Hello all, and welcome to the second edition of what I’m hoping can be a lengthy series for this little old blog (if the monstrous person known as John Fleming will allow it), Something Moments in Cardinals History. Again, the purpose of this series is to look back at those Cardinals moments that aren’t among the hallowed halls of the best or worst, but are definitely…something. In Volume 1, we flashed back to May of 2010 to re-live the epitome of such a moment: Brad Penny crushing a grand slam so magnificently that it re-injured his back and ruined his career.
In Volume 2, we once again go back in time to the spring of 2010. The 2010 season for the Cardinals was marked by strange events. From the Penny injury to Kyle Lohse having “motorcross surgery” the same week to a seemingly ordinary trade for Jake Westbrook that resulted in the Indians landing future ace Corey Kluber, nothing managed to be normal in St. Louis in 2010. The team did manage to stay competitive all season up until an absolutely disastrous September knocked them out of playoff contention. Oh, and Pedro Feliz happened.
Perhaps fans should have foreseen that a year like this was to come when on April 17, the Cardinals kicked off their season of bizarre mishaps with a game that would have only made sense had it been led off with an introduction by Rod Serling.
The only merciful thing that can be said about this game was that it started at 3:15 in the afternoon rather than at 7:10. The reason why this is such a merciful thing is because the contest between the Cardinals and the Mets at Busch Stadium on April 17, 2010, would go on to last 20 innings and nearly 7 full hours. In a more unfortunate turn of events, the reason for the mid-afternoon start was that FOX had chosen this game to be their weekly showcase Saturday Baseball game, meaning this catastrophe was to be broadcasted in full to a national television audience. As you would expect for a weekend afternoon game in St Louis, the crowd at Busch Stadium was nearly sold out, with 43,709 poor saps showing up for what they hoped would be a pleasant day at the ol’ ballgame, hopelessly unaware of the horror they were about to witness.
At this point, we should take a moment to acknowledge that the players who reach the MLB level are the highest caliber of skilled baseball players, and among the highest caliber of athletes in general, worldwide. They possess natural abilities beyond what most of us can comprehend and have spent a life time tirelessly honing those abilities into their craft. The things they are capable of doing on the baseball field go beyond what any of us could hope to achieve. I say this now because fairly acknowledging this reality makes it all the more incredible that these two squads full of such players did not manage to do anything of interest whatsoever for the first 11 1/2 innings.
In fairness, if you’re someone who enjoys pitching duels, the battle between the starters in this contest would have interested you. Johan Santana, 2 years before his controversial 134-pitch no hitter against the very same Cardinals would permanently ruin his arm and destroy his career, faced off against promising lefty southpaw Jaime Garcia. Both Santana and Garcia made fools of opposing hitters all afternoon, each throwing 7 scoreless frames. Garcia only surrendered one hit while striking out 5, while Santana gave up 4 hits and struck out 9.
With both starters exiting the game as it entered the 8th frame, it looked like both teams finally had some hope to put points on the board. This, though, would not prove to be the case, as Kyle McClellan shut down the Mets 1-2-3 in the top of the 8th and Ryota Igarashi stranded 2 Cardinals in the bottom half after a pair of walks. McClellan would mow down the top of the Mets order for a consecutive 1-2-3 frame in the 9th. The Cardinals pinch-hit with the legendary Nick Stavinoha in the bottom of the 9th, but this was somehow not enough to score any runs off of a combination of Igarashi and Pedro Feliciano.
Alright, so imagine you’re a fan watching this game. Not every baseball game is interesting, but one of the only things that you are guaranteed to see is that someone will score at least one run. At this point, you have watched 9 innings- aka, the normal amount of innings for one baseball game- and that guaranteed thing has yet to happen. But, ok, the first 7 innings were marked by a great pitcher’s duel followed by two innings of good relief work. It’s understandable, and no reason to worry, because eventually, someone HAS to score a run, especially once the best pitchers leave the game.
Those are all rational thoughts to have, but this was not a rational baseball game.
The 10th and 11th innings passed wholly uneventfully, with Mitchell Boggs, Trever Miller, Jason Motte, Pedro Feliciano, and Fernando Nieve all shutting down the opposition for their respective teams. The bottom of the 12th brought the closest either team had to scoring, and the first time in the entire game that either team brought more than 5 hitters to the plate in one inning. Nieve would get best buds and noted cinematographers Brendan Ryan and Joe Mather out to start the inning, but would then allow a Skip Schumaker single. Ryan Ludwick would reach first on the next at-bat due to catcher’s interference, because of course. This brought up Albert Pujols, who was wisely walked to load the bases with the pitcher’s spot up. The pitcher’s spot was occupied by Jason Motte, so this would seem like an ideal time for a pinch hitter in such a crucial spot. The problem for Tony La Russa, though, was that the Cardinals only had one position player left on the bench, and that was Bryan Anderson, the backup catcher who La Russa didn’t want to burn as a PH in case something were to happen to Yadier Molina (Anderson was not exactly a major threat at the plate anyway, for what it’s worth). La Russa’s choices, then, were either to let Motte hit or use another pitcher in that spot. La Russa, figuring he could leave Motte in next inning, decided to choose the former option. It didn’t look promising, but hey, wait a minute, this is Jason Motte! Motte wasn’t originally a pitcher, everyone knows he was drafted as a catcher and was converted! A former position player, there’s some hope after all!
The problem is that those of you who recall that Jason Motte was originally drafted as a catcher may also recall that the reason he was transitioned to pitcher was primarily because he couldn’t hit a lick. As it turned out, depending on Motte’s hitting abilities was indeed not a good thing, as Nieve easily struck Motte out to end the 12th with the 0-0 tie still in place.
I remember where I was when I was watching this game. For some personal background, I grew up in the country, and my mom has a large, close-knit family that mostly lives close by. We gather together at each other’s houses quite frequently for holidays, birthdays, or whatever reason we can give ourselves to get together. At these gatherings, there are usually sports on a TV in the background, but most of the time and attention is spent visiting with each other so whatever sporting event is on takes a backseat. On this day, I was at one of these gatherings at my Aunt Marylin’s house. A group of us were gathered at her large kitchen table. I was mostly chatting with everyone, but had been keeping an eye on the game in the background, so I had only half-paid attention up until this point. It was not until Motte’s strikeout to put a period on the 12th scoreless inning that I realized we may be witnessing something special in how crappy it was.
The next several innings would go on to prove me correct. The relief pitchers for both squads all proved to be on their game, as scoreless inning after scoreless inning continued to follow. The most excitement came in the bottom the 14th, when an eerie repeat of the circumstances of the 12th occurred. The Mets’ Hisanori Takahashi gave up a double followed by an error on a bunt to put best buds Mather and Ryan on base with no outs. This time, though, Skip Schumaker and Ryan Ludwick struck out in consecutive at bats. With runners on 2nd and 3rd with 2 outs, Albert Pujols was once again walked, and once again this brought a relief pitcher to the plate to hit for himself, this time Blake Hawksworth. Hawksworth fared even worse than Motte, striking out looking to end the scoring threat.
The Cardinals again came close to scoring in the 16th. With one out, Ludwick and Pujols hit back-to-back singles to bring up the pitcher’s spot. This time, with 2 on and 1 out, La Russa realized he couldn’t waste another chance, finally bringing in Bryan Anderson, the final positional player left for the Cardinals, to pinch hit. The move was a wise one in theory, but as I observed in Vol. 1 of this series, the wise move in baseball does not always pay off. Anderson grounded one to second baseman Luis Castillo, who flipped to shortstop Jose Reyes for the force out. A great slide by Pujols meant that Reyes had to hesitate and wouldn’t have had a play on Anderson at first. This relief, however, was only momentary, as Ryan Ludwick was inexplicably trying to score all the way from 2nd on a ball that hadn’t left the infield. Reyes caught him in the act, throwing home and catching Ludwick in a brief rundown before being tagged for out #3 to end the 16th still tied at 0-0.
