Opening Day in St. Louis is always more of an event than a game. Legends don red jackets, Clydesdales circle the field ahead of cars bearing Cardinals old and new, and everyone comes together to celebrate a winter being over and a new season lying ahead. The game at times can be an afterthought and while that buzz can be dampened by adverse situations–the 2007 opener, with a loss to the Mets and the loss of Chris Carpenter comes to mind–overall, it’s going to be a great day regardless. Getting a win, especially a nice easy win, is just icing on the cake.
It helps when you play a team like Pittsburgh, who before the game announced the largest contract (by total dollars) in Pirates history for Ke’Bryan Hayes only to see him leave before the bottom of the first was done with a wrist issue. Sounds like it was some hand cramps and he’ll be fine going forward, but you’d have to forgive Pirates fans if they threw up their hands and wondered what else could go wrong. (Also, it should be pointed out that the eight year deal for Hayes is a little bit more than the next two years of the Nolan Arenado deal. $80 million is very low for your biggest contract ever, especially since it breaks the record set in….2000? That was even before any of the current Cardinal legends were playing!)
As we start another season, it’s time to start counting the Heroes and Goats again. For those of you new to the site, the Hero is typically who had the best game, though coming through in a key moment can trump four meaningless hits. The Goat is the flip side, someone that makes a key blunder can get it but it’s usually going to be someone without a hit. Also, we sometimes must invoke the “leadoff hitter breaks ties” rule there, because if two guys have similar lines, the leadoff hitter having a bad day is worse than the number seven hitter.
There was one clear choice for Hero yesterday and that was Tyler O’Neill. Paul Goldschmidt drew four walks before getting a hit in the eighth so there was always someone on base for the Canadian slugger and he took full advantage. He singled up the middle in the first on a ball that probably would have been fielded had it not be scorched to the backhand side of second baseman Hoy Park, driving in the first run of the game, then unloaded in the second, blasting a three-run shot that basically ended the game right there. He tacked on a sacrifice fly in the four-run eighth for good measure.
I don’t think many folks really had concerns about O’Neill keeping the gains he made last season but if there were any, a game like that helps put them to rest. A game like that also adds to his value, something the front office should be considering as they negotiate an extension with him. The more they dally, the more he can have games like this that can push his asking price up. It’d be a great thing to see them use the off day to finish those talks up, though that’s probably unlikely.
While TON stole the show, there were plenty of good performances. As noted, Goldschmidt was on base all the time. I don’t think anyone would have expected that he would pick up a stolen base before his first hit, but Goldy’s sneaky like that. While obviously you’d like to see Goldschmidt doing damage, having that kind of eye is big for anyone but especially in front of O’Neill and Arenado. It also shows that he didn’t let his big spring get to him and try to do a whole bunch when things weren’t there.
The lineup looks really nice with Dylan Carlson at the top of it. He started the game with a wind-aided double that Hayes could get to, had a sacrifice fly in the sixth that made it 5-0, then was hit by a pitch and came around to score on O’Neill’s fly ball in the eighth. That actually wasn’t the deepest fly ball but the outfielder came at it just off enough that Carlson could recognize and take advantage. It was a smart play (aided by the large lead taking some risk out of it) and it was nice to have that kind of presence up there in front of the big guns.
For the second straight home opener, Arenado went deep. This year’s didn’t have the impact of last year’s, which basically won the game, given that it capped the scoring, but it was still great to see. I still think Arenado may get a little too amped in games like this but I’ll take it. He added in a walk as well.
The bottom of this revamped lineup–and I still don’t care for the DH, but if we’ve got to have it I like the way Oli Marmol is constructing the lineup–also was successful. Harrison Bader went two for four with a double and scored two runs and Tommy Edman started the eighth inning scoring by hitting a home run. As Jason Hill pointed out on Twitter, there’s less focus on Edman’s offense when he’s hitting ninth than when he was hitting first. We may still see him lead off at times, as Carter pointed out in his guest stint on Meet Me at Musial last night, but it won’t be regularly.
Then there was Adam Wainwright looking just like the Adam Wainwright we’ve come to know over the past few years. If you are judging strictly by results, it might have been a smart thing that the Cardinals didn’t focus too heavily on him when honoring those legends that won’t be playing next season. You can say it’s just Pittsburgh (it seems a couple of years ago Bob Nutting must have made Wainwright part of his group, because he surely owns the Pirates now), but the Wainwright that was out there yesterday would have been effective against any team. Spotting pitching, changing speeds, putting the ball where he wants it. Greg Maddux was legendary for this kind of pitching and it’s so much fun to see it in action every five days wearing Cardinal red.
Nick Wittgren made his Cardinal debut and looked fine in his inning of work. Ryan Helsley might have been extra excited about Opening Day, but if not it seems like he’s found a new gear. Helsley hit triple digits at least twice and then mixed in a beautiful 80 MPH curveball. With Helsley, Giovanny Gallegos, Kodi Whitley, and Genesis Cabrera, the late innings seem to be covered with effective heat no matter who is out there.
Cabrera did give one of the only smudges on the picture yesterday, walking the first two batters he faced. The explanation given after the game was the cold of the day made it tough for Cabrera to grip the ball. After a chat with Mike Maddux, he toned things down and still struck out two of the next three to keep the game scoreless. If he’s learned how to do more with less, that makes him even more dangerous and hopefully he’ll take this experience to heart. Cabrera’s control was iffy at times last year but if he can work around that, that’s huge.
We do need a Goat for this thing and, unfortunately, it comes down to one of the two legends that were so rightfully honored yesterday. I’m going to go with Yadier Molina due to his 0-4 day, leaving six on base, even if his nabbing of Kevin Newman trying to steal was awesome to see. It was either that or Albert Pujols, who went 0-5 but reached based twice on PIttsburgh errors. Pujols looked fairly good, though, and I thought his eighth inning line drive was going to be a base hit, but it carried just a bit too far.
It doesn’t matter, though. Pujols is back. The band is back together. It was an incredibly emotional and exciting day.
Now the real work begins. Well, it does on Saturday. Let’s get after it!