One of the hallmarks of the 2018 St. Louis Cardinals, at least at times, has been this feeling that once they got down, especially in the latter part of the game, they weren’t going to come back. Oh, they might put up some sort of late rally, but it would be against the fourth- or fifth-best pitcher in the opponent’s bullpen and they’d either run out of outs or a better pitcher would come in and shut the door. We remember games like Atlanta, when they were down six then put up five in the eighth, or that Milwaukee game with Mike Matheny‘s legendary quote about almost getting within five and then you never know. Overall, and without checking the numbers, it feels like if they were down multiple runs by the middle innings, the game was over.
I imagine if you polled fans immediately after Nolan Arenado parked that ball on Freese’s Lawn, 85% or so would have told you the game was over (and I want to be clear, I probably would have been in that number). Down four runs after that grand slam with the bullpen already in play and just the top of the fifth against a very hot Colorado Rockies team, not only did it feel like the game was over, there was an air of finality about the season as well, as if October was coming in August.
It’s impossible to know right now if this is a one-off occurrence or a change in approach and style and results, but not only was the game not over, the Cardinals would wind up winning it. Arenado’s blast was the only damage the Rockies could do, though it helped that Daniel Poncedeleon covered home on his wild pitch when Gerardo Parra came racing home and replays overturned the umpire’s safe call. This was the first real test of the new-look bullpen and it passed for the most part. Poncedeleon should have been out of the inning before allowing Arenado’s blast, with strike three against Ian Desmond turning into ball two. Other than that, the bullpen put up zeros and allowed the club to climb back into it.
The Cards immediately started in the bottom of the fifth, when Jedd Gyorko lined a home run to make it 4-1. Two innings later, they took advantage of Tyler Anderson and Scott Oberg not being able to find the strike zone. Anderson walked three batters in a row, loading the bases with nobody out. Oberg came in and ran the count full against Dexter Fowler before getting him to chase a pitch slightly above the zone. Harrison Bader didn’t fall for that, though, and walked in the second run of the night, then Matt Carpenter singled in two, tying the game up.
You could say that the comeback was a bit more Rockies failure than Cardinals success, but I think that would be misrepresenting it to a degree. A couple of months ago, it’s probably unlikely there’s enough patience on the part of Marcell Ozuna, Gyorko, and Yairo Munoz to draw three walks in a row. (Carpenter, of course, would have always driven them in after mid-May.) I’ll grant you, if the Rockies could have thrown strikes this would have been a different story perhaps, but the fact that the hitters were disciplined enough to work the walks has to be noted as well.
Then we get to the 10th and our Hero of the night, Marcell Ozuna. Twice during the game Ozuna had launched deep fly balls that Parra had been able to track down. This time, Ozuna made sure nobody was catching it.
Ozuna’s third home run in as many days came not in the first inning, as had been his habit, but in the last. It’s the second time this season that Ozuna has gone three straight days with a home run. Let’s hope it’s not another month-plus before he hits another like it was last time!
Our Goat in this one is Yadier Molina, because he went 0-5 and left six men on base. Now, the box score doesn’t tell you everything because at least twice with runners on Yadi hit the ball well but was right at a fielder. If one of those drops, we might not have needed Ozuna’s heroics. Still, six is a serious amount of runners. We could have also gone with Paul DeJong here, because he also went 0-5 and struck out three times and had a misplay in the field that wasn’t charged as an error but possibly could have been. You know, now that I type that all out, I’m changing the pick. DeJong probably deserves it more than Yadi.
Before all of this there was another sort of drama. Carlos Martinez came off the DL and looked much better than the last time he was returning from injury. He struck out five of the first nine batters he faced. He had four scoreless innings with seven strikeouts. Then came the fifth. The broadcast early on in the inning showed the Cardinal trainer, Chris Conroy, right next to Mike Shildt as they were obviously seeing something they didn’t like. That something was probably Martinez’s velocity, as he dropped to 90 that inning for a high speed. He allowed a leadoff single to Parra, then struck out the next two (though one of those was Anderson bunting). When he gave up another single to Charlie Blackmon, the training staff couldn’t wait any longer. After a long conference on the mound, Martinez came out of the game.
This time, Martinez has a right shoulder strain. While tests were still being done last night and I haven’t seen any comments on the results, the current idea was that he’d just miss a couple of starts, meaning that he’ll return to the DL today most likely. There was a strong groundswell on Twitter last night to shut Martinez down for the season and that’s a pretty strong point. It seems like he’s not getting completely healthy and it’s causing a cascade effect.
It’s also an indication of how things have changed. We saw this almost exact same situation with Alex Reyes earlier in the year and he was allowed to stay out there. Here, Martinez told Shildt that that his shoulder was sore, but he could still go. Shildt: “Clearly, we are not going to let him go.” Tracking injuries over the next few years, assuming Shildt gets the full-time job, and comparing them to the last six years should be an interesting project for someone.
That was a game that, if the Cardinals wanted to stay really viable, they kinda needed to win with their ace on the mound (albeit not as long as they thought) and a team ahead of them in the wild-card standings in town. They still stand four games out of that second slot (and 7.5 out in the division, which is probably not really worth tracking) but a game like that could give a bit of a boost. Then again, we’ve seen momentum mean nothing over the past few years, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s nice that Jack Flaherty is going today, though, I will say that.
A bit of intrigue out on the West Coast as last night neither Tyler O’Neill (sitting for his second straight night) or Carson Kelly played in Memphis’s 10-8 loss to the Las Vegas 51s. Either there are some nagging injuries there that we don’t know about or there are some trade possibilities being worked on that are close enough to not want to risk those guys. In O’Neill’s case, it could be more a callup after a trade than being dealt himself, but you never know. It’ll probably turn into nothing, but the clock is ticking toward the 3 PM Central deadline. If there’s a deal, we’ll have the details here so keep checking the Conclave!