On Thursday afternoon, both the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates earned thrilling walk-off victories against teams with zero chance off winning the AL Central (the New York Mets and the Detroit Tigers). And on Friday night, the two teams squared off at PNC Park to finally answer the age-old question: “Which team will score more runs during the St. Louis Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Pirates game to be played on April 27, 2018?”
Let’s take a look at the starting lineups which took the field on Friday, courtesy of their respective Twitter accounts.
Of note with the Cardinals lineup is the absence of Matt Carpenter. Carpenter has had troubles with exhaustion in the past, and the Cardinals seemingly have enough infield depth that they do not have to force him into the lineup, but this is two games out of three in which he has not played. In both occasions, the opposing starter was left-handed, so that may be part of the equation, but he entered Friday with a 81 wRC+, a mark which is acceptable for a slick-fielding shortstop or catcher but less so for a bat-first corner infielder. Meanwhile, Kolten Wong has struggled offensively, but has been better as of late, and is a markedly better fielder than Carpenter. So there’s that.
Also, I’ve never heard of Steven Brault, the Pirates’ starting pitcher. Like, I’m not going to pretend I know every single player in baseball, but he’s a starting pitcher in the same division as the Cardinals and still…nope. Steven Brault will henceforth be referred to as Some Guy.
The first inning and a half of this game were thoroughly uninteresting. Nobody did anything. I watched this inning and a half, though I suspect a number of fans forgot about the 6:05 St. Louis start time. Very courteous of the two teams to stall, I must say.
The bottom of the second inning got interesting. Corey Dickerson, in his first plate appearance since hitting a walk-off home run on Thursday, singled to right, and he advanced to second base one batter later, courtesy of catcher Francisco Cervelli. Things got tense for the Cardinals after third baseman Colin Moran was hit by a pitch, but despite the bases-loaded jam, the second out was made on an innocuous Jordy Mercer foul out, and then Some Guy grounded out to Miles Mikolas. A faster runner perhaps could have beaten it out for a hit, as Mikolas fielded the ball awkwardly, but not Some Guy. The Pirates stranded the bases loaded. To quote former Pirate John Jaso, “Such is life.”
The third inning was when the Cardinals offense started to click. Jedd Gyorko led the inning off with a home run to left field, breaking a tie with Miles Mikolas for home runs on the season. Following a Kolten Wong walk and a Miles Mikolas sacrifice bunt (the bunt was good, though given his home run power, I can’t condone the decision), Tommy Pham! woke up the Cardinals offense before they would go-go to the bottom of the inning, doubling to right. Later, Marcell Ozuna would single to left to score Pham (who advanced to third on a Dexter Fowler ground out) and give the Cardinals a 3-0 lead.
Paul DeJong led off the top of the fourth by reaching first base on an error by Colin Moran, and a Jedd Gyorko walk got DeJong to second. DeJong then scored on a Kolten Wong sacrifice fly, bringing the lead to four. In the fifth, Jose Martinez, who is The Best Hitter In Major League Baseball, sent left fielder Corey Dickerson into a flailing fit into the outfield wall, stopping on second base. Marcell Ozuna followed with a scorching single which scored Jose Martinez easily (despite Martinez sliding into home–he is The Best Hitter in Major League Baseball, not The Best Base Runner). One batter later, Some Guy was replaced by reliever Kyle Crick, noted Player I’ve Heard Of.
For the first five innings, Miles Mikolas was cruising. He was the pitching equivalent of that home run he hit in Milwaukee. He allowed just three hits, walking nobody and striking out five. His shutout ended, however, with the first batter of the bottom of the sixth, as right fielder Gregory Polanco crushed a home run to right center field. This earned run was undoubtedly the fault of Mikolas, but the next run allowed was…less so. Starling Marte reached first on an infield single, not exactly an indicator of a hard-hit ball, and Josh Bell “reached on an infield single to second”*.
*This is the exact verbiage used by the ESPN app to describe what happened. In reality, the ball was hit to first baseman Jose Martinez, playing slightly off the bag, and he whiffed on it. It was a bad, bad misplay, and while ruling it a single benefits Josh Bell and it spares Jose Martinez from embarrassment in the box score, it hurt Miles Mikolas unfairly
The next batter, Corey Dickerson, hit a sacrifice fly to Marcell Ozuna, who had no chance of gunning down Marte, who had made it to third on the Bell “single” (note: a typical left fielder also wouldn’t have had a chance at gunning down Marte). The potential damage of the inning, however, was mitigated somewhat by Francisco Cervelli grounding into a 5-4-3 double play. After six innings, 5-2 Cardinals.
