The Cardinals enter play today in sole possession of the second wild card spot, 2.5 games back of Milwaukee for the first wild card spot, and 4.5 games back from Chicago for the NL Central division lead (I’m still holding out hope for this one). If it feels like every game is supremely important, that’s because every game is. There are eight games left on the season, including today’s, and the Rockies are scratching at our heels, just 1.5 games back of the Cardinals for that coveted second spot. And they have the good fortune of playing the Diamondbacks, Phillies, and Nationals to close out the season. The Cardinals, of course, play the Brewers and then the Cubs. It’s what you want, really, at least in theory – to be playing meaningful games at the end of September, to have a chance at the division – but, yeah. Supremely important games, the lot of ’em.
Adam Wainwright got today’s start against the San Francisco Giants, coming off an incredible six-inning, nine-strikeout effort last Sunday night against the formidable Dodgers, helping stop the bleeding after the Cardinals dropped four in a row. Does Adam still have some of that vintage Waino magic left? If he does, my goodness that would be absolutely huge for October.
Things started off quite promising for the boys in red. Wainwright’s curve was working and he did look very good through the first six innings. He was much more efficient than he was against the Dodgers, as well. The Giants scored one run in the third inning after a double and a bloop fly ball to center, but Wainwright walked no one and struck out six.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals’ offense was working, scoring one run each in the second and third innings (aided by a Waino RBI-single). A 2-1 lead didn’t feel safe, exactly, but it didn’t feel too bad.
Unfortunately, the wheels came off in the top of the seventh inning, when the Cardinals managed to make three (3!!!) errors that allowed the Giants to score three times. Hunter Pence started the inning with a lead off single, but the next hitter flied out to center. Alen Hanson followed with a weak bloop pop up to left field that Marcell Ozuna just could not quite get to. It would have been okay, I think, but Ozuna threw the ball to third instead of second for some reason, and the throw sucked. That allowed Hanson to go to second base. Error #1. The next hitter, Aramis Garcia, hit yet another bloop pop up to shallow center field that Bader, fast as he is, could not get to. Again, might have been okay, but Bader was coming on hard and just completely missed the ball after it dropped then bobbled it some more. Pence scored, Hanson scored, Ramirez went to second base. Error #2. Mike Shildt came out to the mound, but didn’t take Wainwright out of the game. I kind of thought he should have on the one hand, but on the other hand, no one had hit the ball hard, the Giants had gotten stupid lucky hits, and the Cardinals’ defense completely screwed him over. Waino stayed in the game. Dereck Rodriguez, not to be outdone by former Silver Slugger Wainwright, got a single of his own right after that, pushing Garcia to third base. That was enough for Shildt. Dakota Hudson came in to relieve Wainwright and promptly got a double play grounder – EXCEPT Yairo Munoz screwed up the transfer and they only got one out, and another run scored. Joe Panik followed with a ground ball to third base that Jedd Gyorko misplayed. Error #3. YOU get an error and YOU get an error and YOU get an error! When the bloodbath was finally over, the Giants led 4-2.
I felt dejected, defeated, sad that the great Waino start was ruined, and furious at the crappy defense. HOWEVER, Yadier Molina erased the whole damn thing with one swing of the bat in the bottom of the seventh inning. Gyorko redeemed himself by drawing a four-pitch leadoff walk, and Molina followed with a two-run home run to left center field, tying the game, 4-4. It was extremely satisfying.
Hudson stayed in to pitch the eighth inning and Carlos Martinez pitched the top of the ninth. Both had minor hiccups but got out of the innings unscathed to preserve the tie and give the offense a chance for a walk-off win.
Alas, Ozuna, Gyorko, and Molina went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth. Bonus baseball! (Inside, I’m panicking about the bullpen.)
El Gallo pitched the 10th inning, as well. After the first out, Pence reached on another very dumb hit up the middle that caromed off Martinez’s back. He appeared to be okay and stayed in the game. The Cardinals decided they weren’t done making dumbass errors for the day, and made another for good measure. I can’t even describe what happened, just a series of bad plays and even worse decisions that resulted in runners on first and third, one out, with Hanson at the plate. With a 3-2 count, Bruce Bochy sent the runner on first. Hanson struck out, but the runner did take second base. They intentionally walked the next batter, Nick Hundley, to bring up the pitcher’s spot. Austin Slater settled in to face Martinez, who had some 98-mph heaters left in the tank. Austin Slater struck out looking with the bases loaded. I felt like I was going to puke up my heart. September baseball!
Fast forward to the bottom of the tenth inning. Two out. Tyler O’Neill, who came in to play right field on a double switch when Wainwright was removed in the seventh, at the plate. I thought to myself, he definitely has the power to hit one out. AND THEN HE DID. WALK-OFF, NO-DOUBTER HOME RUN TO DEEP LEFT FIELD!!! CARDINALS WIN!!! CARDINALS WIN!!!
Man. What an ugly, frustrating, beautiful, terrible, awesome, amazing game.