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Willson Contreras, Tommy La Stella End Cards’ Winning Streak

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With a little help from Brett Cecil and bad baserunning.

Our best hope ended a lot like this.
Chris Lee, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

It’s Friday night and Mike Leake is pitching, so it looks like I get to recap! Lately I’ve been rethinking my fierce antipathy toward Leake - he has really seemed to find another level this year. Success is fun, even if the path there is nothing flashy, right? Bonus: with a win tonight, the Cardinals will put the Cubs below .500!

1st - Leake worked quickly, getting groundouts from “leadoff hitter” Kyle Schwarber, old friend Jon Jay, and Ben Zobrist, with an Anthony Rizzo single sprinkled in there. Matt Carpenter and Jedd Gyorko worked back-to-back walks with 2 outs (the latter on four pitches), but Yadier Molina grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.

2nd - Kris Bryant was a last-second scratch, so Cubs prospect Jeimer Candelario had third base duties. Leake welcomed him to Busch Stadium with a 4-pitch strikeout.. Leake then threw a sinker to Willson Contreras which failed to sink, leaving it middle-middle at about 91 mph. Contreras poked it over the right field wall. 1-0 Cubs. (Leake also walked opposing pitcher Eddie Butler (“Who?” Exactly.), which never feels good.)

In the bottom of the frame, Diaz led off with a grounder to the left side that ate Candelario up. Candelario was able to stay with and make a throw, but Diaz had gained all the time he needed. Grichuk, Wong, and Leake promptly went down in order.

3rd - Leake got in a bit of trouble, giving up a double to Tommy La Stella (in for Jon Jay, who tweaked something in his first at-bat) with one out. Rizzo moved him over to third with a groundout, and then Zobrist walked on four straight balls. Candelario ripped a liner to left field, but Grichuk got to it.

Fowler walked to lead off the bottom half and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Pham and Carpenter struck out, and Gyorko lined out to third base, missing out on the golden opportunity to tie the game back up. Do you know what the run expectancy of (Runner on second, no outs) is? It is 1.068. I’m not super up on what that means, but it seems like we should have scored here according to science. But hey, this is baseball, and your crazy ex-boyfriend/girlfriend has got nothing on baseball’s unpredictability.

4th - Leake hung another slider belt high over the heart of the plate for Contreras. Contreras hit a laser over the wall in straightaway center, for his second dinger of the game and his fourth on the season. This was also the first multi-homer game of Willson’s career. 2-0 Cubs.

Diaz squared around and laid down the platonic ideal of a bunt for a base hit down the third baseline. Nothing else notable happened until the top of the seventh.

7th - Brett Cecil took over flinging duties for the Birdos. Leake’s final line: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 3 BB, 5 K, 2 WILLSON CONTRERAS HR. Leake did pretty well, really, but for a couple of mistakes that should not have turned out so badly.

Cecil fared poorly. Schwarber hit one to the track in the right field corner, but Pham ran it down. With a 1-1 count, Cecil hung a middle-middle fastball to the diminutive Tommy La Stella. La Stella uncorked on it, proving that even mediocre backups can hit dingers if you pitch them like batting practice. 3-0 Cubs.

Carl Edwards Jr. relieved Butler, who for his part pitched very well in his debut. Edwards struck Diaz out on three pitches, then made the fatal mistake of being present on the mound against an angry Randal Grichuk.

3-1 slightly less Cubs. But the Cardinals were not done threatening, oh no! After a Wong K, Greg Garcia pinch hit for the pitcher’s spot. After facing a 1-2 count, Garcia worked a walk. They don’t call him OBP Monster for nothin’. Dexter Fowler walked in pretty dramatic fashion, as well, and the tying run was aboard! Edwards got hooked for Hector Rondon, and Tommy Pham watched a couple balls whiz by. Things were looking good! Contreras, however, forgot to throw the second ball back to the pitcher. He threw down to first base instead, the silly guy! And it was such an unexpected move that Dexter Fowler sort of halfheartedly dove into the base, but not quick enough. Inning over, threat frustrated.

But for a walk to Addison Russell, the next three half-innings went off clean despite the fact that they were pitched by Jonathan Broxton, Koji Uehara, and Kevin Siegrist. Like I told you, baseball is weird. Cy Young Mode Leake gives up two dingers to Willson Contreras, while the dregs of baseball bullpens everywhere pitch like Nolan Ryan on steroids and speed. Oh well.

Wade Davis took over the bottom of the ninth for the Cubs. Yadi started off nicely with a single to center. Diaz neutralized the good start by grounding into a 5-4-3 double play. Grichuk worked a walk though, and Kolten Wong stepped into the batter’s box. Somewhere in there Grichuk stole second, which is important to the story at a later point. Wong struck out in eight pitches, but lo! The ball got away from golden boy Contreras.

So, again, baseball is weird.

Matt Adams got the call to hit for Siegrist, and I won’t beat a dead horse here. With the gift tying run standing on second, Matt Adams struck out on three pitches.

Cardinals lose, 3-2.

You can’t do much about the dingers. Mistake pitches happen, and who would guess Contreras and La Stella would put each one into the stands? And you can’t do much to predict or prevent Eddie Butler, cut from the Rockies organization and making his MLB debut, from pitching well. Which he did! But Cecil has been worryingly bad, and the pickoff of Fowler is just another data point in this ongoing saga of horrible, terrible baserunning.

Bright Side: The Cardinals retain first place and the Cubs fourth, but we missed our chance to push them below .500. The Best Rivalry in Baseball resumes today at 3:05, with a battle of Aces Martinez vs. Lester.

P.S. Mike Leake put me to sleep in the bottom of the sixth inning, thus the late recap. Mea culpa - I know what he does to me, and I failed to take adequate precautions.