Fighting To The Last (Ed)Man

Every season, every team has a win like last night.  A game with a memorable comeback, a game that stands apart from the other 162.  The question is, how is it remembered?

For a team like the Pirates, it’s a great 24 hours or so but it doesn’t leave a lasting imprint.  The Rockies, for instance, had a comeback win against the Brewers on Tuesday night.  They won again Wednesday, so it wasn’t just here and gone, but you have to figure that when you are telling the story of their 2022 season that win doesn’t necessarily move the needle.

For a team like Milwaukee or San Diego, a win like that would invigorate the fanbase, showing that their team is still fighting for their playoff life.  Some might look to it as a spark that starts a run that solidifies their playoff standing.  In past years we’ve seen the Cardinals have wins like that and we’ve thought “here they go”, only for things to go right back to the frustrating normal.

For a team like St. Louis, though, a win like that starts some “destiny” talk.

For most of the game, it was pretty much like any other.  Jordan Montgomery continued to do what he’s done since he got to St. Louis.  The bats were quiet, but we’ve seen that at times, especially with Montgomery on the mound.  He’s already had two 1-0 games in the six starts he’s made for the Cardinals before last night.  For much of the game, it looked like Paul Goldschmidt‘s homer in the fourth inning was going to make this one a third.

Montgomery slipped at the end of his outing, walking Nelson Cruz with one out in the seventh and then, after striking out Luis Garcia, Cesar Hernandez had a hard hit ball get over Lars Nootbaar, tripling in Cruz, tying the game, and ending Montgomery’s night.  JoJo Romero ended the threat with one pitch, but the game was tied.

It didn’t stay that way because the bullpen, uncharacteristically, couldn’t hold.  Romero allowed a leadoff single in the eighth, a runner that moved to second on a sacrifice bunt that, if it had been reviewed, might have had runners at first and second.  Nolan Arenado probably got Victor Robles, but it was awfully close.  With a runner in scoring position, Oli Marmol went to Giovanny Gallegos.

For all the issues with Gallegos earlier in the year, he’s been really good of late.  He came into this one with a run of six straight scoreless outings and had given up just one earned run in the second half.  He’d even done some back-to-backs in that span and come out all right, so there was no particular reason to think this would be any different.  It was, though it wasn’t all his fault.

Gallegos struck out the first batter he faced, meaning he was just an out away from getting out of the jam.  He then induced a ground ball but whether it was because of positioning or just a slow reaction Nolan Gorman couldn’t corral it at second base and it instead made it to the outfield, scoring a run to put the Nationals ahead.  OK, one run, not great but you have two innings to try to come back.

Until Gallegos, whether flustered or irritated or just not right, ran a 3-1 count to the man he was traded for, Luke Voit, who promptly deposited the next pitch almost in Ballpark Village.

Suddenly it’s 4-1 and when Nelson Cruz followed that with a single, Marmol went back to the pen to try to find someone to get the last out.  He chose Zack Thompson, who I honestly forgot was on the roster (though I see he just pitched Monday–I didn’t get to watch that game).  Thompson threw a wild pitch, gave up an RBI single to make it 5-1, and walked one before finally getting the last out.  Everything after Voit’s homer really felt like piling on and putting the game out of a save situation made it seem like this was going to be a frustrating loss, especially after the Brewers had lost earlier in the day.

The Cards went quietly in the eighth and Jake Woodford held the Nats at bay in the top of the ninth.  St. Louis had mustered just five hits on the night, none since Yadier Molina had doubled with one out in the fifth.  It turned out they were just storing up for when it was really needed.

Kyle Finnegan came into the game to try to close it out.  Much like Gallegos, he was on a nice run, having thrown 9.1 scoreless innings over his last nine appearances, picking up four saves in that span.  He walked Brendan Donovan to start the inning, which was probably not something he wanted to do with the two MVP folks coming up.  Sure enough, Goldschmidt walked and Arenado doubled, making it 5-2 with runners at second and third with nobody out.

As the phrase goes, you had my curiosity, but now you have my attention.

Corey Dickerson, a man not known for his patience, swung at a 2-0 pitch and grounded out, but Goldschmidt scored to make it 5-3.  Tyler O’Neill got down 0-2 but then put his eye to work in an excellent at bat that led to a walk.  That brought up Nolan Gorman.  I really felt like you needed Gorman to do something, what with Molina coming up behind him, but Gorman struck out for the third time on the night.  Perhaps the haircut didn’t change as much as we thought.

