You guys. I have a confession to make. I was dreading writing this recap, because this game sucked for a long time. Until it didn't. And I did not deserve to have this ending because I was in a pissy mood, but I got it anyway because sometimes baseball doesn't break your heart, after all.
Mike Leake struggled tonight, giving up four home runs through seven innings: a two-run homer to Lucas Duda in the first inning, and solo shots to Corey Dickerson and Adeiny Hechavarria in the fourth and seventh, respectively.
The Cardinals did make up some ground in the bottom of the sixth. Tommy Pham walked with one out, and Paul DeJong followed with a double. A misplay on the ball allowed Pham to score and DeJong to go to third base. 3-1 Rays. After Randal Grichuk (batting...fourth? tonight) struck out, Yadier Molina doubled to make it a one run game.
Of course, as mentioned above, the Hechavarria home run the very next half inning took the wind out of some of our sails (or maybe just mine). But little did I know, things were juuuuust starting to get interesting.
John Brebbia took the mound in eighth and pitched a perfect 1-2-3 inning.
The Rays also went to their bullpen in the eighth, with Tommy Hunter coming in to relieve 14 year-old starter, Blake Snell, as it was getting dangerously close to his bedtime. Pham walked again, advanced on a wild pitch, then scored on a two-out base hit by Molina. After consecutive base hits from Jedd Gyorko, Stephen Piscotty, and Kolten Wong, Molina finally scored to tie the game at four runs apiece.
Tyler Lyons, who has undoubtedly been the Cardinals' best reliever over the past few weeks, pitched a perfect inning, as well.
CUE DRAMATIC MUSIC
The stage was set: tie game, bottom of the ninth, the Cardinals top of the order coming to bat. Matt Carpenter started things off by legging out an infield hit. Mr. Thomas Pham approached the plate. He planted his feet, wiggled his hips, steadied the bat, and settled in. He took an 83 mph slider for a strike. The next pitch was a 91 mph fastball that just missed outside. With a 1-1 count, Pham watched a fastball right down the middle for strike two. In another season, in another life, Pham might have been discouraged; he might have lost some confidence; he might have doubled down on whatever pitch was coming next. But not this Tommy Pham. Not 2017's .900 OPSing Tommy Pham. No, he dug in a little more, focused just a little harder, and took a slider that sat right on the corner of the plate and could have been called either way, for a ball. With a 2-2 count, Pham was ready. He had been waiting his whole life for this moment - for his "moment." He had a chance to be a hero, and goddamnit if he wasn't going to make that happen. He valiantly fouled off two fastballs thrown down the heart of the plate. The Rays' pitcher Brad Boxberger stared in. He knew, as did we all, that he had already thrown three sliders that at-bat that were strikes or near strikes. Three sliders that Pham didn't even attempt to swing at. So, he thought, why not one more?
THIS IS WHY NOT:
Every time I think I'm done, this team sucks me back in. I let it happen because I want it to happen. That's baseball. I love it and always will.
1. Lost in the amazing drama of a walk off victory was Gyorko's eighth inning injury. He was rounding third to potentially score on Wong's base hit, then suddenly stopped short. I was not sure whether he injured himself stopping suddenly, or whether he stopped suddenly because he hurt himself. Either way, it looked like a hamstring and according to Mike Matheny after the game, it was "not good."
2. Lucas Duda was 2 for his last 25 coming into the game. Both home runs. After tonight's game, he is 3 for his last 29. All still home runs. For some reason, I find this fascinating.
3. The Cardinals inducted Mark McGwire, Tim McCarver, and Pepper Martin into the team's Hall of Fame today. Mark McGwire came to St. Louis the year I moved away, so I never got to see him play at Busch. And after we left, in the pre-Extra Innings or MLB.tv days, all I had to follow the Cardinals was the next day's newspaper and the six games a year when they would play the Giants and I could get a San Francisco radio broadcast in Portland. His 1998 season made baseball relevant again and brought Cardinals baseball to national television, much to the joy of a homesick teenage girl who longed for Jack and Joe Buck's voices narrating lazy summer days. What I'm trying to say, in a super syrupy, red wine induced way, is that I have always loved Mark McGwire and have always been grateful for what he and that magical season brought back to me. Congratulations, Mark (and Tim and Pepper!). You absolutely deserve this.
4. Rubber game tomorrow, Chris Archer vs. Lance Lynn, 1:15 CT.