Before reading further, take a moment of zen to appreciate these three things: (1) the St. Louis Cardinals won 100 games this season; (2) bounces, at-bats, innings, even entire postseasons are sometimes determined by chance; and (3) the Chicago Cubs are a very good baseball team.
And so, know that rooting for the Cardinals will one day break your heart, and that day could be tomorrow. But be of good cheer! As you probably know, the Cards won this, the first game of their National League Division Series with the Cubs--and they can now never lose it.
Now. Having said all that nonsense preamble, here's a quick lesson in the subtle stupidity and sublime beauty of baseballing:
Tonight's game began with John Lackey dispatching the first two Chicago batters, much to the crazed excitement of the capacity crowd at Busch Stadium. Kris Bryant then stepped to the plate, and Lackey eventually threw a fastball that Bryant connected with.
Try to guess what happened--here's the pitch, a 95mph fastball:
First of all, actually, look at that shit camera angle. Absolute SHIT camera angle, TBS. Fox Sports Midwest's camera is so perfectly direct that it's a shame anyone has to see this nonsense.
At any rate: just by looking at that pitch, and knowing it's Kris Bryant up there, I'm guessing he went yard. But first let's take a closer look at that fastball location:
Right down central. Hoo boy. And let's look at where in the zone Bryant hits the ball hardest (according to ISO):
He demolishes pitches up and in but also, like most hitters, will really turn around a middle-middle pitch. So a .378 ISO on pitches there. Not good, Lackey.
But maybe Bryant at least wasn't expecting a fastball there? Let's look at another fastball Lackey threw a couple of pitches before the one in question:
Uh huh, so what that tells me is that Bryant (1) had just seen basically the exact same pitch and (2) generally kills that pitch anyway, and (3) the one he connected with is even more of a meatball. My guess of home run is looking good. How hard did he hit it?
109 mph! Which the league as a whole hit .720 on this season. Some more information: Bryant hit it as a line drive, and it was near Matt Holliday, and Holliday is still recovering from a quad injury, and this is postseason baseball and the gods of baseball are fickle and--all right well by my tone you can probably guess that Holliday actually caught it, which
he did. End of inning. Baseball is unfair.
The salty one pitched a hell of a game--there's no denying it. But let's step back from the euphoria of the win to look at how he was utterly out-pitched by the losing pitcher, his fishing buddy John Lester.
First, Lackey's numbers:
- 7.1 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 K;
- 86 pitches, 56 strikes, 5 swinging strikes;
- 9 ground balls, 5 fly balls (3 infield fly balls), 2 line drives.
And now Lester's:
Look at those swinging strikes! If you didn't know the outcome of this game but only that John Lester had nine strikeouts, one walk (to the final batter he faced), and 18 swinging strikes--you'd think the Cardinals had lost, right?
Well they didn't. And while I can't say Lackey was the better pitcher tonight, he did have a no-hitter through five innings, and he did induce a lot of ground balls and infield flies, and he benefited from two inning-ending double plays. So I'll say that he deserved the win, even if Lester deserved it more.
But as always: KILL THE PITCHER WIN.
This was basically a pitcher's duel that the Cardinals' rookies broke open late in the game. Here are some moments that mattered:
Bot of 1st: The first hit of the game came off the bat of Mr. Lucky Even To Be Walking: Stephen Piscotty. He doubled ground-rule-style and then Matt Holliday lined a single up the middle to score him. 1-0 Cards.
Top of 4th: With one out, Kyle Schwarber walked to bring up the go-ahead run in Kris Bryant. On the first pitch he hit a grounder to Matt Carpenter at third, who turned an inning-ending double play.
Top of 6th: Lackey allowed his first hit of the game--crowd applauds--a leadoff single to Addison Russell. After David Ross struck out, John Lester came to the plate. John Maddon declined to pinch hit for him, deciding instead to have him bunt. Here is his attempt:
Old Salt missed his spot by about four horizontal feet! Not easy to do; also maybe an indication that Lackey's control is fading...put a pin in that for a second. Anyway Lester grounded out to first; Russell advanced to third; two outs in the inning now, but the Cubs' lineup turned over to leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler.
