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Thursday was a brutal loss for the Cardinals. They had the Mets beaten and let the game slip away. However, if you had to have that happen, going to Pittsburgh next is a great balm for those wounds. After the weekend sweep, the Cards are 27-5 against the Pirates under the shadow of the Roberto Clemente Bridge. It’s always been a place that St. Louis can go and get well and this weekend was not any different. The Cardinals never trailed all weekend long and Sunday’s game, well, that was a treasure.
It was a weekend for debuts as well and, even though the Pirates aren’t necessarily the laughing stock of the Central right now–they came into this series in third ahead of the Cubs and Reds–it probably didn’t hurt to ease Nolan Gorman and Matthew Liberatore into the major league lifestyle in a friendly road park. While it would have been great for them to debut in front of the sea of red, that also might have brought some added pressure and nerves. There were a good number of Cardinal fans in amongst the (fairly sparse) crowd but not enough that it would have made it overwhelming. Heck, it’s possible they have played in front of more people in a really crowded minor league game. Maybe not quite–AutoZone Park, for instance, only holds 10,000 and Friday night’s game had 14,000+ attending–but it was much closer to that feel than a packed Busch Stadium would have been.
Whether that was by design or just the way the calendar fell, it worked out for the two young men. Josh Gilliam and I talked about this last night on Gateway to Baseball Heaven, but neither Gorman nor Liberatore looked like they were outmatched at all. Gorman wound up hitting .500 for the weekend, doubling twice, scoring four runs, and driving in a run with an infield groundout (and, for all the strikeout concerns, he was only rung up once). He also came fairly close (at least, when I was listening on the radio) to a home run in his first game. The level of competition steps up with the Jays and Brewers this week, but getting those first milestones under his belt can only help his confidence.
As for Liberatore, he came very close to finishing five innings and qualifying for the win in his first big league start. He didn’t get the best of defense behind him it didn’t feel like, though no errors were recorded. Corey Dickerson didn’t know how to play the carom (and went too far trying to catch it only to have no play) and Tommy Edman was an emergency center fielder who didn’t back it up as quickly as it felt he could. Granted, any inside-the-parker is a fluke play and even with good fielders it might have happened, but Liberatore didn’t have the best fielders behind him. (And, let’s be fair, Bryan Reynolds hit that ball hard. It wasn’t going to be an out no matter who was out there.) Except for a couple of lapses, Liberatore was pretty much in command. He was sent down after the game, which wasn’t a big surprise, but it’s very possible depending on what happens with Steven Matz and his shoulder that he’ll be back up to make the Saturday start again this weekend.
It was just a fun weekend of baseball, topped off by the spectacle of, for the second straight Sunday, a Hall of Fame position player taking the mound to close out a Cardinal win. The back and forth Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols had after the game, comparing their pitching performances, was priceless. I don’t know that you can find two people that are having more fun playing baseball in 2022 than these two. It’s like reuniting them with the understanding that this is it has taken all the pressure, all the stress off of them and they are just having a good time. It’s great to watch.
The Cards got better this weekend. The incline gets steeper this week, though, so we’ll see how much of it carries over and how much of it was just that Pittsburgh cooking. Even though they aren’t at full strength, a weekend like that gets you more optimistic about the games to come!
Friday (5-3 win)
Hero: Giovanny Gallegos. When Gallegos is on, he’s a sight to behold. Genesis Cabrera started the eighth and, after Nolan Arenado allowed the first batter to reach via error, gave up three straight singles, bringing in a run, before getting Yoshi Tsutsugo to ground out, bringing in another run. So Oli Marmol goes to the pen and brings Gallegos into a 5-3 game with runners on the corners. All Gallegos proceeds to do is strike out the next two guys, then strike out three guys in the ninth. That’s the best way to bounce back from giving up a game winning home run!
Goat: Could have gone with Cabrera given the above facts, but we’ll go with Nolan Arenado instead. 0-4, though he did draw a walk and scored a run, and had the error in the eighth.
Notes: Adam Wainwright did what Adam Wainwright does to the Pirates. He finally allowed a run, snapping a 39.1 scoreless inning streak against the Buccos, but that was all they got, surrendering just four hits. He did walk three, but two of those came in the first inning when he was still trying to find his groove….the third game this year where the Cards had double-digit hits but all of them were singles….two hits for Dylan Carlson, who was starting to come around before Saturday’s game.
Saturday (5-4 win)
Hero: Paul Goldschmidt. Four hits, including two doubles, and he drove in two. Just Goldy being Goldy, you know.
Goat: Albert Pujols. 0-5 with three strikeouts in a stadium he owns? Obviously that was motivation.
Notes: Tommy Edman with two hits, part of a week ending Sunday where he slashed .345/.406/.517. Small sample, of course, but even if you expand it out to the entire month of May, it’s .275/.356/.413 with nine walks in 90 plate appearances. If he keeps that up, it’ll be hard to ever move him out of the leadoff spot….Corey Dickerson with a double, which doesn’t quite make up for the fielding on the inside-the-park homer but it at least mitigates it a bit. Still, with Dickerson hitting .185 and not necessarily flashing a Gold Glove, you wonder when they’ll decide they can get better production from Lars Nootbaar or Alec Burleson and let him go….the bullpen did excellent work here, allowing no runs in four innings. Drew VerHagen led the way with 2.1 innings, which really helped a unit that has thrown a lot of innings lately.
Sunday (18-4 win)
Hero: Angel Rondon. There were a ton of great offensive performances in this one, but Rondon, called up that morning when Matthew Liberatore went back down, stepped up huge when Steven Matz left four pitches into the game. Something like that could have ruined the bullpen for a week, but Rondon stepped up and covered five innings and did so in style, allowing just one Pittsburgh hit and walking three others. To do that when you weren’t even expecting to get into the game was definitely Hero-worthy!
Goat: You know how hard it is to pick a Goat in a game like this? Basically impossible. I guess we’ll go with Juan Yepez, though it wasn’t a bad game from the rookie overall. He did have two of the four team strikeouts and only had one hit and one RBI, though he scored twice. But when the team puts up 20 hits and only two guys play the entire game and just get one knock, you gotta make the tough choice.
Notes: Albert Pujols with two home runs. Talk about a blast–or two–from the past! I was just thinking this weekend that we didn’t realize, when Matt Carpenter hit his home run on April 30 of last year (ironically also at PNC Park), it was the last Cardinal home run we’d see from him. While I don’t think Pujols will go months without home runs, it’s very possible this is the last multi-home run game of his career. I think we have to recognize with both him and Yadier Molina that the “lasts” may come much earlier than we think….speaking of Molina, how great was it that, a week after Pujols pitched, Yadi got to? You have to know he was in Oli Marmol’s ear when the Cards were up 12-0 after five, starting to wear him down so that the ninth could be his. I imagine he’s a little ticked that his line and Albert’s were so similar, so nobody gets bragging rights….we rag on T.J. McFarland a lot (for good reason) but you have to give significant credit where it’s due as McFarland threw three scoreless innings in this one. Between him and Rondon, the bullpen should be pretty well set up for a couple of days, especially with Miles Mikolas (who often will go six or more) going tonight and an off-day on Wednesday….eight extra base hits, 18 runs, on a day with a getaway lineup. That’s baseball!