Baseball is back! Carlos Martinez looks continue his wonderful spring that included a sterling showing at the World Baseball Classic.
Carlos was greeted with a Kyle Schwarber single to RF, but battled back to strike out 2016 NL MVP Kris Bryant with a 100mph fastball up and in. After allowing an identical single to Anthony Rizzo, Martinez was able to get Ben Zobrist to ground into a double play.
Dexter Fowler led off (to a roaring ovation) with a line out to Jason Heyward in CF. Aledmys Diaz atoned by taking an outside fastball the other way for a double into the right-center gap. Matt Carpenter worked a full count and sent a fly ball near the wall in left center, enough to advance Diaz to 3rd. However, Jhonny Peralta could not convert, as he flummoxed by a steady stream of change ups away.
Carlos came back out on fire, getting Russell with a 100mph fastball up and in, similar to his strike out of Bryant. Not satisfied, he turned his attention to Jason Heyward and his new swing... and struck him out on 3 pitches. Heyward looked bad. Then, to complete the hat trick, he got Willson Contreras to wave at a change up low and away.
Yadier Molina worked another full count before spanking a single right back up the middle for a lead off single. Stephen Piscotty followed with a line drive base hit of his own, also up the middle. But Lester would battle back to strike out Jedd Gyorko, Randal Grichuk, and Carlos to end the threat. The only solace for the Cardinals was that they saw a lot of pitches, and gotten Lester’s pitch count up to 42.
Carlos took it easy on his counter-part, opting to show a low 90s fastball, then pulling the string on a couple change ups for the strike out. After Baez flew out to center, Schwarber worked a 3-1 count and doubled to right-center. Carlos redeemed himself by striking out Bryant once again, this time on an elevated slider away. Carlos had 6 strike outs through 3 IP.
Fowler got something going with a nubber to the right side of the infield that got past Lester for an infield single. Diaz then took an 0-2 slider to the right side of the infield that fooled Baez, and squirted into the outfield for a base hit, advancing Fowler to 3rd. Carpenter was then able to barrel a line drive sacrifice to RF. Diaz then went to work on the basepaths, stealing 2nd and 3rd, taking advantage of Lester’s reluctance to participate in that facet of the game. Lester, now fighting his mechanics, would strike out Peralta and Piscotty to get out of the jam, but his pitch count had ballooned to 73. 1-0 Cardinals.
Carlos put up an economical, shut-down 4th inning. He retired Rizzo on a 3-pitch fly out, Zobrist on a 4-pitch come-backer, and Russell on 3-pitch fly out to center. Lester was metaphorically green with envy.
After being shown how much better quick innings are, Lester decided to give them a try. He retired Gyorko on 3-pitch ground out, Grichuk on a 3-pitch line out, and Carlos on a 2-pitch come-backer.
Carlos was still cruising. He set Heyward down on a ground out to 1B to lead off. He then struck Willson Contreras out on a change up for a second time, and retired Lester on another come-backer. He required just 69 pitches to get through 5 IP.
Lester, finally settling in, would retire Fowler and Diaz on fly outs to lead off the 5th inning. Carpenter then singled, but Peralta continued his haplessness against Lester’s change up, striking out to end the frame.
Baez lined a slider that caught too much of the plate down the 3rd base line to lead off the 6th, but Peralta made a great play to get to the ball, and made a strong throw to retire the Chicago 2B. Carlos refocused and struck out Schwarber and Bryant to end the frame, now at 83 pitches.
Molina got the Cardinals some speed on the basepaths to lead off the 7th, lining his second single of the night to RF. Piscotty, out to prove spring stats mean nothing, worked another full count, drawing a walk to give the Cardinals 2 on and nobody out, which ended Lester’s night. After Carl Edwards, Jr. got Kolten Wong to ground into a fielder’s choice, Grichuk worked a walk to load the bases. In a controversial move, Carlos was left in to bat for himself, and while he did work an impressive 7-pitch PA, he grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Carlos needed to validate his manager’s faith in him, and did just that. With Brett Cecil warming in the bullpen, he struck Rizzo out with the help of a generous call on a back-door slider, after setting up the hulking 1B inside. Next, he retired Zobrist on a pop up to short left. Then, after Russell lined a base hit to LF, Heyward popped out to Carpenter in front of the mound. Carlos was now at 98 pitches.
New Cubs pitcher, Koji Uehara, famous for picking off Wong in the 2013 World Series, entered the game next. Fowler worked him for a lead-off full-count walk, but Diaz followed with an infield pop out, and Carpenter grounded into a fielder’s choice. Jhonny, happy to see Lester out of the game, managed a single to LF, but Molina couldn’t beat out an infield single, stranding yet another RISP.
Now with Seung-hwan Oh warming in the pen, Carlos bid for an eighth inning. Contreras greeted him with a single back through the box. Carlos retired pinch hitter Tommy La Stella on a foul pop-up to Carpenter, but when Baez singled through the left side, Matheny decided to pull the trigger and bring in Oh to face the top of the Cubs’ line-up. After battling Schwarber to a full count, Oh acquiesced to the lefty and walked him. Oh then retired Bryant on a fly ball to short RF, and Rizzo on a fly ball down the RF line. Unclench.
The heavens opened as Piscotty stepped in and worked a lead-off walk against Pedro Strop. Then, after Wong popped out, Grichuk uncorked an 0-2, opposite field, 2-run HR, finally giving the Cardinals some breathing room. 3-0 Cardinals.
Oh hit Zobrist with an 0-2 pitch to start the inning, but recovered to strike Russell out swinging with a fastball up. Heyward then grounded an easy grounder to Carpenter, who bobbled the ball and enabled Heyward to reach safely. Contreras then crushed Oh’s 32nd pitch, a hanging slider, into the left field seats. I wept. 3-3 Tie Game.
Facing Mike Montgomery, my man Jose Martinez lined a 1-out double that was a couple feet from getting out. After Molina was intentionally walked and Piscotty struck out, Wong worked a big 2-out, full count walk to bring up the man of the night: Randal Grichuk. Grichuk clobbered a walk-off single off the wall in left-center. 4-3 Cardinals win.
- Yadier Molina tied Bill Dickey, Mike Piazza, and Luke Sewell for most hits by a catcher on Opening Day, all-time.
- Javier Baez claimed he lost sight of the ball in the 3rd inning because of the white MLB At-Bat ad behind home plate, so Joe Maddon complained to the umpires until they had it changed. That’s Cub.
- Matheny had his first strategic challenge of the season in the 6th, when he decided to let Carlos bat for himself with the bases loaded, 1 out. It did not turn out well and people were upset.
- Uehara paid a lot of attention to Fowler on the basepaths, and gave me nightmarish flashbacks each time he threw over.
- Randal Grichuk hit a walk-off against the Cubs last year, too.