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Cardinals escape ninth with a 4-3 win over the Royals

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With a one-run lead, a man on third, and nobody out, Trevor Rosenthal did his magic act by not allowing the Royals to score and securing the 61st win of the season.

"Hey Trevor, I know baseball is entertainment, but it's ok to make it boring."
"Hey Trevor, I know baseball is entertainment, but it's ok to make it boring."
Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports

I have a confession to make.  I definitely thought the Cardinals would lose.  Yeah that's not a controversial statement to make, but I had this bad feeling that Rosenthal would get through Dusty Coleman and Alcides Escobar without allowing a runner to score only to give up a hit to Mike Moustakas.  There is no non-manager related act in baseball that frustrates me more than when a pitcher gets through the difficult portion of getting out of a jam only to allow a hit with two outs.  And I was certain that was going to happen.

Thankfully, it did not and this is a very different post than I was expecting.  It's also going to be written a lot earlier, because let's face it: whether the Royals tied it up or scored one run, the Cardinals would go into extra innings.  That's kind of their thing.

John Lackey had what can best be described as a Lance Lynn lite start.  The only thing missing was the strikeout per inning.  He threw a ton of pitches, improbably lasted into the seventh inning, and ended up with over 110 pitches.  If there's a word that can be used to described his start - and please forgive me for this - it's gritty.  It didn't really seem like he had his best stuff (or best control), and yet at the end of the day, he pitched seven innings with two earned runs.

Both of his earned runs were allowed at the beginning of the game in the first inning.  He struck out Alcides Escobar on three straight pitches, but then couldn't find the zone against Moustakas.  After getting Lorenzo Cain to line out, Eric Hosmer hit a slooow groundball towards the second base side of the bag.  Since Cards had the shift on him, Hosmer had touched first by the time Wong had reached the ball.  Salvador Perez hit a bloop single to left to score the first and Alex Rios followed with a line drive single towards center to score the second run.

It's not like he became dominant after that inning either.  He pitched to the minimum in the 2nd and 3rd where the only damage was an infield single by Cain who was swiftly removed by Hosmer the next pitch on a double play ball.  Rios hit a one-out double in the 4th, and moved to third when Omar Infante grounded out to the right side.  Lackey treaded carefully with Dyson hitting the absolute corner of the plate on two strikes, but he ended up walking him to get to the pitcher.  Then after pitching just three innings, Chris Young was taken out when Kendrys Morales, the Royals starting DH, pinch-hit for him.  Morales didn't exactly fail as he hit a line drive towards deep center, but Randal Grichuk was able to reach it for the final out.

The Cardinals offense was something they rarely seem to be this year: patient and working the count.  Wong started the game with a nine-pitch plate appearance which ended when he lined out right to the right fielder.  Despite only facing four batters in the first inning, one of which included a walk to Matt Holliday, Chris Young had 24 pitches.  It didn't get better for him in the 2nd.  Heyward led off with a single, followed by a six-pitch lineout from Yadier Molina and a seven-pitch home run for Grichuk.  Oh I guess I buried the lead there.  In the third, Wong worked a six-pitch plate appearance into a single followed by a home run by Matt Carpenter.  So just like that the Cardinals had a 4-2 lead in the 3rd inning.  And that's why Chris Young was taken out so early.  He didn't look good, he wasn't going to last that many innings anyway and the Royals had an opportunity to score so they took it.  It just didn't work out.

Lackey lasted into the 7th inning mostly without incident, because if there had been incident, he probably would have had too many pitches to last that long.  Lackey was only marginally more efficient than Chris Young, he just got more outs than he did and ultimately threw 111 pitches.  The Cardinals had their best chance to get more insurance runs in the 7th.  Wong singled with one out and then advanced to second on a wild pitch.  Unfortunately, the Matt Carpenter of recent showed up again and struck out.  Holliday walked for his third time of the game, and then got removed with Carlos Martinez as the pinch-runner (Bourjos, who had pinch-hit to begin the inning, ended up staying in the game as part of a double switch.)  We didn't get to see a chance for Martinez to run too much as Jhonny Peralta, with an uncharacteristically off game at the plate, grounded out.

The Royals did not go down easy even before the 9th.  Randy Choate came in to face Moustakas.  After falling behind, Moustakas saw a pitch he liked and lined a single to right.  Matheny didn't want to have Choate face Cain despite Hosmer being in the hole so he brought in Seth Maness.  Cain hit it hard to center but Bourjos was there for the catch.  He got the ground ball he wanted from Hosmer, but it found a hole to make it first and second with one out.  Alas, the very next batter, Perez, grounded into a double play instead.

In the 9th, pitching in his third straight game, Trevor Rosenthal started badly.  Rios hit a slow grounder up the middle that Wong reached and desperately tried to throw for an out, but he had no chance and the leadoff man was on.  Infante then hit a line drive towards right center and ended up getting a triple.  So that's when the Cardinals found themselves with nobody out and a man on third with only a one-run lead.  Dyson appeared to want to bunt, but Rosenthal had no interest and walked him on four straight pitches.  For some reason, the Cardinals let Dyson take second and just like that the winning run was on second.

Luckily, Rosenthal was facing a made-up guy named "Dusty Coleman."  Coleman, who fangraphs tells me exists, is a 28-year-old 3B with a 105 wRC+ in AAA and zero hits in four PAs in the majors.  He did not get his first hit tonight.  Rosenthal struck him out on four pitches making him look like... well a 28-year-old who just now made the major leagues for the first time in his life.  Alcides Escobar put up more of a fight but hit a chopper towards Carpenter who fielded the ball cleanly and made a perfect throw to Molina.  Molina just waited for Infante to slide into his glove for the second out.  Moustakas fought through some tough pitches, but ultimately had a similar result, hitting a chopper towards Wong.  Somehow Rosenthal had gotten out of the jam and dear god Rosenthal better not be pitching tomorrow.

WPA Graph


Source: FanGraphs

This is art.

Notes

- Matt Holliday on why the at-bat statistic is out-dated and stupid: He went 1-1 with 3 walks.

- I thought the Cardinals hit the Royals bullpen pretty good tonight, but alas they didn't get any runs from it.  They just seemed to find gloves.  (Heyward in particular seemed unlucky in this regard)

- So that went from comfortable to horrifying to awesome pretty quickly.  Fun game... because of the way it ended.  It was almost terrible.  That's baseball for you.

Tomorrow, the Cardinals begin a three-game series against Heyward's former team the Atlanta Braves.  They don't face former Cardinal Shelby Miller until Saturday so tomorrow we will have to make due against 24-year-old prospect Manuel Banuelos.  He was rated in the Top 200 prospects by Riley McDaniel of Fangraphs and his early MLB results have been middling so who knows what to expect.  He's facing Tim Cooney so that appears to be a somewhat even matchup.