Mikolas’s final pitching line for the night: 7 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 7 K. Depending on your perspective, he was somewhere between good and very good. Entering the game, Mikolas was worth over 1/3 of his 2018 salary of $7.75 million by FanGraphs’s calculation. He will probably be closer to halfway to “worth the money” when FanGraphs updates their Wins Above Replacement numbers tomorrow morning. It is April.
Bud Norris handled the eighth inning and he continued building upon his “is really good in games which include the Cardinals” brand–he allowed a hit, but his ERA/FIP/xFIP now stands at 2.03/1.83/2.13. This is very good.
We now enter the part of the recap called “John screams about the bottom of the ninth inning”
For the ninth inning, the Cardinals turned to closer (at least for tonight) Greg Holland. With a three run lead and with the bottom half of the order approaching, this is about as easy of a one inning save situation as one can have. A lead-off double by Corey Dickerson made me suddenly question the wisdom of naming a Cardinals website after the part of the team that everybody screams at online, and a Francisco Cervelli single to put runners on the corners did little to ease my concern.
Okay, cool, next batter with a double play grounder and…come on Jose Martinez, why are you doing this to me, man? Whiffing on a ground ball, allowing the Pirates to score a run with runners still on the corners and still nobody out? Look, dude, buddy, I don’t care how much it helps my points from earlier today look cogent, I want the team to win the game.
Next batter up is Jordy Mercer. Okay, whatever, two run game still, and hey, a fly ball into center field. Tommy Pham’s been killing it this year, he’s got this, he’s got th…oh, okay. Francisco Cervelli and Chad Kuhl scored and Mercer advanced to third on a bad error by Pham. So 5-5 game, Greg Holland is removed for Dominic Leone, and there’s still nobody out.
Next up is Max Moroff, who hit a not-quite-deep not-quite-shallow fly ball to Tommy Pham. Pham easily made the catch, and while Mercer could have been justifiably sent home, the Pirates held him at third. Following an intentional walk to some guy (not to be confused with Some Guy) named David Freese, the Cardinals set up a potential inning-ending something-4-3 double play, with Tyler Lyons, who had struggled to this point in the season but who is undeniably a lefty, coming in to face Gregory Polanco.
But then, something beautiful happened, something perhaps even more beautiful than Tyler Lyons himself (difficult, though theoretically possible)–Gregory Polanco struck out! Lyons did his job, and with great aplomb. But with the right-handed Starling Marte coming to the plate, the Cardinals went with a righty, and that righty was Matt Bowman.
Perhaps this would be the game in which Matt Bowman, used in 847 consecutive games to start the 2018 season, would right the ship and become the trusty bullpen piece that he was in 2016 all over again. And at least for one beautiful batter, it happened. Matt Bowman was truly, in the words of his spoonerism, Bat(t) Mow Man. Marte struck out and the Cardinals used four different relievers over four batters. Tomorrow, Mike Matheny will lobby for a 20-man bullpen. John Brebbia is going to play shortstop tomorrow.
Note: This recap of the bottom of the ninth inning will not be edited, even if the entire tone of the game changes. It must be preserved. For the culture.
The top of the 10th went, um, innocuously? Felipe Vazquez (formerly Felipe Rivero) has been so-so so (yes, I used the word so three straight times, like I haven’t already used too many words in this recap) far this season, but pitched more like his excellent 2017 self. In the bottom half, Bowman retired the first two batters without incident before walking Francisco Cervelli. Next up was Elias Diaz, who thanks to a passed ball was batting with Cervelli at second base and in scoring position. And then Diaz, whose career wRC+ entering the day was 69 (requisite internet jokes aside, this is very much not a nice mark), was walked. Anyway, Pirates fans starting doing the Ric Flair wooing thing with Jordy Mercer at the plate and as a direct result, Mercer struck out. On to the 11th!
In the top of the frame, Jedd Gyorko walked and Harrison Bader pinch ran. He proceeded to run on the pitch and when Kolten Wong’s laser to right field was caught by Gregory Polanco, Bader was easily doubled off first. Let the mood swings of this recap, from unbridled confidence to despondent and absolute fatalism tell the story of this game even more vividly than any of the actual details in it.
In came Jordan Hicks, the inexplicable Cardinals flamethrower who weirdly doesn’t strike that many guys out. The first batter of the inning, of course, struck out, just because. He then walked David Freese, which has kind of been a thing for him. The next batter was a bit less “true outcome”-y, as Gregory Polanco grounded to Kolten Wong, with Freese advancing to third. The wildness of Hicks made a runner at third, even a not particularly fleet-footed one, a scary proposition, but ultimately, it didn’t matter. Starling Marte walked off with a single, and the Pirates won 6-5. Baseball is stupid.
Miles Mikolas deserved better. We all deserved better.