In a season chock full of frustrating losses, Sunday's might be the most gut-wrenching. The Cardinals were in Philadelphia playing the cellar-dwelling Phillies, a club that traded away two-thirds of its starting outfield before the trade deadline. It was the rubber match of a three-game series that saw the Phillies win Roy Halladay's start due to some late-inning Chase Utley heroics and the Cardinals win Cliff Lee's start due to some Holliday clutchyness. After falling behind in 3-1 in the first inning, the Cardinals ground their way to a an 8-5 lead entering the bottom of the eighth inning.
With left-handed sluggers Utley and Ryan Howard due up for the Phillies, manager Mike Matheny turned to southpaw Marc Rzepczynski just as former manager Tony La Russa did time and again to great effect during the 2011 World Series run. Rzepczynski has struggled this season with his strikeout percentage slightly more than half of what it was during his time with the Cards last season and his home run troubles starkly illustrated by comparing his 5.26 FIP to his 3.90 xFIP. Rzepczynski has improved in one area this year: walks. His 8.4 BB% would be a career low. If the southpaw known as Scrabble were going to struggle in Philly's bandbox of a park, it seems that it would be homers and not walks that would the cause. On this day, though, Rzepczynski walked both Utley and Howard before being lifted for the Redbirds' fireman, Mitchell Boggs.
Boggs has been a revelation this season for the Cardinals. Reliever after reliever after reliever has pitched poorly out of the St. Louis bullpen. Boggs has been consistently excellent. He had a 2.20 ERA entering play on Sunday. His 81.8 LOB% and 3.76 xFIP gave us reason to believe he was getting a bit lucky as his results were significantly better than what one would expect. Regression reared its ugly head at Citizens Bank Park.
Boggs inherited a jam: two runners on in a three-run game. Boggs came in and went right after the Phillies hitters. He struck out Domonic Brown on three pitches and induced a flyout from John Mayberry. Six pitches, six strikes, and two outs. In stepped Erik Kratz, a 32 year old with a .235/.287/.457 line in 87 plate appearances over parts of three major league seasons. Boggs attacked with a 97-MPH sinker; Kratz countered with a swing that sent the ball just barely into the left-field seats. The game was tied.
The clubs played into the eleventh inning. With Fernando Salas, Boggs, and Rzepczysnki burned, Barrett Browning was asked to cover two innings while Jason Motte went unused. In the bottom of the eleventh, Kratz led off with a double but then foolishly ran into an out at third on a Jimmy Rollins grounder hit to Rafael Furcal. Allen Craig made a tremendous diving stop on a hard-struck grounder for the second out, but Rollins advanced to second. Rollins then stole third without a throw with Juan Pierre at the plate.
Pierre slapped the ball the shortstop. Furcal made a back-handed stab, slipped, and fired to first. Pierre was called safe. The Cardinals lost the game on a walk-off infield single by Juan Pierre. At this point in this particular season, one can only react thusly: Of course they did.