C70 At The Bat

A walk-off win, followed by a no-hitter.  An off day, where they draft a top talent that usually isn’t available to them.  Yadier Molina returns.  Carlos Martinez returns.  Miami coming to town.  There was all sorts of momentum and positiveness and all-around good feelings going on around the Cardinals before last night’s game.  Unfortunately, we know what the Cardinals do with momentum.

I always worry when a team comes in to play St. Louis with all sorts of negative indicators.  Miami had lost six in a row, but that’s around the normal length of a losing streak in baseball without it becoming a huge deal.  Odds are that the Marlins weren’t going to lose all three in Busch and have a nine-game streak at the end of it.  That’s not generally how baseball works.  (I mean, it was possible of course, but streaks tend to snap before then.)  Then there was Jose Urena, who was 0-7 and already had the narrative building up that he didn’t get any run support.  Just like when Miles Mikolas got almost to June without a loss, it’s tough to expect a pitcher as talented as Urena to go much longer without getting in the win column.

Miami might have had some law of averages going for it but that’s not to say the Cardinals shouldn’t have kept those streaks going last night.  If a non-rusty Carlos Martinez (and we have to go with rust as an issue, though we can’t say we didn’t see this coming, especially after this report) shows up, there’s a good chance that the Cards are able to make that early lead stand up and perhaps still add on like they did.  Four runs is a winnable game, especially with this pitching staff.

When Martinez walked the leadoff batter on four pitches, we figured he was getting adjusted to the mound.  And, indeed, he came back and got a double play to end the inning with no damage.  Then he walked the leadoff batter in the second on four pitches and allowed a hit to follow that up.  He got another double play, then walked two more batters before striking out Urena in an at-bat that was much tougher than you’d expect from a pitcher.  Third inning, Martinez gave up two singles and a walk before getting his double play which this time allowed a run to score.  He then had a ball hit back to him and couldn’t find the handle, then lobbed it to first.  I’m sure he forgot that there was a runner on third and he probably figured he had more time, but there was and he didn’t.

He had a good fourth, striking out two, but overall this was a rough start for Martinez.  I know there was a lot of excitement and symbolism of getting him and Molina back at the same time, but you wonder if he shouldn’t have made another start for Springfield or Memphis.  John Gant hasn’t been quite as good as I thought he was before looking up the stats and he might not have given you much more in the innings department than Martinez.  Maybe you plan for Austin Gomber (who had his own issues in this one) to start, but then you don’t get those three innings on Saturday and perhaps don’t win that game.  Most likely, you let everyone stay on regular rest and worry about your fifth starter on Saturday when you are in Cincinnati.  You could have held Gomber out in preparation for that and then let Martinez come back on Sunday a little sharper hopefully.

Honestly, it becomes difficult to see why the Cards even mess with rehabbing their players in minor league games.  Martinez makes one start.  We saw Adam Wainwright do the same earlier in the year.  Molina has two games in Springfield and goes without a hit.  I’m sure it helps somewhat, but I would think you’d want to get a week’s worth of games for a hitter and at least a couple of starts for a starter or 3-4 appearances from a reliever at least to make sure they are good to go when they get called up.  Paying lip service to things like this is how you get Greg Holland being miserable to start the season.  (How you get Holland being miserable all the way to June is a different story.)

As I say, Martinez could have been the Goat.  Some of the relievers could have been the Goat.  However, we’re going with a hitter as the Goat and it’s one that has been making a regular showing in the role.  However, it wasn’t just the fact that Tommy Pham went 0-4 that gets him the award.  It’s not the fact that he left three men on base.  After all, his fifth inning fielder’s choice brought in a run, so he had that going for him more than….well, actually, nobody else had a 0-fer night so I guess he had that going for him more than Preston Guilmet, who might have received the tag.

No, it’s one play that really sealed the deal for Pham.  After that groundout, which cut the deficit to 5-3, Marcell Ozuna (who once again gets to be the Hero, narrowly edging out Matt Carpenter) singled in a run and went to second on the throw while Pham went to third.  It’s 5-4, runners on second and third, just one out.  After giving up three in the top of the inning, the Cards were poised to get it all back and then some.

Molina comes to the plate.  Molina had singled in his first at bat, driving in the first run of the game.  There were so many ways he could tie up the game.  He could get another hit.  He could hit a sacrifice fly.  He could ground out to second.  Plenty of options.

All of which were taken away from him when Pham was picked off at third.

I can’t quickly find stats on being picked off.  I’m pretty sure Pham led the league in pickoffs last year and he’s probably right up there in the list again this season.  It’s part of his aggressiveness and he’s always looking for an edge, so his pickoffs at first base, while frustrating (I mean, when Jon Lester picks you off, you are doing it wrong), have at least some reason for existing.  Being picked off of third base in a one-run game?  No, there’s no defending that one.  With Pham’s speed, he didn’t need to get very far from the base to be able to score.  He can wait until the pitcher actually lets go of the ball to get a jump.  That was probably the turning point in the game.  Molina grounded out, a groundout that would have scored Pham had he stayed still, and the threat was over.  The Cards had another chance in the sixth but that was about it.

(That sixth was frustrating, because you get two hitters on to lead off the frame, then Kolten Wong tries to bunt them over.  However, the ball hit his bat again as he was trying to get out of the batter’s box.  The umpire called him out due to him being out of the box, though that was debatable.  It also probably didn’t matter, since Harrison Bader and Carpenter both struck out following Wong to end the threat.)

The game was on FS1 last night and their announcers mentioned the incident earlier in the year when Pham cracked his head open during a game.  Before that bat met Pham’s head, Pham was hitting .327 and was about a week removed from a four-hit game.  Since that time, he’s hitting .200/.245/.356.  It’s probably not a cause, especially since he had a two-hit and a three-hit game just days later, but it’s an interesting thing to think about.  More recently, Pham’s hit .147 since his last home run 10 games (eight starts) ago.  He didn’t strike out last night, which is a good thing, but the Cardinals really need the Pham they had last year and earlier this year to show up.

Before the game, the Cardinals made a number of moves.  Martinez and Molina were expected, but they also made room on the 40-man to bring up Preston Guilmet.  Guilmet was dominating Memphis with a 0.93 ERA, 11 saves, and 35 K in 29 innings.  Apparently there was some language in his contract that made it advisable to give him a shot in the majors.  I would assume that one of those standard veteran “if I’m not in the majors by X date, you’ll release me to find work elsewhere” kinda things.  Because, in case you weren’t aware, Guilmet is a 30-year-old that had been pitching in Japan because his major league record was not good (and totalled only 23 innings).

Anyway, Guilmet comes up and, because Martinez didn’t go long enough and because of the fact that the pitcher spot was coming up, Mike Matheny went to him to get three outs.  Honestly, I don’t have a huge problem with this.  Guilmet had been strong in Memphis, you don’t need him to save the game, just get you through the inning, and a shorter bench due to Greg Garcia‘s paternity leave may have made a double switch less attractive.

That said, when I saw people in the last couple of weeks clamoring for Guilmet to get a chance, I worried that he was really just a Quad-A player, a guy that was using some veteran knowledge and good enough stuff to overwhelm minor league hitters but would get exposed against the big leaguers.  Guilmet didn’t do much to change that opinion.  He got the first out, but then single, single, sacrifice fly (on a terrible throw in by Ozuna, who may still be having arm problems) and then a home run by Brian Anderson.  That made the game 5-2 (as noted above) and he took the loss in this one.

I imagine they’ll give Guilmet a couple more chances, but if they don’t go any better than that, he’s an easy person to let go and not worry much about.  It looks like he’s out of options, so he can’t go back to Memphis without passing through waivers.  Depending on how he does in the bigs, he might, but the Cards aren’t out a lot if he doesn’t.

In retrospect, everyone wanted a double switch that got Gomber into the game, but then Gomber comes in after the Cards had cut that lead and gives up a home run to the first batter then walks the next two.  He got the next three guys (though one was on a sacrifice fly) but that really hurt.  This was also Gomber’s first time (as far as I know) to go on short rest, so it’s not surprising it might take him some adjustments to get into this reliever life.

All in all, a downer of a game.  What happened before the game held a little more intrigue.

My Gateway to Baseball Heaven co-host Tara Wellman, star of stage and screen (well, at least your computer and phone screens), was the first to notice that Ryan Sherriff had posted a picture to Instagram from Dr. Jobe’s clinic showing the after-effects of what he said was Tommy John surgery.  Sherriff had been on the Memphis DL for a couple of weeks now, but nobody had mentioned anything about surgery.

When I say Tara was the first, she wasn’t just the first fan on Twitter.  The beat writers and reporters had no clue.  And, apparently, neither did the Cardinals.

Once the media folk picked up on that (though most didn’t acknowledge the first reports, because you know), they asked the Cardinal reps about it and instead of a “yes, Ryan had surgery today” it was a “no comment”.  While some off the record did say Sherriff was supposed to consult with a surgeon (meaning this wasn’t completely out of the blue), there seemed to be no indication the club knew this was happening.

Lots of issues here.  First off, let’s talk finances.  If I’m right (which is rare), if Sherriff had gone through the process with the Cards, they’d have covered the expense of the surgery.  I have trouble believing that Sherriff could just get Dr. Jobe to bill the club for this if someone hadn’t signed off.  Which means that Sherriff may be on the hook for this financially.  Why would he do that?  It’s not like he’s making millions.

Now, if the Cards had told him he needed to see X surgeon and he wanted to use Dr. Jobe, that’s a different story.  However, even then it’s not like he’s going to a quack.  Dr. Jobe is at the top of the list of respected surgeons in this area.  It would seem strange if the Cardinals told him, “We won’t pay for it if you use that guy.”  So that doesn’t feel like an issue.

There feels like there’s more to this story.  The official site doesn’t have much and you can’t read anything on the Post-Dispatch’s site without a subscription (or the app, but then I can’t link to it) but guys don’t just take off and have surgery without some sort of OK from their team.  I know we all remember when Jaime Garcia announced he was having surgery when the club wanted him to have rest and rehab, but he didn’t show up with his arm in a sling when he made that announcement.  The club might not have been happy with the choice or with the fact that he went to the press with it, but they at least knew about it ahead of time.