Two outs, runners on the corners.  I wondered briefly if they’d pinch-hit for Yadi, given a ground ball would end it, but Marmol has said he’s going to trust in “September Yadi” and it does feel like Molina’s been a little rejuvenated as he sees the finish line.  He took the first pitch, which is a bit un-Yadi-like, but swung at the second for a solid base hit, making it 5-4.  Now the game has gone from “it’s a bummer” to agonizing if they don’t complete the rally.

Thankfully, they did.  Tommy Edman, who really seems to have powered up lately, smoked one over Alex Call‘s head and both O’Neill and Ben DeLuzio, who pinch-ran for Yadi, came in for the walkoff winner.

The Cardinals are 9 1/2 games ahead of the Brewers and have a magic number of 17. For all intents and purposes, the NL Central is over.  I’m a little hesitant to say that, because baseball, but let’s be honest.  Even if the Cards go 12-13 in their last 25, which would be remarkably disappointing given their schedule, they will win 93 games.  The Brewers would have to go 22-4 just to tie the Cards in that case and I don’t think anyone thinks this Brewers team has that sort of run in them.

So is this a team of destiny?  Is this a team that is going to follow the script and send the legends off with a ring?  I think it’s a little early to say that.  After all, destiny is nice and all until you try to beat the Dodgers in the postseason.  (Given the history between the Cards and LA, perhaps that’s not the best example.)  Still, it’s safe to say that this is a special team that we’ll remember for a while.  And there are likely some more special moments to come!

RECAP (picking up where I left off yesterday)

Friday, August 26 (11-4 loss vs. Atlanta)

Hero: Tyler O’Neill.  He provided one of the few bright spots, hitting a two-run homer in the ninth.

Goat: Genesis Cabrera.  The game was probably over anyway (though as we saw last night and as we saw in the rest of this series, you never really know) but Cabrera giving up five runs in an inning-plus took care of that.  He also allowed his inherited runner to score, taking the game from 5-1 when he entered to 9-1 when he left (and Andrew Knizner let the two runners he left on score).

Notes: Knizner and Yadier Molina are the first set of catchers to actually throw to each other during a season, as Yadi pitched in that Pirates game earlier in the year….it was the second time the defense got to Jose Quintana, as he allowed four runs but only two were earned in his five innings of work….the club did muster 10 hits, with Lars Nootbaar, Brendan Donovan, and Nolan Gorman all getting two knocks.

Saturday, August 27 (6-5 win vs. Atlanta)

Hero: Nolan Arenado.  4-4 with a two-run homer that brought the team within one, then was HBP as part of the ninth-inning rally.

Goat: Jordan Montgomery.  The one clunker he’s had in Cardinal red, he allowed five runs in five innings.

Notes: The Cardinals took what the Braves gave them in the ninth as Kenley Jansen walked two, hit one, and gave up two hits while getting only one out….Tyler O’Neill did the final honors, drawing a walk with the bases loaded and the game tied….JoJo Romero, Jordan Hicks, and Ryan Helsley held the line, throwing four scoreless innings after Montgomery left to keep the team close.  The two struck out seven and only Hicks allowed any baserunners….home run for Andrew Knizner, who is having a solid second half.

Sunday, August 28 (6-3 win vs. Atlanta)

Hero: Tyler O’Neill.  Pinch-hitting in the eighth, he launched a three-run homer that broke the tie and gave the Cards the lead.

Goat: Ryan Helsley.  Summoned in the seventh with two on and a 2-0 lead, he gave up a home run to Austin Riley to put the Cards temporarily behind.

Notes: Helsley did throw a scoreless eighth, but you hate to see a smart move like that from Oli Marmol blow up….Tommy Edman tied the game before TON’s blast with a homer of his own….the Cardinals only managed six hits, but three of them were homers, as Lars Nootbaar also went deep….Adam Wainwright deserved better, leaving the game after 6.2 innings with no runs allowed, only to have the inherited runners wind up scoring.

Monday, August 29 (13-4 win at Cincinnati)

Hero: Tyler O’Neill.  Two home runs and three RBI in a game that was, at one point, closer than it should have been.

Goat: Miles Mikolas.  Given an 8-0 lead, he couldn’t finish five innings, giving up four runs and leaving a batter on before Chris Stratton stopped the bleeding.

Notes: After Stratton killed the uprising, the rest of the bullpen helped keep the flames out, with Zack Thompson taking two of the three innings….home run by Albert Pujols because, of course.  One of his two hits….three hits by Corey Dickerson, including his second homer of the year off of a position player….two hits for Nolan Arenado and Tommy Edman as well.

Tuesday, August 30 (5-1 loss at Cincinnati)

Hero: Tommy Edman.  His solo homer kept the Cards from being shut out.

Goat: Dakota Hudson.  Nine hits and a walk made for five runs and he left before the end of the fifth.

