Sweeps are hard to come by in Major League Baseball. Sweeps are even harder to come by in the heat of August against teams jockeying for playoff position. But that’s exactly what the St. Louis Cardinals did tonight with a thrilling 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Tonight, fans were treated to a showcase of two of the National League’s best young pitchers in STL’s Jack Flaherty and LA’s Walker Buehler. And they did not disappoint. Tonight, fans were treated to October baseball in mid-August, and I have a feeling it won’t be the last time Cardinals fans see this type of baseball this season.
Jack Flaherty entered tonight’s game on a pace in line with 1998 Kerry Wood, and got things started by striking out the side in the first inning. He was ultra-efficient through his first three innings of work, striking out five batters and only allowing one baserunner on a walk.
The Cardinals got their first scoring opportunity in the third when Yairo Munoz moved Harrison Bader over to third base on a line drive, but Munoz was thrown out at second by Yasiel Puig on an absolute #TOOTBLAN with the pitcher on deck, and the Cardinals would fail to drive in Bader.
The fourth inning was highlighted by Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy tumbling into the first row while chasing a foul ball, which led to a string of very good and very dumb tweets from our site’s fearless leader. Anyway, Walker Buehler worked around an infield single from Jedd Gyorko to put up another scoreless frame.
Flaherty, whom I should remind you all is just 22 years old, continued to roll through the fifth inning. At one point, he retired 12 straight batters in his first outing at Dodger Stadium since he was in high school. He also got Puig to smash a bat over his knee following Flaherty’s ninth strikeout of the evening, which was quite satisfying to watch.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Walker Buehler wasn’t about to let up. allowing just two hits (both singles) through his first six innings of work and striking out eight batters, all while working with a lower pitch count than his counterpart.
Joc Pederson finally broke up Flaherty’s no-hit bid in the sixth with a solo home run just over the right field wall. Flaherty hug a breaking ball over the middle of the plate, and Pederson didn’t miss it at all. 1-0 Dodgers.
Flaherty ended the night with 10 strikeouts and two walks through six innings of work. His only run – and hit – came from Pederson’s home run.
In the seventh inning, Jedd Gyorko hit a line drive off of Justin Turner’s glove at third base that went for a leadoff double, only the second time of the night that the Cardinals had a runner in scoring position. But Paul DeJong struck out, Kolten Wong grounded into a fielder’s choice, and Harrison Bader’s bloop hit was run down by Manny Machado at short to leave another run 90 feet from home.
With Buehler now over 100 pitches, Dave Roberts brought on lefty Scott Alexander in the eighth, and Mike Shildt countered by having Tyler O’Neill (who was 1 for 10 as a pinch hitter entering tonight) bat for the pitcher. Naturally, O’Neill evened the score with a solo home run to right field. I’d say O’Neill is officially forgiven for playing the outfield with no apparent regard for human life on Tuesday. 1-1 after seven.
Dakota Hudson came on to pitch the eighth and ran into trouble quickly. With one out, Puig reached on a single, and Matt Kemp reached on an error after Gyorko’s throw from across the diamond pulled Matt Carpenter off of the first base bag, bringing up Joc Pederson with two on and the go-ahead run in scoring position.
Gyorko was charged with the error, but it’s honestly difficult to assign blame for that play. At first glance, it appeared like Carpenter just forgot where his feet where relative to the bag (and he had some time to back up and get the force out after the ball hit his glove), but Gyorko bobbled the initial hit from Kemp that may have thrown off his throwing rhythm.
Carpenter made up for it with a diving stop on a ground ball from Pederson, saving a run with the 3-1 putout. Justin Turner drew a two-out walk to load the bases for Manny Machado. In the game’s biggest at bat, Hudson fell behind in the count early, but came back to get Machado to ground out to short and leave the bases loaded. Nails from the rookie.
Needing to prevent runs at all costs, Roberts called on Kenley Jansen in the ninth to preserve the 1-1 tie. On Monday, Gyorko and Carpenter hit back-to-back homers off of Jansen to pull away for a 5-3 Cardinal win. Tonight, it was Paul DeJong’s turn.
Gyorko reached on a bloop single, and DeJong got just enough of a pitch to send one over the left field wall and give the Cardinals a 3-1 lead. You had a feeling it was coming, it was just a matter of when. And it wasn’t a feeling you had in the first half of the season.
All that was left to do was for Jordan Hicks to close out the game. He blew away Cody Bellinger with a 102 MPH fastball, froze Brian Dozier with a 101 MPH fastball, and struck out Chris Taylor to seal the sweep. Cardinals win 3-1.
The Cardinals are now 71-57 on the year and 17-4 in the month of August, and 24-11 since Mike Shildt became interim manager. They retain possession of the first wild card spot in the NL, and remain 2.5 games out of first place in the NL Central.
This team is for real. Full stop.