You have to wonder if this is the last we’ve seen of Ryan Sherriff in a Cardinal uniform.  If he went on his own and had this surgery, as all indications point to, that’s a large breach of his contract.  The Cards would be well within their rights to cut him today and void the contract, meaning that Sherriff wouldn’t get paid a thing while he rehabbed.  Even if they decide to keep him, that’s a trust that he’s broken.  That’s going to come into play when they talk about adding him back to the big league roster.  He’s going to have to go out there, once he’s healed up, and be dominant to make sure there’s no reason for them not to bring him up.

We’ll see how it plays out.  Sherriff’s a nice left-handed option but it’s not like he’s established himself as a great reliever.  I mean, he was bouncing back and forth from Memphis for a reason.  He could become a better one in the future but relievers like that are pretty fungible.  You can always find one as good or better.  I’d be pretty surprised, honestly, if Sherriff is still in the organization when he finishes up his rehab.

Jack Flaherty takes the hill tonight hoping to make sure the Cards don’t lose the series.  Because if you lose a series to the Marlins, don’t expect folks to have good feelings for quite some time.

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Marking McGwire: #28

Home run #: 28

Date: June 5

Opponent: San Francisco Giants

Location: Busch Stadium

Pitcher: Orel Hershiser

Score: 0-0

Inning: 1

Outs: 1

Runners on: 1

Distance: 409 feet

End of day Sammy Sosa total: 17

End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 22

If you are going to chase down a record, you need a lot of things.  You need to be very good.  You need to get in a groove.  You need to have a little luck.  And you need to stay healthy.  With Mark McGwire‘s track record in the past, that last point was going to be key.  So when he left the June 1 game against the Padres after one at-bat with back spasms, folks got concerned.  When he missed three more games in a row, folks got worried.

(By the way, there’s some problems looking things up after 20 years from the early internet days.  Thank goodness I have some books like Rob Rains’ Home Run Hero that I was able to scan and find out that it was back spasms that caused the (3) on the Baseball-Reference game log.)

McGwire returned to the lineup on Friday, June 5 and picked up where he left off, both overall and the pounding he gave the Giants earlier in the season.  I tend to forget that longtime Dodger Orel Hershiser actually spent a little time with their hated rivals.  I always like Hershiser as his scoreless inning streak was right after I really got into baseball.  That was almost ten years in the past at this point–wait, 59 innings is 30 this year?  I’m so old–and Hershiser was in his end-of-career phase, pitching for the Giants in ’98, the Mets in ’99, and returning to the Dodgers for a few final games in 2000.

In this one, Hershiser started off by getting Delino DeShields to ground out, but then Ray Lankford followed with a double.  Even though first base was open, since it was the first inning Hershiser and the Giants decided to see how healthy McGwire really was.  Hershiser got ahead 0-2 on a swinging strike and then a called version before wasting a pitch out of the zone.  On his fourth pitch, Hershiser caught more of the outside part of the plate than he wanted and McGwire showed his back was back.

Hershiser would allow no other scoring damage and the Giants answered in the third inning off of Kent BottenfieldDarryl Hamilton led off with a single and Bill Mueller and Barry Bonds drew walks, loading the bases with nobody out.  A Jeff Kent single drove in two and then a one-out grounder by J.T. Snow drove in the other.

That was it for the game.  Hershiser struck out McGwire in the fourth on his way to six innings of work.  McGwire singled off Steve Reed in the seventh and struck out against Robb Nen in the ninth.  Still, after a few days off, it was heartening to see another McGwire homer, especially since Sammy Sosa was starting to heat up.  The Great Home Run Race of 1998 was just about to ignite.

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Save for one game, this past weekend’s series with the Pittsburgh Pirates might have been the most dramatic you are ever going to find.  In fairness, the Cardinals did have that great series with the Cubs where they walked games off twice with homers, so that’s right up there, but when you have two games like that plus an almost no-hitter, that is tough to beat.  We’ve already talked about the first one, so let’s dive into the last three games.

Friday (4-0 loss)

Hero: Marcell Ozuna.  The bat got warmer in the next couple of days with some expected pop, but Ozuna had two hits in this one, again of the single/infield variety but that was a lot more than most of his teammates, since that was half of the team’s total.  We did say “save for one game” and this is that game.

Goat: I think we are going to have to use our old “leadoff hitter breaks ties” rule and go with Matt Carpenter, who went 0-4 with two strikeouts.  It’s a line, as we noted, that wasn’t foreign to the boxscore here and unlike when he would have these games a month ago, it doesn’t necessarily seem to be anything to worry about.  He’s been so hot that some cooling was bound to happen but it feels like we are going to see the regular Carpenter from now on.

Notes: This was the game that so bummed us out on Meet Me at Musial this week, which looks a little dreary when you look back at it after the last two days.  It looked like they were spoiling that momentum from Thursday night and while the next couple of days showed there was still some fight in them, in the moment it felt like a movie we’d seen before.  Hopefully they’ll still have a little of the momentum from the last couple of games with them when they take on Miami on Tuesday night.

Miles Mikolas continued his remarkable season, even if he took his first loss of 2018.  Six innings, six hits, two runs (one earned), two strikeouts, one walk.  That’s a solid line that gets you a win more times than not.  With the offensive struggles that this team has had, though, it’s not terribly surprising that such a good performance goes unrewarded.  Sam Tuivailala scuffled a bit, allowing two runs in 1.1 innings on a couple of doubles.  It’s still good that Mike Matheny is trusting Tui a bit more, but these kind of bumps in the road aren’t completely unexpected.  At least it happened in a game that the Cards weren’t likely to win anyway.

Saturday (3-2 win)

Hero: Kolten Wong.  When you walk it off, you get this spot, isn’t that the rule?  There were a lot of crazy stats floating around after Wong won his second game this season with a last-minute homer, but this might have been the one that was most nuts:

There’s no doubt that Wong can come up big at times.  Five regular-season walkoff homers make up that 14%, but one of his four postseason homers is also, famously, of the walkoff variety.  So that means, overall, six of Wong’s 40 homers have decided the game in this sort of situation.  And that’s not including other important ones, like this blast against Pittsburgh in 2014 that tied the game in the seventh in a game the Cards would go on to win.  It doesn’t feel that it’s often Wong hits homers in blowouts either way.

Goat: Bud Norris.  Look, I know that Austin Meadows is red-hot right now and is starting to look like he’ll be a real good player (and probably a thorn in the side of the Cards for a while).  However, when you waste the good work of not only Luke Weaver but Austin Gomber in his major league debut, you are definitely going to get tagged here.  Over his last five games, Norris has a 9.00 ERA.  Most of that was the three runs he allowed against Kansas City, but he’s given up home runs in back-to-back outings.  It looks like the club is trying to ease his workload some, as those five games span the 11 days from May 23 to this date, but it’s a little bit of concern when one of the few pieces of the pen you trusted starts having issues.

Notes: Before the game, my Musial cohost Allen Medlock called a home run by Marcell Ozuna in this one and the man knows what he’s talking about.  Ozuna launched one in his first at-bat to give the Cardinals the lead and, like we saw Sunday, they didn’t do a lot to build on his blast.  Still, seeing him go yard for the first time in three weeks and the first time ever in Busch wearing a Cardinal uniform was a great sight to see.  He also added on a single for another two hit day.

We wondered if Gomber was ever going to pitch in the big leagues.  His first time up he sat out in the bullpen and never got into a game before he was sent down to Memphis.  He came back up on Thursday but didn’t play in the first two games.  He made it worth the wait, though.  Three scoreless innings in relief of Luke Weaver and doing it all with just a one run lead.  That’s a tightrope to walk at any time but especially in your initial outing, but not only didn’t he give up any runs, he didn’t even allow a hit.  He walked one, struck out two, and definitely will get a few more bites at the apple soon, I would think.

Ozuna was again the only Cardinal with multiple hits.  Wong had his homer and Tommy Pham got a base hit in four at bats, which drove in a run and ended a stretch where he hit .091 over seven games.  With this one and then his work on Sunday, there are some signs that maybe he’s getting out of this funk he was in basically all of May.

Oh, and Weaver went five, allowed one run, struck out four.  It’s amazing the pitching this team has been getting when that sort of outing is a bit of an afterthought.

Sunday (5-0 win)

Hero: Michael Wacha.  The world was a lot different on September 3, 2001.  We were a bit more than a week away from our lives being fundamentally changed.  There was no MLB At Bat, no streaming video of any sort.  I still remember that night watching Bud Smith, with the palm trees of San Diego in the background, finish up the last Cardinals no-hitter.  Given that we were just a couple of years away from Jose Jimenez no-hitting the Diamondbacks and Randy Johnson (still two games–that and the rematch–that show baseball can’t be predicted), nobody would have guessed it’d be over a decade and a half and he’d still be the most recent one.

I thought yesterday that was going to change.  Wacha looked so good and he even had the experience of going into the ninth with one against the Nationals to help with any jitters.  I know that he wouldn’t cop to it or complain a bit, but I do wonder if things would have been different had the Cards gone 1-2-3 in the eighth.  As someone pointed out to me on Twitter yesterday, given that he was at 106 or so pitches at the end of 8, he might have appreciated the breather, which is possible.  However, I feel like not getting a chance to cool down, not getting a chance to stiffen up at all, and not having that rhythm broken might have given him a better chance.

Then again, when Pittsburgh sends up a pinch-hitter that hasn’t faced him at all in this game, it might not have mattered much.  That fresh face might have been able to get to him either way.  At least the ball that Colin Moran hit was a solid single, not a high blooper over the head of Wacha that the shortstop couldn’t quite make a play on.  Not that I’m having flashbacks or anything.

