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July 8 Recap: So close, again

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals lost a close one tonight (2016 record in one-run games: 5-42). But in a weird way -- despite several injuries (which looked minor, but you never know), a bunch of men left on base by the Cards, and y'know, losing the game -- this was an okay game, with things to feel good about.

Chris Carter (it happens) opened the scoring with a solo homer tonight, but the Cards strung together singles after Jimmy Nelson walked Michael Wacha in the 3rd, and scratched out a couple of runs to take a 2-1 lead. It could have been more (two pop-ups followed those singles to end the frame), but it was 2-1 at that point, Nelson was throwing a lot of pitches, and things felt good. Especially with the way Wacha looked.

Michael Wacha's night

For five innings, Michael Wacha looked dominant in a way that I frankly can't remember seeing since his rookie season. Wacha at his best mixes well-placed mid-90s fastballs with a devastating changeup. You remember that changeup; it's the unhittable one he buries low, on the arm side of the plate. With apologies for the awful CF camera angle at this park, it's this pitch:

Since the awful camera angle is too awful to tell, here's where that pitch was:

Anyway, Wacha had that pitch working tonight. Three of his seven strikeouts came on the change, and all of those were swinging. (Also he threw a 69 mph slow curve tonight to lead off one at-bat tonight, which in a word was nice.)

All of this explains why, with the bases loaded and one out in the top of the 6th and the Cardinals up 2-1, Mike Matheny let Wacha hit for himself.  Wacha was pitching great, and the bullpen's been shaky lately... but there's a school of thought with compelling data behind it that says you get a real hitter up there in such an important spot, and let the bullpen take over (especially since Wacha's third trip through the Brewers' lineup had begun). Your recapper personally subscribes to that school of thought -- data says pull him even if our brains say he's dominating; our brains are stupid and not to be trusted -- but in all honesty, this would have been a VERY tough one, and Matheny's decision was at least understandable. No manager pulls Wacha there. Sure, all managers are at least kinda bad, but this wasn't a uniquely bad Matheny move.

So, tempted though I may be, I'm not going to cry "I told you so" (though others both can and should) on what happened next.

What happened next

Wacha ended up bunting, and I don't know if Yadier Molina missed a sign or just got a bad break from third or is just THAT slow or what, but the bunt was pretty good and the Brewers got the out at home anyway. Greg Garcia hit the ball fairly hard but flew out, and the bases were left loaded. Then a few pitches into the bottom half, because baseball likes to make fools of us all, Jonathan Lucroy hit a home run off Wacha to tie the game. And a few pitches after that, Chris Carter hit his second homer of the night to give the Brewers a 3-2 lead.

And after that

Wacha came out in the 7th on what we hope was just a scary thing and not an injury. He took a liner off the right foot and went down in a heap. It was a tense moment when he was removed, but he was at 97 pitches and Matt Bowman was warm. (In the 9th, the team confirmed that it was a precautionary move: he has a "heel bruise," but is "fine.")

Grim times entering the 8th then, dear reader -- grim times. The Cardinals needed a hero, much as Britain did in 1940. And then, of all the people to go full Churchill, Yadier Molina stepped up and hit a long fly ball to left that... wait what? The whole way over? Cool, home run, 3-3 game.

Matt Bowman continued his run of perfect adequatulance and held the Brewers off the board through the 8th; pinch hitter Jhonny Peralta (resting again with a sore thumb) almost untied it with a warning-track fly in the 9th but didn't quite get enough of it; Trevor Rosenthal came on for the 9th but walked a guy, and tweaked a leg getting the next guy out (more injuries, sure why not) and was removed after one out; Seung Hwan Oh came in.

With Kirk Nieuwenhuis (Rosie's runner) on second with two outs, Jonathan Villar hit a 3-2 Oh pitch into left field, and Tommy Pham (in to replace Matt Holliday defensively) came up throwing. Nieuwenhuis was running on the pitch, and it seemed impossible that he'd be thrown out. Pham ALMOST did the impossible with a throw that was just brilliant, but it was in fact impossible: after a short umpire review, Naehwnehise was called safe. And the Brewers walked it off.

Stray Notes

  • The Cards lost tonight because they went 2-14 with RISP, and because Michael Wacha gave up three home runs. Here's the thing, though -- neither thing usually happens, and neither indicates much but bad luck, so whatever, screw you baseball, etc. For me, the real bottom line is that Wacha's stuff looked hugely encouraging, the offense was actually pretty good even though they only got three runs, and I'm left feeling oddly but strongly positive about the second half. I do think this team still has a run in them, the Mets' pitchers are all hurt, and the Cubs can't win games to save their lives. Keep calm and rip on, Cards.
  • GREG GARCIA OBP MONSTER reached base twice (like every night), and seems like he might take the leadoff job and run with it with Matt Carpenter on the shelf. Good for him.
  • Michael Wacha, OBP Monster? Two walks tonight from the proverbial second leadoff hitter.
  • Another scary moment as Holliday came up gimpy after an awkward step rounding first on his RBI single in the 3rd. He stayed in until he was removed in the ceremonial Late Inning LF Defensive Switch that Mike Matheny has inflexibly adopted, and seems to be fine. We'll see.
  • Cursory research reveals that the Orix Buffaloes have mostly been playing former MLBer Brent Morel at first base in 2016, and he is sporting a .663 OBP this year. Sounds like somebody could use an upgrade. Just saying.
  • Okay on reflection, this is goddamn annoying:

Source: FanGraphs

Game two of the series is tomorrow at 1:10 CST. El Gallo v. Chase Anderson.