Tonight's game was fantastic. Here is a non-exhaustive list of things that cumulatively made it fantastic:
fantastic defense from Matt Carpenter to start the game
great pitching from Lance Lynn
errors by both of those guys to allow Boston's two runs to score
- an angry Mike Napoli yelling about a called third strike to end the top of the seventh
- an enraged Matt Holliday yelling about a called third strike to end the bottom of the seventh
- Shane Robinson scoring the game-tying run on a spectacular slide
- clutch two-out hits
- Pat Neshek striking out the side in the eighth
- Peter Bourjos ghosting across the outfield
- and--because all happiness should be tempered in woe--Joe Kelly and Allen Craig in the visitors dugout.
It is well documented that Lance Lynn has a large and nettlesome platoon split, pitching like a Cy Young winner against righties and like a batting-practice pitcher versus lefties. Coming into the season, many of us wondered if this would be the year that Lynn figured out how to close that gap. So far this year, he has--at least a little bit.
In 74 innings pitched this year (not including his seven innings tonight), Lynn's most glaringly platoony stat is his BB%: 12.6 vs LHH, 6.2 vs RHH. And while I think that his walk rate versus lefties is slightly inflated by his pitching around lefties to get to right-handed hitters--avoiding dangerous hitters is also something Wainwright does, though of course less often than Lynn seems to--even in spite of that large and still nettlesome walk-rate split, it looks like he has indeed improved versus lefties this season: His wOBA-against the past three seasons is .366, .340, and .310 this year. And that's not all luck on balls in play, either, as his xFIP has gone from 5.09, to 4.74, to 4.59 this year.
Unfortunately, and on the other hand here, his peripherals versus righties are not as stellar this year as last: 3.17 xFIP versus 2.88 last year. Welp, nobody's perfect.
But how well did Lynn pitch tonight, you might ask? Very well. 7.0 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, and lots of ground balls (61.9%). Again, the only runs that scored on him were the result of a Carpenter throwing error and an error by Lynn himself, when he induced Will Middlebrooks to hit a bases-loaded inning-ending double-play ball right back to the pitcher's mound, only to bobble and fumble it and settle for one out at first base. He then struck out Mike Napoli to end the inning.
And how well did Lynn pitch against lefties? Very well, though this wasn't a lefty-heavy lineup, either in number or quality. Lynn particularly bedeviled Boston's leadoff hitter Brock Holt, who grounded out to start the game and struck out versus Lynn twice (and Neshek once) thereafter. Here's Lynn's fastball to strike out Holt and end the third:
If you don't have a great changeup, a good way to get lefties out is to throw pitches like this: hard fastball, belt high, outside. Hard to hit but also hard to lay off. More of that, Lance.
The Seventh Inning
After Yoenis Cespedes hit a groundball single to start the seventh, Daniel Nava lined a hit to left and Xander Bogaerts sacrifice bunted, bringing Christian Vazquez to the plate with one out and men on second and third and the game tied 1-1.
Christian Vazquez is A.J. Pierzynski's replacement and has a stellar defensive reputation (see below) but is a poor hitter and does that poor hitting righthanded. Matheny chose to walk him anyway, to load the bases for the equally righthanded Will Middlebrooks.
The strategy paid off (Lynn induced a weak grounder back to the mound) and also didn't (Lynn muffed it, allowing the go-ahead run to score). Mike Napoli then pinch hit, striking out on a close strike three. He was plussed about the call, was Napoli--plussed and angry.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Cardinals would fight back into a tie because of Shane Robinson's walk, Kolten Wong's single to center, and this incredible slide:
I'll learn how to make gifs one day and you'll see just how perfectly he executed this slide. Until then, however, just look at this still, and do in no wise neglect to admire Matt Holliday's herculean sangfroid there, watching the most exciting play of the game take place right in front of him, cool as a cucumber. Nothing rattles this guy.
Ah, except maybe the elite pitch-framing skills (nay, call them strike-stealing skills) of Christian Vazquez, who basically struck Holliday out all by himself. Witness:
and the last pitch:
and Holliday's reaction:
I'll let Drew Silva take this one:
Pat Neshek just carved up Brock Holt, Dustin Pedroia, and David Ortiz. 0.78 ERA, 0.60 WHIP, 49/6 K/BB in 46 1/3 innings with the Cardinals.— Drew Silva (@drewsilv) August 6, 2014
Trevor Rosenthal pitched a scoreless ninth inning, because he had luck and Peter Bourjos on his side.
- Fantastic dive-twisting play by Carpenter in the top of the first to rob Dustin Pedroia of a double down the line. He then started the bottom half with a long double off the wall in right-center, just inches shy of a leadoff home run, which would've been pretty neat in my opinion.
- David Ortiz started at first base, and in the very first inning the Cardinals tried to test his defense there: Kolten Wong drag-bunted toward first, but the ball went foul.
- Oscar Taveras had a rough night till the eighth inning, when he hit a two-out single to move Pierzynski to third and to set up Jay's go-ahead hit. There then occurred my second-favorite moment of the night, behind only Matt Holliday's gorgeous and terrifying fit: Oscar Taveras met David Ortiz at first base, during the game, and Oscar flashed a wonderful smile at Big Papi, and as Don DeLillo wrote, "It was one sweetheart of a moment."
WPA graph, as always:
Game two of the series takes place at 7:15 central Wednesday night, Shelby Miller versus Joe Kelly, in a rematch of hundreds of foosball games they've played through the years. Word on the street is that the first one to get a hit off the other gets $100.