Wacha’s been incredible over his last few starts, putting up a 1.60 ERA over nine outings with a .482 OPS against.  Sounds like Keeper of All Pitching Knowledge Joe Schwarz may have an article on Wacha coming out soon at The Athletic, so if you are subscribed over there you might keep an eye out for that.  Tara and I talked about Wacha’s run last night on Gateway and you do start to wonder a little bit if Wacha’s great stretch, coupled with the always-looming injury issue, does make him a trade candidate.  After all, it’s a little surprising they’ve never locked Wacha into a long-term deal, especially when they aren’t really shy about doing that.

Goat: Harrison Bader.  Not exactly the birthday Bader would have liked, as he went 0-4 with three strikeouts.  Of course, it also happened during an almost no-hitter, so nobody was really talking about it.  So he’s got that going for him, which is nice.

Notes: Marcell Ozuna provided almost all the offense again in this one, ripping a grand slam in the first inning.  As Benjamin Hochman noted, it was a rare “natural” slam, joining a few legendary Cardinals and Todd Zeile.  I actually was at the game where Albert Pujols did this against the Mets in 2002 but I had no idea it was really that rare.  Ozuna also drew a walk as he pretty much had a great all-around weekend, save maybe one fielding issue in Friday’s game.

Pham had two hits here.  If he’s coming out of his slide and Ozuna is getting hot, couple that with a Matt Carpenter that works and the return of Yadier Molina and maybe this offense is going to get going.  Which probably means it’s about time for something else to go wrong.

As noted, both Yadi and Carlos Martinez will be back on the field Tuesday.  I’m still not sure what we’ll get out of Martinez, especially after this report, and as Tara pointed out there’s not a great track record this year of pitchers returning from the DL and, you know, staying off the DL, but if he can quickly get on track in a start or two, the rotation gets even that much better.  Which is saying something given as well as the starters have been pitching.  Something to look forward to!

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My wife and I have a number of TV shows that we record throughout the year, mainly of the superhero variety.  We tend not to watch them, however, until the kids get to bed which means we usually have stuff to watch because we just can’t keep up watching one, maybe two shows 3-4 times a week.  So last night, when my wife asked it we wanted to watch something, I did the mental calculus and figured, with this team–almost any team, really–being down three runs with just the ninth to go, we were safe to get started checking out an episode of Arrow.

I didn’t realize that the real superheroes were wearing red, not green.

Seriously, though, what are the odds that the team that scored four in the first, then frittered that away before adding another, the team that had been so offensively challenged for basically the entire season, would then put up five runs without the Pirates getting an out in the ninth?  I mean, that’s kinda the expectation of the Cardinal bullpen, not the Cardinal hitters, isn’t it?

Our Hero, as it has a lot recently, goes to Yairo Munoz.  You walk it off with a three-run bomb, you get the title.  That wasn’t all Munoz did offensively, as he drove in two runs in that big first inning with a double.  So five RBI for the rookie, who is now hitting .314.  Since his recall after Paul DeJong‘s injury, Munoz is hitting .424/.457/.636 and his two home runs have come in the last four days.  We talked right after DeJong’s injury about the power struggle that seemed to be going on between the manager and the front office but Munoz’s production has definitely settled that question.

His defense is still a work in progress, of course.  He made an error and had another play that could have been one soon after, but he was able to regroup and help turn a key double play in the seventh that kept the game tied, at least for another inning.  I know we’ve said that there are only so many places you can sacrifice defense for offense around the diamond but, especially given the options, I don’t think Munoz has anything really to worry about.

Of course, Munoz’s homer was the capper but there was a lot more work done there in the ninth.  The most important, besides Munoz’s blast, was the fact that Luke Voit, called up earlier in the day in a bout of transactions that we’ll talk about in a bit, finally got his first AB in 2018 after coming up and going down earlier in the year without getting a chance to take some cuts.  Voit used that AB wisely with a bases-loaded single that drove in two, cut the lead to one, and set the stage for Munoz.  Voit has actually been struggling at Memphis which made his promotion a bit of a head-scratcher but maybe the big league life will invigorate him.  So far, so good.

You can’t dramatically out of a hole unless you dig it first, though, which leads us to a discussion of the bullpen.  First off, we probably should note that this wasn’t Jack Flaherty‘s best outing.  Given four runs in the bottom of the first, he let Pittsburgh chip away here and there, giving up an RBI single in the second, an RBI double in the fourth, and a two-run home run to Josh Bell in the fifth.  He threw over 100 pitches in those five innings, which isn’t really the pace you want to see out of any pitcher, and while he didn’t walk any, he allowed seven hits.  He got five strikeouts, which helped limit the damage, but worked slow and overall didn’t seem like the dynamic guy we are starting to get used to.  As a rookie, it’s not surprising he may fluctuate in his dominance from start to start.

He left four innings for the bullpen to cover, though, which is a dangerous thing.  It started off well as the Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons redeemed himself a little bit for that blast Christian Yelich hit Wednesday, getting the first two batters he faced out, one on a strikeout that saw his stuff moving everywhere in a manner that really did remind us of last year’s Patron Pitcher.  With a one-run lead courtesy of a Greg Garcia single in the bottom of the fifth, you are walking a tightrope but as good as Lyons has looked and given the fact that he’s usually solid against righties as well, leaving him in to finish the frame would have been my preference.  Instead, Mike Matheny made it 14 of 21 appearances of less than an inning for Lyons, going to get John Brebbia.

Brebbia walked his first guy then gave up a drive I was initially sure had given Pittsburgh the lead only to see it settle into Harrison Bader‘s glove.  Brebbia came back out for the seventh (which did make sense) and got the first out, then gave up a single that turned into a double when the ball kicked off Munoz’s knee then another single that Munoz couldn’t quite make a play on.

Runners on the corners, one out, seventh inning.  The problem with not having a lot of reliable arms out there in the bullpen is that Matheny tends to then rely on the same arms over and over.  And the main same arm is Jordan Hicks, who came into this one.

In his first eight appearances in May, Hicks threw 97 pitches over 19 days, which averages out to 5.11 pitches per day, a stat that probably means nothing but we’re throwing it in for comparison’s sake.  He’s thrown, counting last night’s 30, 120 pitches in his last six outings, covering 12 days, or 10 pitches per day.  (For comparison, he threw 213 in the first month of the season over 32 days, or 6.66 pitches per day.)  Overall, he’s being effective, but it worries me that he’s going to be used too much, that he’s going to wind up being damaged.

Last night, Hicks walked the first batter, then got a double play to end the seventh.  Given that all took seven pitches and the state of the bullpen, it’s not surprising that he returned for the eighth, though a seven-pitch night wouldn’t have been terrible for him personally.  Anyway, Colin Moran singles to start the inning and Gregory Polanco doubled to tie the game.  While Bud Norris had been stretching before this, once the Pirates tied the game, the FOX Sports Midwest cameras panned over to the bullpen and showed no one warming up.

Which was mind-boggling to many of us on Twitter.  Hicks had faced four batters, three had reached, and he was up to 11 pitches.  The game was tied and while I’m not saying you had to replace him right there, having someone getting ready would have seemed like a smart thing.

Hicks got Jordy Mercer to fly out but then walked Adam Frazier on a full count.  I was personally pretty sure that was it–I think the cameras indicated pitchers were warming by this time–and sure enough, the cameras swung to the dugout to watch someone emerge.  But instead of the manager making a change, it was Mike Maddux coming out to have a chat.

Hicks got the next batter to fly out and finally the manager made the move after 30 pitches, his high for the season.  Again, I get that there aren’t really a lot of reliable options down there and I’m not sure that other moves would have worked better, but I still wonder about what all this is going to do to Hicks in the future.

Hicks gets our Goat because he let the game get tied and put those go-ahead runs on but it was Bud Norris who actually did the damage.  Norris, who hadn’t pitched since Sunday against the Brewers, ran the count full on Francisco Cervelli before Cervelli, who is carrying on in the fine Pittsburgh tradition of having players that just kill the Cardinals, deposited one over the left field wall, giving the Pirates the three-run lead.

I have to wonder a little about Norris, because then the manager came immediately out to make a change and bring in Mike Mayers (another one of those transactions).  As noted, Norris hadn’t thrown since Sunday.  He’d thrown seven pitches here and while the game seemed out of reach, letting him at least finish the inning wouldn’t seem to be outlandish.  It wouldn’t keep him from throwing again tomorrow, for instance.  Sure, someone else like Mayers could take the ninth, but why make this move here?  And, more importantly, why were you prepared to make this move here?  Norris looked good against the Brewers over the weekend so you wouldn’t necessarily think there’s a physical issue, but after leaving Hicks out there for so long, the quick hook for Norris was pretty noticeable.

Overall, even though all the hits didn’t really pan out, it wasn’t a bad night for the office.  Matt Carpenter had two hits, Bader had three.  Dexter Fowler had another multi-hit game and drove in two runs early with a base hit.  You had Munoz’s two hits and Garcia chipped in two as well, so the hit total piled up.

The exciting ending to the game helped paper over, at least for a little while, the earlier news of the day.  Voit, Mayers, and Austin Gomber came up while Tyler O’Neill and John Gant went to Memphis and, unfortunately, Alex Reyes returned to the disabled list.  Reyes’s lat strain was termed significant by GM Michael Girsch and they were expecting Reyes to miss a number of starts.  Either they are getting better with their messaging or we may not see Reyes again this season, given that Carlos Martinez had a similar issue and was only supposed to miss one start.  That one has turned into four and while he’ll probably wind up throwing Tuesday against the Marlins, he wasn’t completely dominant last night and another rehab start can’t be completely ruled out.  (Put it this way, another rehab start might be best, even though that’s not likely what’s going to happen.)

To lose Reyes just after getting him back is heartbreaking not only for the fans but for Reyes himself.  We were so excited to get a chance to finally see the phenom only to have that taken away from us.  Reyes was pumped about getting a chance to pitch regularly in the majors and now has to wonder if it’s ever going to all come together for him.  Hopefully he can rebound from this and be fine in the second half of the season but all our discussions about a six man rotation and what do the Cardinals do with all their pitching talent are effectively moot.  By time Reyes is ready to return, we’ll have a lot more data and possibly even a trade that fixes the problem.  Or they’ll start him out in the bullpen again to ease him into things.  Unfortunately, we’ll just have to wait and see.

