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7.1.17 Nationals @ Cardinals Recap: Cards Win a Nail Biter, 2-1

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On his 26th birthday, Michael Wacha pitched a gem. Offense was hard to come by, but baby bird Alex Mejia's two-RBI day gave the Cardinals just enough to squeak by with a victory.

The greatest trick that Michael Wacha ever pulled is convincing Cardinals fans he's a great pitcher.
The greatest trick that Michael Wacha ever pulled is convincing Cardinals fans he's a great pitcher.
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Two young men suit up

9 Ks and 2 RBI

Both winners tonight

The Game

Whew!  What a doozy that game was.  The ending was so intense, I kind of want to skip right to it.  Alas, it deserves a proper set up.  The Cardinals starting lineup was almost unrecognizable to those of us who don't live in Memphis.  Stephen Piscotty and Matt Carpenter got the day off, while the starters featured Paul DeJong at shortstop, Luke Voit at first base, Jose Martinez in right field, and Alex Mejia at second base.  Michael Wacha took the mound for the boys in red.  Against a good pitcher and a dangerous Nationals lineup, it sort of felt like the Cardinals were waving the white flag before the game began.  But baseball almost never behaves as you'd expect.

The Cardinals scored first, in the bottom of the second inning.  With two outs and Yadier Molina at second base, DeJong drew just his second walk of the season.  (Not a typo, guys. In 106 plate appearances, DeJong has now walked exactly two times.) Mejia followed with a base hit to score Molina - his first major l.eague hit and his first major league RBI.  1-0 Cardinals.

The score stayed 1-0 for a looooong time.  Wacha was dealing.  He plowed through the Nationals lineup, allowing just four hits and one walk, but no runs, while striking out nine batters.  Luckily, LUCKILY, the Cardinals had managed that one run in the second inning.  It meant Wacha was in line for the win and Mike Matheny could safely remove him after six innings, which was exactly the right time to remove him.  I would be much more likely to credit Matheny for making this very good move if I believed there was any chance he did it for the right reasons.

With two lefties up for the Nats in the top of the seventh, Matheny went to Brett Cecil out of the pen.  Cecil was good!  Voit made a great play ranging to his right on a line drive off the bat of Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon popped out, and Stephen Drew stuck out swinging.

I was surprised to see Seung Hwan Oh pitching in the eighth inning.  Apparently he is no longer the closer?  I'm okay with that, I guess.  Neither he nor Trevor Rosenthal have been lights out this season, and it probably matters very little who is the actual Closer®. In the midst of the pitching change, Mike made a double switch that - SURPRISE! - didn't make much sense.  Piscotty came in to the game in the pitcher's spot, moving Jose Martinez to first base, and taking Voit out of the game.  To recap: Voit, who is actually a first baseman, was removed from the game as part of a defensive switch, in favor of a man who is not actually a first baseman.  Somehow, I am comforted by the familiar feeling of frustration.  Right on cue, Martinez made an error on the first ball in play.  Oh managed to strike out the next two batters.  Tyler Lyons came in to face the would-be left-handed hitter, Brian Goodwin.  Taking a page out of the classic Dusty Baker-Tony LaRussa chess match, Baker brought in a righty to face Lyons.  Joke's on you, Dusty!  Lyons isn't a LOOGY!  The pinch-hitter grounded out to third base to end the inning.

Alex Mejia hit a solo home run to lead off the bottom of the eighth.  2-0 Cardinals.  It was his second hit of his major league career and his first home run.  Quite a day for this young man.  I felt slightly bad for bitching about his presence in the lineup before the game.

ENTER, STAGE LEFT: The Ninth Inning.

The late innings have been a bit of a roller coaster for the Cardinals lately, and today was no different.  First, in a hilarious turn of events, Matt Carpenter came in as part of a defensive switch, relieving Jose Martinez at first base.  Rosenthal came in to pitch, taking Martinez's place in the lineup.  Moving the pitcher's spot to third in the lineup?  What could possibly go wrong?  I am pretty sure that move has never been a bad idea.

Rosie was not peak Rosie tonight.  After walking Bryce Harper, he struck out Ryan Zimmerman, but allowed a single to Daniel Murphy.  Rendon grounded to Carpenter, which, in fairness, should have ended the inning and the game.  The Cardinals got the force out at second base, but Rosie was slow covering first and the throw from DeJong left something to be desired.  Rosie couldn't get his foot on first base, Rendon was safe, and Harper made it to third.  I got a little nervous.  Stephen Drew singled in the next at bat.  2-1 Cardinals.  Rosenthal walked Jose Lobaton to load the bases.  I began muttering obscenities.

In another suspiciously good move, Matheny pulled Rosenthal and brought in Matt Bowman to face pinch hitter Adrian Sanchez.  Bowman threw nine pitches to Sanchez before finally getting a "strikeout" to end the game.  Hooray!

Notes

1. Today was Michael Wacha's 26th birthday.  Having a hard time believing how young he is - he's been pitching the major leagues since he was 22 years old.  He also notched his 500th career strikeout today.  Wacha is the second-fastest pitcher to 500 Ks in Cardinals history, trailing only Steve Carlton.

2. Yadier Molina extended his hitting streak to 16 games with a single in the fourth inning.  It is the longest active hitting streak in the majors.

3. Oh yeah, here is the alleged strikeout to end the game (hat tip to Pegasus):

That's...pretty bad in a vacuum.  It's less bad when you consider that Manny Gonzalez was calling the outside pitch on RHH all night.  It's back to being really bad when you look at the pitch fx plot map and see all the little green triangles on pitches closer to the plate.

Credit to www.brooksbaseball.net.

4. Fake strikeouts aside, the Cardinals have won four games in a row and six of their last seven.  With a week left before the All-Star Game, the team is inexplicably just 3.5 games out of first place.

5. Carlos Martinez faces off against Max Scherzer tomorrow night.  This is the pitching match up of the season, folks.  Tune in to ESPN at 7:05 CT tomorrow to take in all the fun.  Happy Fourth, VEB!