The Hometown Heroes shoot for the sweep against their ancient enemies tonight. Cardinals own the Central at the moment, with a game over the Brewers, 2 over the Pirates, and 2.5 over the Cubs. You might say it’s too early to be looking at standings, but 2 things – 1.) We’re right about 20% of the way through the season. Things are starting to stabilize. 2.) Wins in May weigh just as much as wins in September. Behold:
Michael Wacha and Jon Lester face off tonight. Remember when Wacha and Lester pitched in the 2013 World Series? Hasn’t been long since Wacha was the hottest rookie pitcher in baseball and Lester was a Capital-A Ace on baseball’s biggest stage. Both have had good careers since, but Lester’s last year and change has many asking if he’s just a guy, while Wacha’s early performance this year in a crowded field of hot young Cardinals starters puts him at 4 or 5 on the excitement depth chart. Tonight though, 5 years later, these old stalwarts have the world’s attention all to themselves.
The Cardinals are dealing with a rash of injuries–Yadier Molina is out for a month or more after his grisly groin injury last night, Dom Leone is on the 10-day with a nerve issue in his right biceps, Pham tweaked his groin last night and is only vaguely available, and Bud Norris is possibly dead after a triceps issue reared its head yesterday. Carson Kelly and Mike Mayers came up from Memphis to fill in for Yadi and Leone, and Pham and Norris’s status going forward is TBD.
Wacha got in hot water in the first inning, though not on great contact. Willson Contreras hit a free swinging bloop single, then advanced to third on a throwing error from Jedd Gyorko as he attempted to gun down Kyle Schwarber on a dinky grounder. Kris Bryant struck out on 3 pitches, but Rizzo picked him up with a sacrifice fly to score Contreras. Addison Russell became Wacha’s second strikeout of the inning.
***30 minute rain delay***
The Cardinals threatened early with a Harrison Bader single and a Dexter Fowler walk, but Bader got a really bad jump trying to steal third on Lester. Contreras threw him out effortlessly, and Jose Martinez grounded into a double play. 0-1 Baby Bears.
Wacha worked around a walk to Ian Happ with a double play ball from Javy Baez and a flyout from Jason Heyward. The double play particularly was nifty–Wong made a really nice turn on it:
Jedd Gyorko equalized things with a 1-out dinger off of the billboards in left field. All tied up, 1-1.
Kyle Schwarber tried to steal, straight up, with 2 outs. He was hilariously out.
Wacha led off with an infield single to Bryant at 3rd. Harrison Bader became Lester’s first strikeout victim.
***30 minute rain delay***
The boys struck and/or flied out to end the inning.
Kris Bryant jumped on an inside 1-0 94 mph fourseamer, driving it 433 feet at 110 mph. 2-1 Cubs.
The Cardinals had a shot at knotting things back up in the home half of the frame. Gyorko doubled with one out, then Wong moved him to third with a single to right (with an intervening DeJong lineout). The Cubs put Francisco Pena on intentionally to face Wacha with 2 outs and the bases jammed.
Wacha worked the count to 3-1 against the struggling Lester.
Lester walked in the tying run. Tim Tichenor called ball 4 strike 2, and Wacha flied out harmlessly 2 pitches later.
Addison Russell laced a 1-out double to center, and Wacha’s night was over. His final line: 5.1 IP, 6 H, 5 K, 3 BB, 1 HR, 2 ER. Game Score 47. Not bad for having to put up with roughly an hour of rain delays.
Luke Gregerson got the call from the dugout and looked sharp. He struck out Happ and drew an easy comebacker groundout from Baez to end the threat.
Jedd Gyorko drew a 1-out walk in the bottom of the frame, ending Lester’s night. Lester’s final line: Not as good as Wacha’s, 0 balls throwing into the stands on pickoff attempts. On balance, it was a complete failure.
Old friend Steve Cishek appeared in relief. He struck out DeJong, then gave up a full-count “triple” to Kolten Wong. (The ball was a hard liner to right. Heyward charged hard and looked like he had it, but then opted to slide and lost the ball, then deked his head at the last second.)
Not to deprive Wong his due though – he hammered that ball. Non-Heyward right fielders might have had a harder time getting a jump on the ball in the first place, and Heyward was wise to get out of the way when he did. Fun Fact:
Gyorko scored on the play. Tied back up, 2-2.
Tyler Lyons pitched a clean 7th, and Carl Edwards, Jr. returned the favor for the Cubs. Lyons walked Schwarber on 7 pitches to start the 8th and Jordan Hicks got the call. Hicks induced a trio of groundouts. The Cards threatened in the bottom of the 8th with a pair of walks from Ozuna and DeJong, but Brian Duensing replaced Edwards and put out the fire.
Greg Holland pitched a clean, nice, boring 9th for the Cards. It was a relief to see him look sharp. Duensing followed suit. Bonus baseball!
The Cubs couldn’t score against Sam Tuivailala. The Cardinals couldn’t score against Brandon Morrow, despite a Jose Martinez leadoff walk and a Marcell Ozuna infield single immediately following Martinez. My strength is fading.
Tui pitched another clean frame. Mike Montgomery relieved Morrow and also pitched a clean inning. Carson Kelly grounded out to end the inning, exhausting the Cardinals bench of position players. Please send help.
Mike Mayers slid onto the mound for the Scarlet Avengers. After rolling up a couple quick outs, Mayers got into a spot of bother. Heyward hit a sharp full-count single to right, and Zobrist hit a lazy single to right to advance J-Hey to third. Mayers buckled down and battled Contreras until he grounded out, 5-3.
The Cardinals went quietly in the bottom of the frame. Folks, we’re headed to the unluckiest inning. To counter the unluckiness, here’s an iconic Ozzie double play:
I get so sick of hearing about Baez’s defense. He’s just ok! Maybe a bit above average.
Clean innings all around. 14th inning, here we come.
Mayers was 2/3 of his way through his third clean inning when Javy Baez jumped on a mistake to put the Cubs up 3-2. Man, that guy.
Luke Farrell, John Farrell’s son, took over for Montgomery, facing Francisco Pena, the pitcher spot, and Bader. The birds had their backs against the wall, and the bench was empty. Thanks partly to the fact that we burnt Garcia earlier in the game without him actually batting, and partly because we’re carrying 8 relievers. But I digress.
Pena and professional hitter Miles Mikolas struck out. Harrison Bader cracked a sharp grounder to Baez, and he aired it out over Rizzo’s head to put the tying run on first. Dexter Fowler stepped into the box.
Ball. Called Strike. Called Strike. Foul. Foul. Ball in dirt.
Fastball low and inside, driven into the right field corner. Heyward, the best defensive right fielder in recent memory, is there. Heyward leaps. The ball sails an inch and a half over his glove, bounces off the top of the wall, and disappears into the stands.
THAT’S A WINNER!!!! CARDINALS COMPLETE THE SWEEP, 4-3!
- Player of the Game goes to Sexy Dexy here. That last PA was tough, and he climbed back from 1-2 to force a mistake and take juuuuust enough of it to walk off the affair.
- How snakebit are the Cubs right now?
- FLY IT SUCKAS
The Cardinals showed symptoms of acute joy and excitement:
And the Twitter rumor mill suggested that Fowler might end up with an unofficial bonus for his performance tonight.
Cardinals host the Minnesota Twins tomorrow. John Gant will slot in for Wainwright, who is still on the DL, against mostly-unheralded youngster Fernando Romero. Game starts at 7:10 CDT. We’ll have more coverage of that series tomorrow here at STLBullpen.com. Until then, get some sleep! And enjoy the sweep!