All the Cards can do now is move forward.  A big win like last night is a good first step but we’ve seen that they aren’t really a momentum team.  Maybe they can be tonight as Miles Mikolas takes the bump against Jamison Taillon.  Taillon’s last start was against the Cards, when he allowed three runs in 6.1 innings in a no-decision.  Hopefully the offense can keep up what they were doing last night and we can start to feel like the end of the tunnel is coming.  If nothing else, Yadier Molina might be back by the middle of next week, which could be a nice boost!

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As was pointed out on Twitter, it was four years ago today that Oscar Taveras made his major league debut.  Called up to join a team that was just barely over .500 and four games back in the standings, Tavares had been the object of many fans’ dreams for most of the season.  Why were we having to deal with end-game Allen Craig when Taveras was right there ready to plug into the lineup?

Finally, the call came and there wasn’t a game more anticipated on the calendar.  We all remember that game against the Giants, especially his legendary home run as the rain began to come.  It seemed like maybe, just maybe, the solution had been found.

We know, in retrospect, that wasn’t the case.  Taveras struggled over the next month, was sent back to Memphis, returned after a couple of weeks, and hit .249 with two homers the rest of the way.  And you can argue that he wasn’t helped by Mike Matheny‘s usage and other issues, which is completely fair, but that season boiled down to one thing.  Oscar Taveras wasn’t the complete answer to the team’s woes.

The most anticipated game since that debut probably came yesterday as Alex Reyes took the mound for the first time in over a year and a half.  Yes, Reyes had already made his major league debut and there was a lot of excitement and hype around his arrival in 2016, but I think folks looked even more toward this one, given his loss last season and his dominance throughout the minors as he did his rehab work.  Even though starting pitching is the strength of this team, the idea of adding Reyes into the mix seemed to spark an idea of “now here we go” among some.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

The easy comment is, of course, that the Milwaukee Brewers are better, much better, than anything that Reyes saw while at Memphis or Springfield or the like.  There’s a lot to that.  You can’t expect him to come out and strike out 13 while allowing just one run at the big league level, especially his first time out.  The level of competition has to come into play here.

What was more concerning to everyone, including apparently the coaching staff, was the drop in velocity that Reyes had as the game progressed.  Our friend Zach Gifford, who finds this stuff right in his wheelhouse, compared the drop to Adam Wainwright‘s first start, which as we know has led to a troubled season for the former ace.

Reyes also just went four innings, being pinch-hit for with Greg Garcia in the fifth as the Cards had a chance to score that didn’t pan out.  I think Garcia was going to hit anyway as the club was being cautious with Reyes.  He threw 73 pitches in his four frames, walking two and allowing three hits.  He only had one true 1-2-3 inning, his last, though he only faced three hitters in the first and the third as well, he just had those runners erased on the basepaths.  (But still not as a caught stealing–the Cards remain 0-for-2018 there.  A pickoff removed one in the first and Carson Kelly had a great recovery of a wild pitch and got Lorenzo Cain trying to advance on it.  Though how Cain’s out is recorded in the box score, I don’t know.  It’s not as a caught stealing, though it probably should have been.  There’s no obvious notation of it either, which makes it harder to prove this box score.  Hmmm.)

After the game, both Reyes and the coaching staff said that he was fine, though he will be examined today after the Cardinals return to St. Louis.  I think it’s fair to believe Reyes was a bit fired up early on and the fastball decreased as the adrenaline wore off, though you’d expect to see a leveling off in that graph Zach presented if that were the case.  Reyes also threw three pitches 95 plus to end his time after a brief visit from the trainer, so it’s also reasonable he was trying to conserve some energy through his time out there as well.  Lots of different possibilities.  Hopefully today’s examination rules out all the injury ones.

However, Reyes could have been just as dominant as he was in Memphis on Thursday and there’s a strong chance he wouldn’t have won this game.  The Cardinals didn’t get on the board until the seventh, when Harrison Bader greeted Jeremy Jeffress with a booming blast.  The Cards couldn’t do anything against Junior Guerra and, in fact, put more runners on in three innings against the vaunted Milwaukee bullpen than they did in six innings against Guerra.  Jeffress allowed Bader’s homer then a single by Dexter Fowler (our Hero of the day, more on him in a bit) and Yairo Munoz reached on an error.  Carson Kelly bunted them over a base (his second sacrifice bunt of the day) and Tommy Pham, who had the day off, pinch-hit and had a sacrifice fly that was a large part due to Fowler’s baserunning than the depth of the fly ball.

The Cardinals also had chances against superstud reliever Josh Hader, getting two hits and drawing two walks in his 1.2 innings.  It got to the point where the Brewers had to remove him from the game and bring in Corey Knubel to face Jose Martinez, who ran the count to 3-1 before striking out to end the game.  Still, after the way the bottom of the seventh unfolded, to see them put up a fight was heartening.  So often they could have just gone quietly through the eighth and ninth, but they had a chance up until the last pitch.

Before Tuesday’s game, I Tweeted about Francisco Pena and how he’d been in a slump since his last three hit game.  He went out and had three hits, including a homer.  So Wednesday, I tried again:

Not only did Fowler have a multi-hit game, he had three hits and scored the go-ahead run.  I don’t know that those results are a harbinger or just a good day, but either way it was nice to see.  And I have to come up with a different tweet for today, apparently.

Back to that bottom of the seventh, though.  The Cardinals had just taken a one run lead.  After not scoring for the first six innings, they are just nine outs away from taking the series against the divisional leaders.  The Patron Pitcher of the Blog comes in, throws one pitch, and Christian Yelich ties the game.  For that, you have to give Tyler Lyons the Goat, as much as it pains me to do so.

We’re embedding a lot of Tweets today, but given that the game was only on Facebook Live there were plenty of conversations going on during it.  I looked up some of Lyons’s usage and I have to wonder if the way he’s being used this year is leading to some of his problems.

Jon Doble did his own research and he feels like Lyons may just be overused.

It’s fair to say that Lyons has struggled against lefties this season.  I mean, he’s only thrown 12 total innings this year so it’s a bit of a small sample, but his line against lefties is .345/.441/.552.  That’s not good, especially since he’s faced more lefties than righties.  Last year, it’s true, he was dominant against left-handed batters and he’s been strong in his career against them, but he’s also been a starter or long relief man for much of it.  He’s rarely been that guy that has to come get a lefty out and then that’s it.  That’s not all there is to it–Lyons at least started the seventh, though maybe he was already told he just had one batter–but you wonder if he’d go about things differently if he knew like last year he was going to be out there for an inning or more rather than just one hitter.

Again, that’s not likely the entire cause.  He’s been on the DL, so injuries have led to some of the results.  He’s not been scored on in 14 of his 20 appearances and his inherited runners scored rate is 21%, so he’s been effective at times.  It just seems that when he blows up, he blows up big.  Three of the six times he’s allowed runs, he’s allowed two of them.  Those three games he pitched a total of 1.1 innings, so that’ll give your ERA a huge kick real quick.

I don’t know what the answer is for the Patron Pitcher.  I think there’s still some good in him but he’s got to figure out what he’s doing wrong against left-handers.  And it’d be nice if Mike Matheny didn’t run him completely into the ground as well.

Sam Tuivailala came in for the third time in four days and gave up three hits and a run in relief of Lyons.  He faced the minimum in his second frame as his own error was erased on a double play.  Tui’s doing well this season and I hope it continues, but he needs a little better spacing out as well.

Which is the problem, right?  It might have been nice if Jordan Hicks hadn’t thrown two innings (or maybe at all, looking at his usage) in a game that was well in hand Tuesday night so that maybe he’d been available here.  However, how many arms down there in the pen do you fully trust?  Hicks, Bud Norris (who was being saved for probably the eighth and ninth if the Cards could keep their lead), and that’s probably it.  Tui is close to that, but it’s tough to completely believe in him.  John Gant had pitched long relief in this one and did fine, so we’ll see how he does in the bullpen.  Those arms can be really, really good down there, but they can also blow up when they are needed.

Still, if the offense would put up some runs, the relievers might not have such high-leverage situations to deal with all the time.  Fowler had his three hits and Munoz had two hits plus reaching on the error.  (How about Munoz raising his average to .304 after being so dreadful to start the season?)  That was five of the eight hits the Cardinals had, though, and when your 6 and 7 hitters are doing the damage, that’s hard because 8-9 aren’t likely going to be able to add on.

Martinez went 0-4.  Tyler O’Neill, who was a late replacement for Marcell Ozuna who was dealing with a jammed finger, went 0-4 with two strikeouts.  (I have to think O’Neill may get back to Memphis for a while to play regularly, because right now I’m not sure they can keep running him out there and hoping that he can learn the league with so many other holes.)  All in all, there just wasn’t much going on and while some of that’s a credit to Guerra, it happens to regularly to just completely tip your cap to him.

Cards get to see the Pirates for the second weekend in a row but this time they get to host them.  It’ll be the first time Pittsburgh has made it to Busch Stadium this season and hopefully the Redbirds aren’t gracious hosts.  Jack Flaherty takes the mound tonight against Trevor Williams.  Hopefully the bats start clicking, but it feels like we say that every day!  Also, don’t forget to make your picks in The Cardinal Six!

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Marking McGwire: #27

Home run #: 27

Date: May 30

Opponent: San Diego Padres

Location: Qualcomm Stadium

Pitcher: Andy Ashby

Score: 0-0

Inning: 1

Outs: 2

Runners on: 0

Distance: 423 feet

End of day Sammy Sosa total: 13

End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 18

We said yesterday that it’s tough for anyone to hit a home run every day.  But when you are on your way to the home run record, you can’t take too many days off.  Our hero didn’t waste any time adding to his tally after his ninth-inning shot the night before.

Andy Ashby took the mound, trying to build on the good start Joey Hamilton had the night before.  He got Willie McGee to strike out and Delino DeShields to pop out, but then Mark McGwire stepped in.  Ashby got McGwire to foul off the first pitch but that was as much as he could do against the Cardinal slugger.