Of note: Matheny is sticking with Lackey even though (1) his command has gotten erratic, (2) the Cubs have the platoon advantage, and (3) this is the dreaded Third Time Through the Order.
Fowler and Lackey battled to two strikes, with Russell still on third, two outs, and the Cardinals clinging to a one-run lead--wait FYI here is Dexter Fowler's ISO graph:
--and so down and in is a place where Fowler has significant power. And Yadier Molina knows this, so he lined up outside. Throw it there, John! Don't miss down-and-inside like you just did one batter before!
Oh good gosh no.
That's a moon shot...even Yadi thinks it's gone...PLEASE SAVE US, JAGUAR GOD:
YESSAH! Baseball is unfair and don't you ever change!
End of inning.
Top of 7th: The Cardinals haven't been up to much hitting, and so the scary inning-ending near-homer that just occurred above, well that should've been pretty fresh in Mike Matheny's mind. And with lefty Schwarber up to start the seventh, I thought maybe our Mike would have Lyons or Siegrist in for Lackey.
But no--Lackey stays in to start the inning, and Schwarbs bunts his way on, a very entertaining, even charming event that set up an extremely stressful half-inning. With a runner on first and no outs, then, Kris Bryant came again to the plate. I won't even try to convey to you how scary this at-bat and the next were--you probably know that already. But Lackey, admirably, reached back and threw a two-strike fastball by Bryant for the first out of the inning. Heroic. HEROIC, John.
And now here we have Anthony Rizzo up, the Cubs' best hitter, who, granted, doesn't seem to have much of a platoon split. But remember the Third Time Through Order penalty! Mike! What the hell--wait is Siegrist not ready?
Kevin Siegrist warming up in the Cardinals bullpen.— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) October 10, 2015
He's ready! Put him in! That way madness lies, Mike!
But no. Lackey stays in. I gasp for air. The stars twinkle down upon our doom...and Anthony Rizzo hits a ground ball to a just-entered-the-game Mark Reynolds at first base for an inning-ending, non-force, 3-6 double play.
Top of 8th: Lackey pitched to just one more batter, starting the eighth inning by retiring Starlin Castro on a ground ball to short. Lackey then finally gave way to Kevin Siegrist as the Busch crowd first booed Matheny to show their appreciation for Lackey and then cheered Lackey to...show their appreciation for Lackey.
And it was this removal of Lackey that prompted maybe the most surprising event of the postseason so far: praise from The Book co-author Mitchel Lichtman for our very own beautiful bunny Mike Matheny:
Gotta give Matheny props here.— Mitchel Lichtman (@mitchellichtman) October 10, 2015
Siegrist looked great, striking out Chris Coghlan and Addison Russell to end the top half of the eighth.
Bot of 8th: And the canny moves by Matheny continued when he sent in Tommy Pham to pinch hit for
Lackey Siegrist. Here's a great shot of David Ross consulting his cheat sheet, trying to figure out how best to pitch to VEB sweetheart Pham:
And Pham with the face of a damn tiger right there. What a moment for Pham. It was truly touching to see him just take a single at-bat--and even moreso to see him hit a 431-foot home run off Lester:
Tommy Pham’s homer actually just now landed pic.twitter.com/RR5SbA8ySb— Dan Doelling (@daniel_doelling) October 10, 2015
2-0 Cards. Former VEB site manager DanUp, whose affection for Pham has been well known for years:
Until the miracles are verified and the canonization process concludes it’s licit to call him "Venerable Tommy Pham"— Dan Moore (@mademdashes) October 10, 2015
Et apres Pham, le deluge: Matt Carpenter walked, Maddon removed Lester and brought in righthanded pitcher Pedro Strop to face Stephen Piscotty, and damned if Piscotty didn't himself hit a 400-foot homer to left. Strop threw young Stephen two sliders in a row, and the second did not reach Ross's mitt:
Trevor Rosenthal entered in the ninth to close the game and did not allow a run to score.
Cardinals win. And now have a 1-0 lead in the NLDS.
Win expectancy graph: