All sports create the illusion of real-life drama: humans run around committing certain actions, and the results of this fakery create real emotions in us. Joy or sorrow, frustration or catharsis. And yet, when actual bad things happen on the field, there is both the alarm of the event itself and the whiplash of being forcibly removed from what is, essentially, decadent make-believe.
That nauseating whiplash occurred to all who watched the seventh inning of tonight's game: on a Starling Marte fly ball deep into the gap, left fielder Stephen Piscotty ranged to his left as center fielder Peter Bourjos sprinted to his right, each clocking the ball as it sailed into the space between them. Neither player slowed and neither was called off, and so the two players converged, and the nightmare that you feared might happen did: Piscotty dove head first for the ball, Bourjos lunged and caught the ball in full extension, and Piscotty's head was bent back with great violence by Bourjos's knee.
The reaction by everyone involved was immediate: Bourjos signaled for help--remarkably, he had actually made the catch--as Matheny and the St. Louis trainers sprinted from the dugout to Piscotty's motionless body and the Pittsburgh crowd fell at once into a hushed and anxious silence. The Fox Sports Midwest telecast became what struck me in my own stunned silence as almost art: shots of millionaire athletic demigods looking scared and worried, and then shots of the crowd standing and watching the trainers do their work, no sound, and really the only movement was Peter Bourjos pacing to and fro and shaking his head at the ground.
Eventually Piscotty was put on a stretcher and carted off the field. He waved at the crowd; he had earlier moved his feet; there was blood trickling down his face until someone wiped it away.
After Jon Jay took Piscotty's place in left, the Cards eventually announced that he had suffered a "head contusion" and would be further evaluated at the hospital.
We are all of us invincible until we're not. Be okay, Stephen.
Lance Lynn and J.A. Happ
After a few rough outings for Lynn, his last start was a return to form; we all hoped that form would persist into tonight's crucial matchup with the Pirates. And well--it only sorta did:
- 5.0 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 4 BB (1 IBB), 6 K;
- 96 pitches, 56 strikes, 9 swinging strikes;
- 6 ground balls, 2 fly balls, 4 line drives, 1 heroic double play induced.
- 6.0 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K;
- 56 pitches (!), 43 strikes, 7 swinging strikes;
- 7 ground balls, 3 fly balls, 4 line drives, 1 double play induced.
Of course Happ also benefited from some of the Cardinals' hardest hits finding gloves. For example, Piscotty's second-inning liner came off his bat at 108 MPH but entered the books as simply a lineout to third base. And yet that's baseball.
If you bristle at the idea of calling Lynn or Happ "lucky" for not allowing any runs tonight, there was also an element that we can attribute to player ability: defense.
The Pirates repeatedly threatened to score, and sometimes they didn't score simply because the Cardinals employ Jason Heyward. One of those times was an absolutely cuh-lutch double-play putout by Heyward to end a dangerous second-inning threat by the Pirates.
What was so particularly delightful about this play for me was that Heyward--who started in center field tonight, and--okay, actually let's pause for a second to work this out: instead of starting Tommy Pham or Randal Grichuk or Bourjos in center, Matheny chose to play Heyward there and Brandon Moss at first. I ask you: why would you start Moss versus a left-handed pitcher, thus losing the platoon advantage that Pham, Grichuk, or Bourjos would have? Because of this piece of nonsense: Moss has a history of success versus J.A. Happ: 7 for 11, with one of those hits being a double.
Maybe it's not clear that Pham or Grichuk (who likely was scheduled for a day off anyway) would be both a better defender and a better hitter versus a LHP, and that's fine I guess. But it's worrisome that Matheny does still put such stock in these small-sample head-to-head splits. It's not like Moss's seven hits off Happ were all home runs, after all.
In any event, Moss went 0 for 2 with a strikeout versus Happ. (Grichuk would pinch hit for Lynn in the sixth, hitting a screaming lineout to the left fielder.)
But back to Jason Heyward: one out, runners on the corners, with Starling Marte being the runner just ninety feet from scoring a crucial run--the Starling Marte who has 100 stolen bases over the past three seasons. And so as I was saying: what was so particularly delightful about this play for me was just how far Heyward ranged into left field--Matt Holliday's purview--to make sure that he was the one who made the throw home:
Jason knows Marte's speed, and Jason knows his arm's strength, and this was a worthy showdown.
Heyward caught the fly ball in short left-center for the second out of the inning, then Marte took off for home as Heyward licked his chops and fired home: Marte out, end of inning, cue the gif:
Thinking about running on Jason Heyward? Watch this first. pic.twitter.com/OtpVX974mf— Jenifer Langosch (@LangoschMLB) September 29, 2015
As if that all-world double play wasn't enough, Heyward made another amazing play in the bottom of the sixth on a line drive directly in front of him. Liners hit directly at an outfielder are always hard to judge, and especially in a tight game: if you miss the ball, it's at least a triple.
Heyward ran the calculations and decided to go 100% for the catch, which he achieved:
What a wonder that man is.
How did this game shake out after the sobering interlude of Piscotty's injury?
Well you probably know that the Cardinals won. As is appropriate to this time of the season and to this fantastic rivalry, the game was decided in the final inning:
- Mark Melancon entered the game in relief of Joakim Soria; Melancon has 51 saves on the season and an ERA of 1.95.
- Greg Garcia pinch hit and struck out; then Matt Carpenter singled to right field; MCarp was 1 for 4 with two strikeouts tonight;
- Jon Jay, who had replaced Piscotty in left, singled on a grounder out to Gregory Polanco in right field;
- Polanco bobbled the ball as Carpenter rounded second and headed to third, heeding Jose Oquendo's spirited invitation; McCutchen, who backed up Polanco on the play, also bobbled the ball and couldn't pick it cleanly;
- Carpenter rounded third, desirous of scoring a run;
- Cutch finally picked up and threw the ball homeward;
- Carpenter touched home plate first; 1-0 Cards;
- Mark Reynolds hit a
three-two-run homer. Off Mark Melancon. 3-0 Cards. Here is the at-bat:
Three fastballs: swinging strike, swinging strike, home run. God bless you, Mark Reynolds.
Trevor Rosenthal entered the game and did not allow a run to score, thus achieving his 48th save of the season.
Good news on Piscotty: All tests came back negative for fractures or significant injury. He will be monitored in hospital overnight.— Jenifer Langosch (@LangoschMLB) September 29, 2015