The 17th inning only brought more torture, with neither team even coming close to scoring as the game was into its seventh hour. It was at this point, though, as the 18th inning began, that this weird and frustrating game of baseball reached a true new level of derangement:
That screenshot comes from the box score of this game, and I’ll provide you with the proper context for what the Cardinals did. See, Tony La Russa was faced with the unique problem of being both out of position players and relief pitchers. Ryan Franklin, who had pitched the 17th, was not set to pitch a second frame, and so La Russa, left with only other starting pitchers available to play on his bench, had to find a way to get a new player into the game in a way that made sense. Doing so in a sensible way was not possible, so La Russa said to hell with it and decided to go for full chaos. Getting the call to the mound was Felipe Lopez, a utility infielder who had been playing 3rd. Joe Mather was brought in from center to take Lopez’s spot at 3rd. Ludwick, whose outfield range was…let’s say limited, moved to center field. To top it all off, with no sensible options left, starting pitcher Kyle Lohse was put in left field. It was clear at this point that whatever happened next, it would not be normal.
By this point, I should note that my family had all fully turned their attention to the travesty of baseball on the TV screen behind us. How could they turn away from this trainwreck? This seemed like it had to be it, the Cardinals lineup had become a complete circus and an infielder was pitching. The Mets had their chance there in the top of the 18th. The strangest thing happened, though. Felipe Lopez’s pitching style was apparently just slowly flicking the ball towards the plate at about 75-80 mph. In major league baseball, this seems like a horribly unsuccessful strategy. Lopez, however, had a little magic in him, having hit the game-winning grand slam the night before. It seemed as though these major league hitters were so used to legitimate good pitching that they were confused by this nonsense being thrown at them by Lopez. His first 3 pitches were balls, but after finding the strike zone, he got his first out on a flyout thanks to a great play by shortstop Brendan Ryan.
Next up was Raul Valdes, a relief pitcher with no career hits. He didn’t have the same problem as the other hitters, as he was not at all used to facing major league pitching. Valdes fouled off several pitches on a 0-2 count- including a curveball that came out of absolutely nowhere- before hitting a grounder into the gap between third and short. Ryan used his great range to track it down, but his attempt at a Jeter-esque throw went horribly wrong, going wide of first and past Albert Pujols. Now, Raul Valdes just got his first career hit, and a position player was on the mound. He could have just as easily taken that for what it was and left his teammates to bring him home…but this was no ordinary game, and there’s no glory in that! Valdes valiantly decided to put himself in scoring position by taking off for second. The ball rebounded hard off the wall right back to Pujols who turned and threw to set up a close play at 2nd. The problem was, in his moment of glory, Raul Valdes forgot that he’s supposed to slide. Mather picked the ball at 2nd and made a quick tag to get Valdes out and damper the Mets’ 18th inning scoring threat. Lopez walked Angel Pagan but got a Mike Jacobs flyout to round out his scorless inning. What I remembered most during this was my family absolutely losing their shit at this comedy of errors and the shit-eating grins of both Lopez and his teammates during the whole thing.
The excitement was back in the Busch Stadium crowd, but quickly left when an angry Raul Valdes shut the Cardinals down 1-2-3 in the bottom the 18th. One inning was all Felipe Lopez had in him, and in the 19th, he swapped spots with Joe Mather, who as you may have noticed by now, was also not a pitcher. Mather looked better by the eye test than Lopez, but did not have the same level of success. After two walks, a sacrifice bunt, and a HBP, Mather gave up a sacrifice fly by Jeff Francoeur. After nearly 6 1/2 hours, the game finally had its first run. Mather intentionally walked Henry Blanco to bring back up Raul Valdes, who grounded out, this time with no funny business.
In the bottom of the 19th, the Cardinals, who had spent 6 1/2 hours not scoring runs, reached the point where they needed to actually score a run. Fortunately for them, but perhaps unfortunately for the good of humanity, that little sense of urgency seemed to be all the inspiration they needed. Mets Manager Jerry Manuel had saved closer Francisco Rodriguez for this moment rather than use him in any of the numerous high-leverage situations before, a decision so insane that it deserved the bad result it got. Ryan Ludwick walked to lead off the inning, but in another regrettable baserunning moment, was caught stealing at second. This was especially regrettable since Pujols doubled in the next at-bat. Faux-left fielder Kyle Lohse grounded out next to move Pujols to third, then Yadier Molina brought Pujols home on a single to left to tie it up at 1-1.
