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7.25.15 Braves @ Cardinals Recap: Cards Skate By With 1-0 Victory

In a choose-your-own-narrative adventure, Shelby Miller faced off against Carlos Martinez on Saturday evening. Both pitchers threw extremely well, but thanks to a timely hit by Yadier Molina, and well-managed small ball tactics, the Cardinals came away with the win.

El Gallo 4 EVA
El Gallo 4 EVA
Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports

There once was a match up of two young pitching studs

Formerly on the same team, they used to be buds

Martinez v. Miller

A Saturday thriller

The Cardinals came away with the win and the hugs

The Narratives

Tonight's game featured the widely-anticipated match up of former Cardinal Shelby Miller and newest Cardinal pitching phenom Carlos Martinez.  Two young, dynamic pitchers; both selected as All-Stars; both having career years.

Following the tragic and untimely death of top prospect Oscar Taveras, the Cardinals found themselves heading into the 2015 season with an opening in right field.  Seizing a chance to upgrade both the offense and the defense, and in light of the team's - at the time, anyway - pitching depth, the Redbirds traded former first round pick Shelby Miller to the Braves for Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden.

Throughout the season, we've heard various talking heads discuss at length who "won" the trade .  Despite a strong start, Walden was injured in late April and has not pitched since.  Heyward got off to a very slow start, batting just .251/.303/.398 through May.  Miller, for his part, has been fantastic, having a career season and sporting a 2.27 ERA.  Some have said the Braves won the trade, getting many cost-controlled years out of a young and talented pitcher, while the Cardinals got a broken reliever and an elite defender who nevertheless struggles at the plate.  Of course, Heyward has improved steadily and incredibly, improving his slash line to .281/.334/.424 on the season, good for 2.6 fWAR and on pace for a 4+ fWAR season.

As an added wrinkle, Miller's departure opened a spot in the Cardinals' rotation.  Carlos Martinez earned that spot in spring training and has been proving it over and over again every time he takes the mound.  Wearing number 18 to honor his late friend, with a (now) 11-4 record and a shiny 2.34 ERA, Martinez is having the breakout season those of us who have followed him for the last few years have been expecting.  I'm of the opinion that any discussion of who "won" the trade must take into consideration what Martinez - affectionately nicknamed "El Gallo" - has done since entering the rotation.  The Cardinals are only around league average in runs per game, yet own the best record in baseball.  That is largely due to the excellent pitching staff.

Martinez dedicated his season to Taveras.  And while Taveras' death may have tangentially led to Martinez finally getting his chance to shine, I am sure Carlos would tell you that he would trade the immense success he's had in a heartbeat to have his friend back.

The Game

It is rare that a game as hyped up as this one actually delivers on the hype.  We expected a pitchers' duel and we got one.  In the bottom of the first inning, Kolten Wong hit a lead off double; the Cardinals did not have another hit again until the eighth inning.  That is how good Shelby Miller was tonight.  Though he only struck out four hitters, he had great command of his 4-seam fastball, hitting the corners and edges of the strike zone, inducing mostly weak contact, and hitting 96 mph on his fastball into the the 7th inning - all in search of his sixth win.  Alas, the baseball gods were not on Atlanta's side tonight.  Miller's final line: 7.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 4 SO, 2 BB.

Carlos Martinez pitched very well, but not as well as Miller.  Martinez allowed the leadoff batter to reach base in the second, third, fourth, and sixth innings, and actually loaded the bases in the second before striking out Miller to end the inning.  The Cardinals' defense aided El Gallo's efforts with three double plays, including one on a badass play by Kolten Wong.  His final line: 8 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 6 SO, 1 BB.

After 7.5 innings, the score remained tied 0-0.  Yadier Molina led off the bottom of the 8th inning with a single, and Randal Grichuk followed with a rare walk, putting runners on first and second with no out.  Mike Matheny then wisely brought in Pete Kozma to pinch run for Molina.  Mark Reynolds delivered a fly ball to center field, allowing Kozma to tag and go to third.  Martinez and Miller then coincidentally left the game at the same time.  With the pitcher's spot due up next, Miller was pulled for relief pitcher Luis Avilan, and Martinez was pulled for pinch hitter Stephen Piscotty.  Piscotty hit a fly ball to right field.  Though it was not that deep, Kozma took off from third and slid into home just ahead of the tag.  1-0 Cardinals.

We did not see Trevor Rosenthal in the ninth.  Instead, Seth Maness induced a line out, then Randy Choate came in to give up a bouncer up the middle, but ultimately end the game on a 6-4-3 double play - the Cardinals' fourth of the night.  Cardinals win!!!

Additional Notes

1. Congratulations to Cole Hamels who threw a 129-pitch no-hitter against the Cubs today, who now sit 11.5 games back of first place in the NL Central.

2. Carlos Martinez was hitting 98 mph on his fastball in the eighth inning.  Seriously. I admit that I wasn't sure about El Gallo coming out for the eighth, but he'd thrown only about 80 pitches and clearly still had all the juice.  Yowza.

3. Adam Wainwright joined the broadcast for an inning.  He discussed his charity, his recent outing for his daughter's softball team, and his progress following his Achilles injury. Wainwright said he was progressing daily, seeing gains weekly, and has suffered no set backs.  He has no time frame for his return, but you just KNOW he wants to come back this season.  He also said that Chris Carpenter taught him the cutter grip that he then taught Shelby Miller.  I miss Chris Carpenter.

4. Jaime Garcia is pitching Tuesday against the Reds!  Yeah!  Tim Cooney has been really good, and it's amazing that we keep losing pitchers and not missing a step in the standings.  Still, happy to see Jaime back on the mound.  Hope he's healthy, stealthy, and Hotme.

5. Cards go for the sweep tomorrow at 1:15 CT.  Matt Wisler faces another All-Star, 11-game winner Michael Wacha.