While this might have seemed to be a harbinger of another offensive explosion, it was not to be.  Juan Acevado did a good job keeping the Padres off the board early on and the Cardinals scored again in the third, when DeShields singled with one out and the Padres walked McGwire on a full count.  After Ray Lankford flew out, Brian Jordan tacked on a run with an RBI single.

That was all the Cardinal scoring though as Ashby went the distance in this one.  Meanwhile, San Diego struck for their first run in the fifth, when Acevado allowed a one-out single to Greg Myers and wild pitched him to second.  Andy Sheets then followed with a single, breaking the seal and putting the Padres down 2-1.

That’s the way it looked in the eighth when Curtis King relieved John Frascatore.  King got Quilvio Veras to ground out but Steve Finley singled and went to second on a Tony Gwynn groundout.  The extra base really didn’t matter, though, because Ken Caminiti followed up with a ringing double to right center, plating Finley and tying the game up.

The Cards got out of that mess but turned to Jeff Brantley in the ninth and, as we know, that rarely seemed to work out in 1998.  It wasn’t entirely his fault, though, as Carlos Hernandez, a couple of years before he finished his career not catching Rick Ankiel in the 2000 playoffs, wound up on second on an error by DeShields.  Sheets bunted Hernandez to third and Mark Sweeney, pinch-hitting for Ashby, worked a full count before drawing a walk.  With two on and one out, Veras also got the count full before singling to right, bringing in Hernandez and giving the Padres their 34th win of the year.

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Hey, Wacha This!

The uneven, herky-jerky ride of the 2018 St. Louis Cardinals lurched back upwards last night, taking a game from the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers and moving to four games behind them, staying 1/2 game behind the Chicago Cubs.  As with a lot of wins this season, it was fronted by really good starting pitching, with just enough offense (well, maybe a bit more than that) to get the W.

That W, in large part, stood for Michael Wacha.  He went 6.2 innings and allowed just two hits, though four walks against three strikeouts wasn’t the ratio you’d care to see.  The only run charged to him came after he left, when Sam Tuivailala gave up a base hit and allowed an inherited runner to score.  Tui was able to strike out Lorenzo Cain, however, to keep things where they were at.

Watching Wacha in the bottom of the sixth, I noted on Twitter that I wouldn’t have run him out there for the seventh.  He seemed to be tiring, going to a full count on the last three batters of the frame and walking one of them.  He was approaching 90 pitches as well and, given Wacha’s history, I thought another time through the order might not be good.  After all, last year he had a slash line of .331/.396/.504 the third time through and a .722 OPS against on ABs in the 76-100 pitch range.

It’s a smaller sample, but actually Wacha’s been much better in those situations this season.  The third time through this season has generated a .200/.226/.300 mark and that 76-100 pitch range has a .470 OPS against.  I still think that I probably would have pulled him after six, but given the issues with the bullpen, there’s a better case to keeping him in the game than I expected.

We’ll go with Wacha as the Hero, but we easily could have gone with Harrison Bader.  Bader hit a home run in the top of the second to open the scoring and tacked on two other singles to boot.  Always good to see Bader have a strong game against a right-handed pitcher.  We know he can do damage against lefties but games like this means you have less concerns about seeing him out there more regularly.  Assuming there is a spot, which isn’t always possible with the players this team has that man the outfield.

Speaking of three-hit nights, here was an apparently ill-advised Tweet I sent out before the game:

It was completely true but apparently Francisco Pena didn’t care for being called out.  He also went three-for-four with a home run in the eighth that made the Mobil On The Run folks pay up (so go get your cheap drinks if you are in the St. Louis area).  Pena is actually hitting .317 since Yadier Molina went down, which is fairly crazy.  Yes, much of that is concentrated–nine of the 13 hits come in three games–but it’s still more than we ever thought we’d get out of Pena.

Here’s the problem.  Carson Kelly was activated Saturday and has played once since then.  He’ll probably play today with a day game and it doesn’t hurt that he recently caught Alex Reyes.  However, if Kelly is now the backup to basically a career minor leaguer and journeyman backup type, why exactly do we have him?  I’m not saying that Kelly is going to be some potent force, but the whole idea was that when Molina went down, Kelly would get his time.  Instead, he’s been overshadowed by Pena.  More and more, I feel like Kelly is going to be part of some deal this deadline, especially with Andrew Knizner starting to hold his own in Memphis.  Pena could be the backup to Molina this year and probably next, with Knizner hopefully moving into that role mid-season or so.  It’s very true Knizner’s timetable works better in relation to Molina’s contract.

Matt Carpenter walked twice and hit a home run.  You know, as Carpenter does.  Jordan Hicks threw two innings and struck out four batters.  We have talked about Hicks’s inability to get the strikeout but he seems to be adapting.  Counting last night, in his last five games he’s thrown seven innings, allowed one hit, walked two, and struck out eight.  If he’s getting his command and his deception going, the league could be in trouble.  Of course, so could Hicks, as Mike Matheny might not able to resist running him out there over and over.  But soon, not today but soon, we’ll have a game started by Reyes and perhaps finished (or at least in the same game) by Hicks.  And won’t that be something.

Our Goat for the day is becoming a familiar name in this area.  Tommy Pham went 0-5, struck out twice, and his bad break on a ball in the fifth inning led to the breakup of Wacha’s nascent no-hitter.  We’ve talked about Pham’s struggles recently, but the whole month of May has actually been a problem for him.  He was hitting .341 at the end of April and now currently stands at .271.  He’s hitting .198 for the month which is probably a little more than a slump.  Half his hits (two doubles, six homers) are of the extra-base variety so if he can hit, he can generate his power, but in his last eight starts he’s hitting .030 (2-33) with 15 strikeouts.  That’s not the Pham we know and love.

You’d like to think that, with the rotation looking like it’s going to be stellar pretty soon, Pham and Marcell Ozuna will kick in and they along with Carpenter will carry the offense and put this team on an elevator up to the top.  However, right now that’s just a hope.  Ozuna went 0-3 and still doesn’t seem like he’s got it figured out.  Pham has never really had a month this bad–some of his 2016 months were rough, but in smaller samples.  Dexter Fowler will probably return today or tomorrow from his knee problem, but there’s no particular reason to think he’ll find his game.  There are a lot of offensive issues out there and while the answers are possibly already on the roster, it’s going to take someone finding the adjustments and getting the players to buy in.  Otherwise, there are going to be a lot of very good pitching performances wasted.

Alex Reyes goes today!  You may have heard that.  You may also know that it’s on Facebook, with former Cardinal Jason Motte having his first broadcast experience.  Honestly, I’m not as worked up about the whole Facebook thing as some folks are.  I think I may have watched a little of one of them, but basically I’m not going to be able to see an afternoon game during the middle of the week on FSMW.  I really can’t watch it on Facebook either but I’ve got a better chance of being able to check in occasionally.  MLB does need to be open to various media in order to get their product out there.  Yes, going on Facebook probably isn’t really the way to get “the kids” to watch, as most of them don’t hang out there, but it’s something and hopefully it allows the powers that be to find different avenues to get younger fans excited about the game.

Reyes is up against Junior Guerra as he makes his return from Tommy John surgery.  We know expectations are through the roof with Reyes, but we do need to remember that he’s (as far as we know) human and TJ surgery is still a big deal.  He was able to handle minor leaguers but he’s going to be facing a division-leading team today.  I’m sure he’ll do fine, but let’s not expect one hit and 13 strikeouts, shall we?  As for Guerra, he limited the Cardinals to one run in 5.1 innings in his first start of the season.  He’s been pretty good this year, with his last outing two earned in six against the Mets.

No matter what, there will be plenty of reaction to today’s game.  Let’s see if Reyes can bring home a series win in his debut!

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Marking McGwire: #26

Home run #: 26

Date: May 29

Opponent: San Diego Padres

Location: Qualcomm Stadium

Pitcher: Dan Miceli

Score: 6-0

Inning: 9

Outs: 1

Runners on: 1

Distance: 388 feet

End of day Sammy Sosa total: 13

End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 18

Even someone like Mark McGwire in 1998, when he seemed to be doing his best superhero impression, wasn’t able to hit a home run every single day, no matter what that stretch the week before might have suggested.  After a run of six homers in five days, Big Mac cooled off a bit for a couple of days.  That bat would not be denied for long, though.

After two games against Colorado in Busch, the Cardinals decamped for the West Coast, going up against a Padres team that was destined to play very, very deep into October.  I don’t remember Jack Murphy–or Qualcomm as it was being called at this point in time–being the pitcher’s park that Petco has the reputation for being but San Diego was a good team and had a solid chance of locking down the potent Cardinal offense.

In this one, they did do that for a while.  Joey Hamilton went up against Mark Petkovsek and the two pitchers swapped zeroes for a large portion of the game.  McGwire walked in the first with two outs but was stranded when Ray Lankford struck out.  McGwire came up in the top of the third with two on and two out, but wound up striking out.

Meanwhile, Petkovsek was dealing as well.  I mean, he struck out Tony Gwynn swinging to end the first.  Tony Gwynn!  You know it’s your night when something like that happens.  Steve Finley singled and was caught stealing before that Gwynn strikeout and the next Padre didn’t reach base until the bottom of the fifth, when Greg Vaughn singled, but Petkovsek then got Wally Joyner to bounce into a double play.

The Cardinals weren’t doing much better, occasionally getting a hit off of Hamilton but not having it pay off.  McGwire struck out again with one out in the sixth, for instance, in the middle of a 1-2-3 inning.  It took until the eighth for anything to really get traction.

Tom Pagnozzi led off the eighth with a strikeout, but Petkovsek, perhaps in the “I’ll do it myself” mindset, singled.  It tells you the difference in today’s game that Petkovsek wasn’t immediately lifted for a pinch-runner, I think.  Anyway, Ron Gant and Delino Deshields both walked, loading the bases for McGwire.

