One step forward, one step back.
Since the Cardinals arrived in New York a week ago, a pattern has emerged. For eight straight games, St. Louis has won one, then dropped the next. For the entire month of June, they are only 10-8, indicating that they are coming back to earth from their lofty heights of the previous two months. They continue to maintain a lead in the division, but for a fan base spoiled on excellent pitching and a line of Ws, this month has been a bit disconcerting.
Disconcerting doesn’t quite cover what people were feeling after the top of the first inning last night. Adam Wainwright, who has been so good this year and is challenging for the top pitcher in the NL, got the first two outs with relative ease, then gave up a slicing double. No problem, right? Except that he then gave up another double, this one to the gap. Then a home run. Then ANOTHER home run.
It’s about this time that Cardinal fans are frantically digging for their script, because this isn’t the way this game–any Wainwright game–is supposed to go. The Redbirds are the ones that are supposed to score early and often, not the opposition. What in the name of Bob Gibson is going on here?
Wainwright corrected his mechanics and got through the rest of his time on the mound without incident. The Cubs would only get four more hits the rest of the night after getting those four in the first. It’s just that he wasn’t facing the Cubs’ weakest starter, but possibly their strongest. Jeff Samardzija has been extremely tough on most people, including the Cardinals, and last night wasn’t any different. Save for a Carlos Beltran home run and a late rally in the ninth that finally knocked him out of the game, Samardzija was extremely stingy.
You might think that the Goat of the game would be Wainwright for digging that hole that the Cardinals couldn’t get out of. That’s a reasonable theory, but given how Waino corrected himself, I’m going a different direction.
Before we get to the Goat, we have to talk about the Hero, because they are intertwined somewhat. Yadier Molina did everything he could to win the game for the Cardinals. Molina went 3-3 and was hit by a pitch, putting him on base four times and every time he either led off an inning or was on with one out. Molina even drove in a run in the ninth as the Cards tried to rally.
But everything Molina tried to do, David Freese undid. Look.
Bottom 2: Molina singles to lead off the inning, Freese grounds into a double play.
Bottom 5: Molina HBP to lead off, Freese grounds into a double play
Bottom 7: One-out single for Molina, Freese strikes out.
Bottom 9: One-out RBI single for Molina, putting the tying runs on. Freese grounds into a double play (with Shane Robinson and the umpire playing cameo roles)
A lot of the focus after the game was on the runner interference call by the second base umpire (Fieldin Culbreth, who hasn’t had the most spotless season). While it could have gone uncalled, Robinson was quite far away from the bag and, let’s be honest, that was a tailor-made double-play ball. It was the right call. What wasn’t the right call was Freese swinging at an outside pitch like that on 3-1 with the game momentum shifting the Cardinals’ way.
The Cardinals hope the pattern holds at least for one more night as they try to at least get a split in this four-game matchup with the Cubbies. Jake Westbrook, who wasn’t all that sharp in his game against Miami, takes the ball for his second start since coming off the disabled list. Westbrook faced the Cubs in Wrigley in his last start before being shutdown and had his worst game of the season at that point, giving up three runs in five and a third innings.
Westbrook has actually had some success against these hitters, though, especially Alfonso Soriano. Hopefully that will continue this evening and he can go deep enough in the game that the bullpen isn’t overly taxed.
Old friend Edwin Jackson returns to St. Louis again, this time in Cub blue. The last time he toed the mound in Busch during the regular season, he was giving up eight runs in 1.1 innings as a member of the Nationals in September of last season. The Cards did pretty well against him in his two appearances in the NLDS as well, including a key run in Game 5.
The numbers aren’t in his favor either, which means that all indications point to a big night for the St. Louis offense. Whether that’s the case or not, we’ll have to wait and see!