Cardinals fans were elated in the same way we always are when our team preserves the possibility of a win. Deep down, though, we all knew that if they didn’t score another run this inning, this game would only descend into a further abyss, and who knew what sort of Cronenberg-esque horrors awaited if the game would enter its 20th frame. Sadly, this horror became reality, as K-Rod struck out Allen Craig to end the 19th knotted up at 1.
Mather re-took the mound in the 20th and gave up back-to-back leadoff singles, the second of which put Angel Pagan on 3rd base. Jose Reyes hit a sacrifice fly to bring home Pagan and put the Mets ahead 2-1. Mather would retire the next two to keep the lead at 1, giving the Cardinals one more chance, nearly 7 hours in, to keep the game alive.
Jerry Manuel was also out of relief pitchers with K-Rod not in a position to pitching another inning. Instead of using a position player to pitch, he tried a different roll of the dice, calling on Mike Pelfrey, one of his starters who was not supposed to pitch at all that day, or in any relief capacity. Pelfrey got the first 2 out, but there was a glimmer of hope once again after a Brendan Ryan single and Skip Schumaker walked. This brought Ryan Ludwick to the plate. Ludwick had arguably done more to hurt his team in this game than anyone else. He was 2-6, but his two baserunning blunders had either killed off or limited his team’s few scoring chances. This was his moment, with a runner in scoring position, to make the fans all forget about those blunders. With one swing of the bat, he could make himself a hero of a miraculous Cardinals win.
Well, as nice as that would have been, Ludwick actually grounded out to second, bringing a merciful end to the asinine spectacle that was the Cardinals/Mets game of April 17, 2010. It had taken 20 innings, 46 different players, 158 plate appearances, and nearly 7 hours, but this game was finally in the books. The Mets could mark down one in the win column, but everyone in all honesty could agree that, on this day in baseball, everyone lost.
As previously mentioned, a disastrous September caused the Cardinals to narrowly miss the playoffs. You could say, then, that the many, many, MANY failings of this game were major contributors to the downfall of the 2010 Cardinals. That said, that sort of analysis is never very strong, because who’s to say that this played more of a role than any of the other bizarre incidents of that season? (Speaking of bizarre incidents, part of the September shitshow was the Cardinals releasing April 16th hero & April 17th near-hero Felipe Lopez because they got sick of him showing up late to games.)
What can be said for sure, though, is that for those of us who actually witnessed this day of complete baseball calamity, the highs, the stretches of boredom, and the pure confusion are not easily forgotten, although we all surely try. Some have been more successful than others, but for many of us, these strange and tumultuous 7 hours of baseball still roam around the fringes of our nightmares, never fully possessing us, but always just slightly out of frame. Will only the sweet kiss of death bring us release from this painful memory? I don’t know, but this baseball game definitely sucked, no doubt about it.
For anyone who wants to delve deeper themselves into the insanity of the Cardinals/Mets fiasco of April 17, 2010, here is a full, comprehensive box score with a play-by-play to help you see every torturous step more clearly. Or if you’re a true masochist, some sick individual on YouTube has uploaded the entire 7-hour broadcast for your viewing displeasure. Skip around to find the more hilarious moments, or if you have 7 free hours and really want to torture yourself, watch the whole thing start to finish.
As always, thanks for reading. In Volume 3, we will go back to more recent history in 2015 to look at the second-worst decision of Mike Matheny’s managerial career. Until then, keep reading the other fine content on this blog, and follow me on twitter at turpin4prez for more great and not-so-great insights on various things. Thanks again for reading, and for everyone out there, whatever you need to accomplish tomorrow, try to keep it from taking 4 hours longer than it needs to. Goodnight, and go birds.