosa hit a solid liner to the outfield and, at least here, there’s no telling whether Arenado could have done more, especially against Josh Hader.

That brings us to the 10th.  Reyes remains in the game as he’d only thrown 11 pitches, though I admit I was a little leery given there was the zombie runner on and the whole “second inning for a reliever” thing.  It looked like it was going to go well to start with, as Luis Urias hit a little nubber that went just to the left of the mound.  Reyes pounced on it and it looked like it was going to be one out, runner on second….until he airmailed the throw to first, a throw even Paul Goldschmidt couldn’t do anything with.  Suddenly there were runners on second and third with nobody out and you kinda knew things were going to go badly.

However, for a minute it looked like things could be salvaged.  Wong flew out on the first pitch but not deep enough for anyone to score.  Then Adames struck out.  Suddenly, there was hope.

There was a school of thought that you should walk Christian Yelich to load the bases and set up the force.  We know walking the bases loaded is a typical Shildt tactic and we also remember Yelich destroying the Cardinals in the past.  Plus, Josh Hader was on deck and that would get him out of the game.  However, that seemed dicey to me.  Given Reyes’s control, there’s no guarantee he doesn’t walk whomever pinch-hits.  Also, Yelich isn’t the destroyer of worlds that he used to be.  He was 0-4 in this game at the moment and has struggled to the point over the last couple of years that you wonder if Milwaukee regrets giving him that long term contract.

So pitching to Yelich wasn’t really the problem.  The pitches were.  Molina made certain to go out and talk to Reyes, tell him how to approach Yelich, and the next pitch he bounces in the dirt, the go-ahead run scores, and Molina seems ticked.

All that barely has processed when Yelich bunts the next pitch to third.  You know, third.  Where Nolan Arenado….isn’t.

Sosa is an excellent fielder and he didn’t do anything particularly wrong here.  It’s possible Arenado wouldn’t have gotten Yelich either, but I think when you watch it you feel like he probably would have.  If he does, though, I’m not sure that the game result is any different.  Sure, the Cardinals score in the bottom of the 10th, but would they have if Josh Hader was still in the game?  Because if Yelich ends the top of the 10th, I’m betting Hader takes the mound for the bottom.  You’d rather be down just one, of course, but I’m not sure that was the game changing play.

That made it two runs.  Jace Peterson then hit a liner that dropped in front of Lars Nootbaar and hit off of him.  Nootbaar couldn’t find it and Yelich went all the way around, scoring from first to make it 6-3.  Reyes finally got Manny Pina to strike out and, as I said, Molina drove in zombie O’Neill to get a run in off of Devin Williams, but that was it.

The Goat is clearly Alex Reyes and I’m sure that Shildt wants to get him back on the horse, but he threw 32 pitches last night and should be out of commission today.  Reyes’s results for the rest of the season are something to watch.  We’ll give the Hero tag to Paul Goldschmidt, who had two doubles.  O’Neill also had two hits and scored two runs.

This one was a mess and now the Cardinals rely on Jon Lester to outduel Brandon Woodruff to avoid a sweep.  Milwaukee’s made a statement in the first two games.  It would be nice to see the Cardinals blunt it a little bit but that might be beyond their capabilities.

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NL Central Standings

TeamWLPct.GB
Brewers8957.610 -
Cardinals7669.52412.5
Reds7671.51713.5
Cubs6681.44923.5
Pirates5492.37035.0

Last updated: 09/17/2021

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