There is absolutely no way, in today’s reliever-dominated game, that Hamilton would have stayed in after walking two guys in front of the major league home run leader.  Odds are, he’d have been gone a long time before, probably at least after the Petkovsek single.  In 1998, when pitching staffs weren’t as deep and starters did more, he stayed in the game and McGwire made him pay, though not as much has he could have.  Instead, he roped a double to deep center, scoring two and putting runners on second and third.  An intentional walk to Lankford followed and finally Hamilton went and took a seat.

Brian Boehringer came in and struck out Brian Jordan, giving the Padres hope that the game could be salvaged.  Instead, John Mabry followed with a two-run single and Royce Clayton did the same.  Pagnozzi drew a walk, putting two on, but Petkovsek figured six was enough and flew out to center.

Petkovsek made quick work of the Pads in the eighth and the offense got another shot in the ninth.  Gant struck out but Deshields wound up at second when Ken Caminti booted a grounder.  With the chasm between the teams large, Dan Miceli went ahead and pitched to McGwire instead of putting him on.  Miceli’s first pitch was rocketed to deep left-center, putting two more runs on the board for St. Louis.

Kent Bottenfield wound up pitching the ninth and giving up three runs, including a Vaughn homer, but it made no difference.  The Cards had exploded late and McGwire had added to his record of homers before June 1.

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A Mixed Bag of Games

The Memorial Day weekend is always one that I wind up not spending much time writing posts (though I did prep a couple more in our Marking McGwire series) and sometimes don’t even get a chance to watch all the games.  That has never stopped us from talking about them before, of course, but it’s not like we can really draw a lot of conclusions from a 2-2 run of games.  This team, man, this team.

Friday (8-1 loss at Pittsburgh)

Hero: Tommy Pham, I guess.  His solo homer was the only thing sparing the Cards from being shut out, though it was his only hit.  Since the last game of the Philadelphia series and through Monday’s game, Pham is 2-28 with a double and this homer (he also has just one walk and 13 strikeouts).  This offense has enough problems when Pham is going well.  It has some serious issues when Pham is slumping.

Goat: There were a few 0-fers that could be considered here, but we’ll go with Francisco Pena, because not only was he 0-3, he stranded three runners and hit into a double play.  Granted, you don’t go to Pena for offense usually, but a timely hit could have at least put a couple more runs on the board.

Notes: The bats weren’t completely quiet in this one as Marcell Ozuna and Jedd Gyorko both had two hits and Ozuna and Dexter Fowler had a double.  There weren’t enough of them strung together to get runs in, though, and while John Gant held the line for a while, he eventually crumbled in the sixth and there was nothing to back him up.

I don’t think you can fault Gant too much for this one.  Not only did he not get any run support, but he left the game with the score 1-0 and two runners on base.  Yes, he allowed the opposite pitcher, Joe Musgrove, to lead off the sixth with a single and that was the run on the board after Josh Harrison doubled, but with runners on the corners and one out, a well placed ground ball gets you out of it.  Even a fly ball could have made it 2-0 but you’d have two outs.  Instead, Brett Cecil gave up that sacrifice fly then a triple to bring the other runner in before getting the last out.

Cecil ran hot and cold last year and looks like he might be going to do the same this year.  He had actually only been scored on in one game before this one (because he allowed a run of his own in the seventh) but 40% of his inherited runners score and that is a little high.  I’m not really sure what an average rate would be, but the worst team rate last year was Texas at 40%, so I feel confident in saying Cecil’s having trouble in that category.  And that’s before Monday’s outing as well, which we’ll get to later.

The problem again–and I remember us talking about this last year–is that Mike Matheny wants to use Cecil as a lefty specialist and, in truth, Cecil should be a good lefty specialist, but lefties aren’t being fooled by him.  Corey Dickerson, who hit the triple, was a lefty.  Austin Meadows, who singled to lead off the next inning and was Cecil’s last batter, was a lefty.  Before Monday’s outing against the Brewers, lefties had a line of .333/.412/.533 against Cecil this year in 17 plate appearances.  He’s only got five plate appearances against righties and while he’s walked two of them, he also hasn’t given up a hit against them.  You’d like to see Cecil figure it out against left-handers but last year lefties had a .936 OPS against him while righties–who he actually faced more often–had a .561 OPS.  It’s not like he’s never been able to figure them out–you only have to go back to 2016 to find a year when he had a better OPS against versus left-handers–but he’s not been able to get them out consistently while he’s been in St. Louis.  Why is a very excellent question.

The bullpen overall struggled here, which at least didn’t ruin a winnable game.  After Cecil’s issues, John Brebbia came in and allowed Cecil’s run to score plus two of his own.  I was listening to the Cardinals 24/7 Podcast and they were talking about how well Brebbia was pitching, which shows you why it is so important to make a good first impression.  Brebbia had a scoreless inning Monday, but in the six games before that (from May 2 until Friday), he had a 9.00 ERA in eight innings with a slash line against of .294/.351/.588.  We worried a lot last year and over the winter that the league might figure Brebbia out, that he didn’t necessarily have the arsenal to really overcome that.  I know Joe Schwarz was recently on the Brebbia bandwagon, though I can’t find the article (might have been some of his Athletic work), but the trend isn’t good for the reliever.  Maybe after he gets the beard fully grown.

Then there was Greg Holland.  For once, there should have been no issues with a Holland appearance, as down 6-1 in the bottom of the eighth would seem to be the best time to use him.  However, even that limited stress situation didn’t help him.  He allowed back-to-back triples (though apparently there was some help on one of those by Ozuna’s fielding) and a single to make his final line one inning, three hits, two runs.  That apparently was enough even for Holland, who went on the disabled list the next day with a hip impingement.  Whether this is something he’s been keeping quiet (since he’s been consistently stating that he’s fine) and is a real cause or is basically a way to get him off the roster for a while, I don’t know.  I do know that he’ll probably be out for a couple of weeks at least and then I believe they’ll insist on a minimum of two minor league outings, possibly more depending on the results.  I would imagine Holland wouldn’t return until the end of June, at the best.  Which means that the odds of him even approaching value on that contract are really, really slim.

Saturday (4-1 win at Pittsburgh)

Hero: Matt Carpenter.  He led off the game with a home run, which helped give a bit of a jolt to this team and break it out of its doldrums, plus added another hit later on.  The home run wasn’t a game breaker–the Pirates scored in the bottom of the inning–but it did give some early hope and allowed us not to worry about how long it was going to take to get on the board.

Goat: Jedd Gyorko.  Rough night for Gyorko, who went 0-4 with two strikeouts and three left on base.  Interestingly enough, he played second base while Carpenter played third, which isn’t the configuration you’d expect to see often.  It also has to make Kolten Wong feel like he’s further and further from the plans of the team, but hitting .175 is going to have some repercussions.

Notes: First off, can I say while I appreciate the reason and the cause for them, the Memorial Day uniforms were a bland and boring mess?  My wife asked why they were wearing black and white ones.  The caps were OK, I guess, but the olive green birds and numbers on a gray road jersey?  It felt dull and lifeless, which given how the Cardinals usually play might have been appropriate but still wasn’t really visually appealing.  I understand why they wanted to get away from the reds and whites and blues here, but there’s got to be something better.

Jack Flaherty didn’t pitch as well as he did last time out, but you don’t expect that kind of dominance in every appearance for any pitcher.  (At least, not until Alex Reyes gets here.)  Six innings, one run, four strikeouts will do most every time and, as people have consistently noted, he has nothing left to prove in Memphis and definitely should be in the major leagues.  That said, if it happens that he goes to Memphis because of the return of Reyes, let’s pump the breaks on calling this a travesty and an outrage.  This is not sending him down so that a potentially-out-of-gas Adam Wainwright can get back into the rotation.  There are six high-quality guys for five slots and someone is going to be unfairly treated unless the Cards go to some hybrid six-man rotation and I don’t really think they will.  (Something Tara and I discussed on Gateway on Sunday.)

So if Flaherty goes down and Luke Weaver stays up, that might not be ideal but given where the players are in their career, the options, etc., it’s not the worst thing.  I’m not saying I advocate it, mind you, just that someone is going to not pitch in the big leagues as much as they probably should and Flaherty might be that guy.  It happens to rookies.

The bullpen continued to be Jekyll and Hyde with another strong performance in this one.  The Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons was activated (along with Carson Kelly) before this game and got one out, then Jordan Hicks went 1.2 innings.  Normally I wouldn’t have wanted to see Hicks go back out there after getting the two outs in the seventh, but he did so on three pitches so it’s hard NOT to have him remain in the game.  Bud Norris finished it up with a clean ninth for his 10th save.

Sunday (6-4 win at Pittsburgh)

Hero: Yairo Munoz.  Nobody on the offense really stood out, as Matt Carpenter was the only one that had multiple hits.  While Munoz also had a hit, it was his walk that was the big moment, drawing one with the bases loaded and the game tied at four in the eighth.  Carson Kelly gave some insurance with an RBI groundout but Munoz’s moment was big for a guy that had had his offensive issues earlier on in the season.

Goat: Tyler O’Neill.  The excitement around O’Neill has faded just a bit as he went 0-5 with four strikeouts.  You always knew that O’Neill was going to have issues with the K, but he has 16 strikeouts in 37 plate appearances through Monday, including a stretch in his last five games (three starts) where he’s been rung up 11 times in 15 PA.  That’s….not good.  It seems pretty clear that pitchers have found his weaknesses and now he needs to adjust them.  Of course, with the rest of the offense sputtering, it’s not like he is dragging the team down or immediately has to go to Memphis.

Notes: It’s great to see them win games like this because it doesn’t happen all that often.  We’ve seen them rally late occasionally, like when they got to the Mets in Busch, and we continue to hope that it’ll spark something, that it’ll get a run going or it is a sign that they are about to put some things together.  More often, it’s just a one-off and it definitely didn’t carry over this time either, but it’s something.  It was also good to see some of the young guys, like Munoz, Kelly, and Harrison Bader, as part of this rally.  That sort of experience can only be positive.