Notes: Jake Woodford raised his stock quite a bit by going 3.1 scoreless in relief of Hudson, saving the bullpen and keeping the score close….the offense was apparently tired out from the night before as they managed just four hits off of five Reds pitchers.

Wednesday, August 31 (5-3 win in 13 at Cincinnati)

Hero: Nolan Arenado.  His two run homer in the fourth tied the game and he was one of only two Cardinals with multiple hits.

Goat: Tough night for Brendan Donovan, going 0-4 and leaving two on, though he did draw a walk.

Notes: Significant kudos to Andre Pallante, who pitched the 11th, 12th, and 13th, each inning starting with a zombie runner, and he only allowed one to score after he had a three run lead.  Excellent high-wire walking by the rookie….Albert Pujols got the sacrifice fly in the 13th the club needed, but thankfully Lars Nootbaar followed it up with a two-run homer for insurance….the whole bullpen was excellent, as they combined for 8.1 innings and only allowing the run in the 13th.

Friday, September 2 (8-0 win vs. Chicago)

Hero: Tommy Edman.  2-4 with a home run and three RBI.

Goat: Nolan Arenado.  0-4 with three left on.

Notes: Nolan Gorman was spared the Goat by being replaced by Paul DeJong (well, Edman shifted over, but basically) and only getting three AB, though he struck out all three times and left three on….Yadier Molina with two hits in this one, including a double….Cards broke this one open late with Edman’s three run homer in the eighth and Lars Nootbaar getting a two run shot in the seventh.

Saturday, September 3 (8-4 win vs. Chicago)

Hero: Yadier Molina.  In his last game against the Cubs, he had two hits (one a double), drove in three, and stole third base.  Going out with style!

Goat: Adam Wainwright.  He admitted after the game (and Molina concurred) that he didn’t have much of anything in this one.  Four runs in five innings turned out not to be a dealbreaker but it didn’t help matters much.

Notes: Again the bullpen held the line.  Andre Pallante, Jake Woodford, JoJo Romero, and Giovanny Gallegos threw four scoreless innings with only one hit and one walk….Paul Goldschmidt hit a two-run homer in the first to cut into an early Cubs lead and added another single and walk later on….Paul DeJong did walk twice, but he struck out in the other two plate appearances, continuing a woeful slide….Ben DeLuzio got to make his major league debut, but he only got one AB before being pinch-hit for with Lars Nootbaar in the midst of the six run third….two hits for Tommy Edman, including yet another homer.

Sunday, September 4 (2-0 win vs. Chicago)

Hero: Albert Pujols.  His last swing ever against the Cubs produced what he had done to them so often–a home run and a crushing of the spirit.  Homer #695 was a pinch-hit job that shattered a scoreless game in the bottom of the eighth.

Goat: A few to choose from but we’ll say Tyler O’Neill, as his 0-3 left two on.

Notes: A great rebound game for Miles Mikolas, who threw eight scoreless innings and gave up just two hits.  All that in just under 100 pitches to boot….Tommy Edman had two of the team’s six hits and was on board for Pujols’s blast.

Monday, September 5 (6-0 loss vs. Washington)

Hero: Jack Flaherty.  Coming off the injured list for the second time, Flaherty did all he could do, going five innings and allowing just one run while striking out six.

Goat: Andre Pallante.  The offense didn’t do much, but Pallante didn’t keep it close, throwing one third of an inning and being charged with four runs, though two of those came after he left.

Notes: Chris Stratton allowed the inherited runners to score but did get them out of the inning….the only other blemish was James Naile allowing a homer in the eighth but that didn’t mean much….only three hits in this one (Tyler O’Neill, Yadier Molina, Tommy Edman) and a walk to each of the MVP candidates.

Tuesday, September 6 (4-1 win vs. Washington)

Hero: Nolan Gorman.  Lots of comments about his close cut hair style, but his bat did more talking, getting a double and a homer plus two RBI.

Goat: Lars Nootbaar.  0-4 with two strikeouts.

Notes: A home run for Brendan Donovan to erase the early Nationals lead….two hits for Corey Dickerson, who has been scorching in the second half, at least with batting average….another solid start for Jose Quintana, who gave up one run in five innings.  Quintana’s been nothing but effective since his acquisition and he still may not make the playoff rotation, which tells you exactly how far this rotation is from the July one….Jordan Hicks seems to have turned a corner and continued on the right path here, throwing two scoreless innings.

Wednesday, September 7 (6-5 win vs. Washington)

Hero: Tommy Edman, with the walkoff winner.

Goat: Giovanny Gallegos, for letting it get (seemingly) out of hand.

Notes: See above–that’s where we started, remember?

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