It was a bit of an off day for Miles Mikolas, at least by the final line.  He gave up more runs in this one than he had in his past four starts combined, but I do think it’s still pretty solid for him that the most he’s given up is four runs in any start.  He’s done that three times, his first two and this one, but if that’s the worst you do in a year, that’s not bad.  Most of the damage was done in the fifth, when an uncharacteristic walk led off the inning and things snowballed from there, including yet another triple by a Pirates hitter.  Is PNC Park just that conducive to triples or were the outfielders just in the wrong place?

I’m glad to see that not only is Sam Tuivailala starting to come into his own as a reliever but Mike Matheny is starting to trust him in bigger spots.  It was a one run game when Tui came into it and he needed to be able to hold the line, which he did.  Since the last time he was charged with a run, he’s thrown 5.1 innings with seven strikeouts and has stranded two of the three runners he’s inherited.  When you look past Holland and Cecil, maybe Brebbia as well, this bullpen has a chance to be a real lockdown group.  That said, it’s tough to look past those guys and they are going to have to play as well when they aren’t on the DL or Brebbia’s not in the minors, which may happen soon.  I wonder if John Gant would get the call to stay up and Brebbia go down when they need space, though they may want to keep Gant on a starter’s regimen.

Monday (8-3 loss at Milwaukee)

Hero: Yairo Munoz.  It’s a toss up between him and Matt Carpenter, because that was the only offense the Cards really had.  Munoz had a two-run homer to get the club on the board and Carpenter had two hits, including a solo homer that pulled the Cards within one.  Other than that, the team had three hits and the only other extra-base hit was Jedd Gyorko’s double with one out in the ninth.

Goat: Brett Cecil.  I’m not saying that the Cards would have rallied to win down 5-3, but Cecil made sure to take all the wind out of everyone’s sails by allowing a single to (lefty) Christian Yelich and then, after getting the next two outs (including a strikeout of lefty Travis Shaw), he intentionally walked Ryan Braun and then watched as Yelich and Braun pulled off a double steal that no one even made an attempt to stop.  The fact that the Cardinals have still not thrown out a baserunner is ridiculous and while the number of attempts against them is low, in part because of Yadier Molina‘s reputation while he was back there, this is going to keep happening with alarming frequency if they can’t figure a way out to stop it.

Of course, then Cecil allows a three-run shot to Jonathan Villar (who was hitting from the right side, which is his much weaker side) and it’s all fairly moot.

Notes: Luke Weaver’s outing wasn’t all that impressive, allowing four runs in four innings.  Weaver’s spot did come up in the top of the fifth and, with the score 4-2 at that point, perhaps Mike Matheny was trying to get a base runner on (though he hit Tyler O’Neill there instead of Greg Garcia when a solo homer wouldn’t have necessarily done much) but it also may have been an acknowledgement that it wasn’t Weaver’s day.  He threw 76 pitches in his four innings and allowed four runs on five hits with just three strikeouts.  He gave up a two-out single RBI single in the second, a homer to Yelich in the third, then got victimized in part by Jose Martinez‘s defense or lack thereof.

He should have gotten his opposite number Bruce Suter out, but Martinez not only didn’t come up with a liner but then, disgusted with himself, didn’t chase the ball down.  If he gets to it, perhaps one run doesn’t score.  The Cardinals were a bit lucky that the Brewers were extra-aggressive and Tyler Saladino was caught at home.  It could have been worse, I guess.

You’ve heard of a three act play?  Weaver’s year has been almost been a tale of three starts.

Starts W-L IP ERA K BB
1-3 2-0 17.1 2.08 17 5
4-7 0-2 18.0 9.00 15 10
8-10 1-2 19.0 1.89 18 3

Yesterday was start 11, which if things hold means that Weaver has gotten out of whack and will take another start or two before he gets into his rhythm again.  Looking at this runs, the walks seem to be what fluctuates.  When he’s attacking hitters, he’ll do well.  When he’s giving up more than a walk a start (and he gave up two yesterday in just four innings), it seems to go south on him.  We’ll see if that continues.  While Reyes will be back Wednesday, it’s not until Carlos Martinez returns in a week or so before serious decisions need to be made and that gives Weaver another start, maybe two, to break this cycle and make that a tough discussion.

Matheny’s been better of late about that “reliever under glass” thing, mainly because he doesn’t necessarily have an obvious guy to hold out (though partly because when folks like Holland and Cecil are struggling, you don’t really have as many options).  Mike Mayers pitched for the first time in five days here, which is not really egregious just worth noting, and allowed a run in two innings of work.  Though it should be noted that Mayers hasn’t pitched an entire inning without giving up a run since April 12, when he went three scoreless innings.  The only other times he’s not been touched were partial frames, like the 2/3rds and 1/3rds of an inning he pitched against the Royals.  Without that three inning stint, his season ERA is 3.37, which is still solid, but it’s going to be interesting to see going forward if clubs continue to pick at him or he can stop the bleeding.

Probably should be noted that Carson Kelly didn’t start in this one and has started just five games since he was promoted from Memphis after Yadi’s injury.  Sure, he was on the DL for part of that time, but the entire idea was that, if Molina went down for any length of time, Kelly would get the call to start and Pena would stay the backup.  Pena’s hitting surge helped (plus the Molina endorsement), but shouldn’t we see Kelly most of the time going forward from now until Molina’s return in a couple of weeks (my assumption–Molina’s ETA has not been announced)?  I don’t imagine this is what the front office expected when they called him up.  Then again, it took Munoz a while but it looks like he’s finally taken over short in Paul DeJong‘s absence.  Maybe Kelly still has a chance.

The Cardinals sit at 28-23, five games out and in third place.  Given the ups and downs of this team, it’s surprising that they are so much better, record-wise, than the 2017 version of the Cardinals.  Then again, if they were just 5-2 against the Reds instead of 7-0 this season, they are 26-25 and much more like the .500 team they feel like.  We continue to say the talent is there, but when will it come together?  We’re a quarter of the way through the season and nothing seems to be fully clicking yet.  They might be great at full throttle, but when will they get there?  The division is still winnable, especially with Milwaukee’s history of fading, but you can’t afford to get too far behind.  What John Mozeliak and company may want to do to give this team a kick in the pants, similar to their early June press conference last year, still remains to be seen.

Michael Wacha looks to continue his strong season against Zach Davies and the Brewers tonight.  The Cards saw Davies earlier this year and tagged him for seven runs (six earned) in 5.2 innings, his worst start so far this season.  I’m up for more of that, how about you?

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Marking McGwire: #25

Home run #: 25

Date: May 25

Opponent: Colorado Rockies

Location: Busch Stadium

Pitcher: John Thomson

Score: 3-0

Inning: 1

Outs: 2

Runners on: 0

Distance: 433 feet

End of day Sammy Sosa total: 11

End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 18

The number 25 never has been retired in St. Louis, given the suspicions and eventual confirmation of Mark McGwire‘s steroid use.  It wasn’t given out for a while, but it finally came back into use when McGwire returned to coach.  After he left for the Dodgers, David Bell picked it up as a coach as well before Dexter Fowler became the first player to wear it since McGwire left when he signed for the 2017 season.  That said, the number is still closely tied to Big Mac because he wore it during this campaign.

It also has a different meaning, one we referenced yesterday.  When McGwire went yard against the Rockies for #25, it set the record for most home runs before June 1.  It was another mark that Barry Bonds took down in 2001, but it’s still worth noting that McGwire’s number put him in the record books, which would not be the last time there were some interesting numerical connections in this historical season.

As for the game, there really wasn’t much to talk about.  Mike Busby had the Cards in quite a hole before they even got a chance to bat.  It was the year of the Blake Street Bombers and they put it on Busby to start the game.  After Neifi Perez and Ellis Burks got out, the big guys got to work.  Future Cardinal Larry Walker doubled, Vinny Castilla was hit by a pitch, and Todd Helton walked to load the bases for Dante Bichette, who promptly unloaded them with a three-run double.

The Rockies took that 3-0 lead to the bottom of the frame, where Ron Gant grounded out and Delino Deshields struck out.  That brought up McGwire against John Thomson, who was in the second year of what would be a fairly undistinguished ten year career.  Thomson came into this game with a 6.47 ERA and had given up six homers in 48.2 innings.

Make it seven in 49.  After starting McGwire off with a ball, he got the big redhead to swing through a pitch to even the count.  After a foul ball, Thomson missed the plate to bring it to 2-2.  Then he came in to McGwire, and well, that went the way you’d expect.

That was the highlight of the game.  Busby would give up another run when Thomson would get him for a single and Burks would double him home, then leave in the fifth when he felt something in his elbow.  He’d not pitch again in the big leagues until September and never made another start.

Rockies got another in the seventh on an RBI double by Walker versus Sean Lowe and one in the eighth when Jeff Reed had an RBI single against Curtis King.  That was it as McGwire popped out, lined out, and then drew a walk in the eighth.  A fairly uneventful loss for the Cards, marked only by Mark.

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A day removed from the loss to the Royals, things are still disappointing but not quite as frustrating and aggravating as they were in the moment.  Wednesday afternoon was full of snarky remarks, invective hurled, and doomsaying.  Now, while it’s still not a game to really want to revisit, it’s not quite as immediate.

I guess what I’m trying to say is I’ve slept on it.

That’s probably where we should start, huh?  Marcell Ozuna was a late scratch and for a while nobody knew why.  It only came out after the game that Ozuna had wound up oversleeping and was late to the ballpark.  He must have come in soon after first pitch or maybe right before it, but obviously much later than he was supposed to be there.

I know my cohost Allen Medlock will have plenty to say about this on Meet Me at Musial tonight and Ben Fredrickson wrote a column going off about it, but while it’s frustrating and not anything you want to see, I can’t really get as worked up about this because mistakes do happen.  If Ozuna was seen at 4 AM at a club and then didn’t make it to the game, that would make me pretty upset and there’d be some questions.  However, there’s nothing out there that contradicts that the guy went home after a night game, probably getting home after midnight, and then wound up oversleeping due to an early (and even earlier than normal–usually afternoon games are 1:15, not 12:15) start time.

As some have pointed out, if Ozuna had 12 homers right now instead of three, this probably gets passed over by a lot more people.  As with so many things in baseball, how things are going on the field determines the narrative off of it.  A winning team is “loose”, a losing team “has no discipline”.  A guy hitting .340 using unorthodox methods is “creative”, a guy hitting .140 the same way needs to “get back to basics”.  Look no farther than Manny Ramirez.  It was “Manny being Manny” when he was a force in the middle of the lineup, a liability when he wasn’t.

Fredrickson says that Ozuna basically ended his honeymoon period with this stunt.  My feeling is, if you were still on the Ozuna train by this point, you didn’t get off at this station.  If this was the deal-breaker, you probably were pretty much done with the honeymoon period anyway.

What surprises me is that nobody seems to have worried about Ozuna’s health in all this.  Maybe they did and I’ve not seen the quotes, but it was noted the last time this happened was with Felipe Lopez in 2010 and I remember the talk that the players were all concerned and worried because they remembered Darryl Kile.  They remembered him not showing up and what the results were of that.  This clubhouse doesn’t have anyone left that played with Kile and very few that even were around for the Lopez incident.  So maybe that wasn’t their first reaction but I think, if the fans had known why the scratch, a lot of us would have had concern very quickly.

Oh, and then there was the game, which most of the Cardinals actually slept through.

The Hero has to be Michael Wacha, basically because there’s such a limited pool to choose from.  Wacha continues to be a rock in the rotation this year, which is a bit surprising to some of us that worried about his injury history and what we’d get from him.  Wacha went 6.2 innings, allowed just four hits and two runs (one of which was unearned) and struck out six.  Not that he was really the one in the rotation that has the most to worry about with the return of Alex Reyes, but it’s possible that motivation is there as well.  Wacha deserved better than a no-decision in this one.

The Goat could be a wide variety of folks.  Bud Norris gave up the runs that lost the game, so he’d be a fair target, but he was in his second inning of work and while he did have a few days of rest, last appearing on Saturday, he has 10 recorded innings this month after having 12 in April.  The last two times he had to get over three outs and was trying to do the same here.  If fatigue is starting to get to Norris, the club is going to go south pretty quickly, I’m afraid.  That said, he last gave up runs May 4, so these things do happen, and he wasn’t hit all that hard.  Though the fielding error on his part didn’t help matters.

Still, the game never should have gotten to that point.  This was a Royals team well under .500 and last in a weak AL Central.  After barely putting a run on them Tuesday night, the offense should have come out and put something together on Wednesday and just didn’t.  When a third of your hits come from Francisco Pena, it’s not a good day, though kudos to Pena for two more hits.  Carson Kelly is going to return Saturday it appears but the way that Pena has been going, I’d be surprised if he got an extended run of starts.  Maybe they will, and they should, but Pena has forced himself into that conversation.

A bit of a tangent there, sorry.  Anyway, Tommy Pham gets our Goat again because of an 0-5 with three strikeout day at the plate, but it could have been plenty of others.  Pham is in a rut, going 0-13 with nine strikeouts over his past three starts.  Even the day off Tuesday didn’t help.  Maybe when he gets to Pittsburgh and a team he’s more familiar with, he’ll break back out.  With Pham, you always worry about the contacts and his vision (especially with this high number of strikeouts) so if that was the case maybe he got them adjusted during the off day.

Matt Carpenter went 0-4 to drop back below .200 with his average.  It’s not surprising that he dropped off from that torrid pace that saw him hitting almost .600 for a week, but hopefully he’s not returning to what we saw the first six weeks.  It doesn’t feel likely but, again, let’s see what this weekend holds.  If he’s 1-for-Pittsburgh, we may need to up the worry level.

The other reason that this game doesn’t reside in the same place in our consciousness?  Alex Reyes pitched last night.  Oh, boy, did he pitch.  Josh kept you posted last night but the final line was seven innings, zero runs, 13 strikeouts, including an amazing nine in a row.  Nine in a row!  If that’s not dominance, what in the world is?  In the fifth inning, he struck out the side on nine swinging strikes.  From all accounts, it may have been the most dominant game folks have seen in Memphis ever.

You look at Reyes’s combined line for his rehab starts: 23 IP, 0 ER, 44 K, 7 BB.  Yes, it was against minor league competition but by time you get to Memphis especially, you are seeing some major league caliber players.  While Breyvic Valera wasn’t any great shakes with the Cards last year, he did get some playing time in the bigs.  He was on the opposing side last night and probably really wished he wasn’t.  We’re always supposed to temper expectations, to believe that Reyes isn’t going to be as good as our fevered imaginations want to make him out to be.  Be reasonable, we tell ourselves.  Then he strikes out 13 at Memphis and it becomes impossible to be rational about what could happen.  Heck, you start to wonder if he could win the Cy Young even after spotting the league two months!  (No, no he can’t.  Calm down, Daniel.)

Besides the need for innings, it’s pretty clear why this arm needs to be in the rotation and he will be starting Tuesday in Milwaukee.  There’s no telling how the club will make this work, but they’ll make it work.  There’s a lot of talent in the rotation, but none of it–save Carlos Martinez, maybe–tops what Alex Reyes can bring to the table and we are finally, after years of anticipation, going to see that on a regular basis for a while.

Cards are in Pittsburgh for the weekend, as mentioned.  John Gant, in what should be his last start for the big club, goes up against Joe Musgrove, who is making his season debut after some shoulder problems.  He was a starter and reliever for Houston the last two years so the Cards have barely, if ever, seen him.  That’s just great.  Don’t forget to fill out your Cardinal Six for the series!

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Marking McGwire: #24

Home run #: 24

Date: May 24

Opponent: San Francisco Giants

Location: Busch Stadium

Pitcher: Robb Nen

Score: 4-6

Inning: 12

Outs: 2

Runners on: 1

Distance: 397 feet

End of day Sammy Sosa total: 9

End of day Ken Griffey Jr. total: 18

Mark McGwire had a blast or four facing the Giants in this series, but the home run he hit in this one might have been the most dramatic.  It didn’t win the ballgame, but it sure kept the Cards from losing it for a while.

The starters in this one were Mark Petkovsek and Shawn Estes, not that either of them would be around by time this got decided.  Petkovsek started off with a clean frame while the Cards struck in the bottom of the first when singles by Ron Gant and McGwire, followed by a walk to Ray Lankford, loaded the bases with one out.  Willie McGee then singled in one run, but the rest were stranded by the bottom of the lineup.

The one run held up until the third, when the Giants responded with a Bill Mueller single, a Barry Bonds walk, and a Jeff Kent double.  They took the lead in the fifth when Bonds singled in Estes with two outs.

That lead lasted until the bottom of the frame, when Gant walked with one out, went to second on a botched pickoff, then scored on a Delino Deshields double.  The Giants then intentionally walked McGwire–not the last time that sentence will be relevant–and then unintentionally walked Lankford again to load the bases again.  McGee got his second RBI of the night with a groundout and the Cards were up 3-2.

The scoring settled down then and Petkovsek and his relievers held the Giants at bay through the eighth inning.  In the bottom of the eighth, McGee singled leading off against Julian Tavarez, moved to second on a groundout, then after an intentional walk to John Mabry to create a forceout, Clayton grounded into what looked to be a 5-4-3 double play, but the throw from Kent was offline and McGee scored while Clayton was safe at first.  An insurance run never hurts, right?

Especially when facing the top of that potent Giants lineup.  Rich Aurilia started the inning against Juan Acevado with a walk, something you never want to do in this situation.  Acevado got the next two outs, but couldn’t get past Barry Bonds.  Bonds hit a drive over the right field wall and suddenly, after holding the lead most of the game, the Cards saw themselves knotted up at four apiece.  Gant walked in the bottom of the ninth and, after one out, McGwire was again intentionally passed.  After a Lankford groundout, McGee was intentionally walked to load the bases, but Tom Pagnozzi couldn’t make them pay.

On to extras!  St. Louis got the first two batters on in the 10th against Danny Darwin.  Darwin got Brian Hunter to pop out, but then was replaced by closer Robb Nen.  Nen threw a wild pitch, moving the runners up and putting the winning run 90 feet away with one out, but Gant struck out.  Delino DeShields then walked to load the bases in front of McGwire, which was crazy dangerous the way that McGwire was going.  Nen had his number this time, though, striking him out to get out of the inning.

The top of San Francisco’s lineup did damage again in the top of the 12th.  Mueller, who could pass some of these hitting tips along to his current charges if you know what I mean, doubled to start it all off.  John Frascatore did get Bonds to strike out, but couldn’t get past Jeff Kent, who homered to put the Giants up 6-4.  Frascatore got two groundouts (including Nen, which is interesting and important) but the damage was done.

Tom Lampkin started the bottom of the 12th with a foulout and Gant flew out, leaving the Cards one out away from a tough loss.  Deshields kept hope alive with a single, which brought up McGwire.

Nen started McGwire off with a strike, then a foul ball was sandwiched between two balls.  As Mike Shannon likes to say, deuces were wild with two balls, two strikes, two outs, down by two.  Nen, who was into his third inning of work here, threw a pitch that hung in the zone and Big Mac, well, there’s a reason we have this series.

According to the clip above, McGwire tied Ken Griffey Jr. for most homers through May with this blast, a record he’d soon hold on his own.

On to more extras!  Both teams had chances in the 13th but were unable to capitalize.  In the bottom of the 14th, with two out and nobody on, McGwire was intentionally walked, a move that almost backfired when Lankford followed with a single, but McGee struck out to end the threat.

Nothing in the fifteenth.  Nothing in the sixteenth.  Finally, after a really long Sunday of baseball, the Giants broke through in the top of the 17th, plating three runs against Kent Mercker on a walk, a single, a bunt that was thrown away, and another single.  McGwire led off the bottom of the frame and, with a three run lead, the Giants pitched to him, but he struck out.  St. Louis couldn’t come up with anything and fell for the 23rd time in the ’98 season.

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