After a lovely off day in KC visiting Leila’s Hair Museum, the Cards took on the Royals in the 2-game Smokehouse Series. Game 1 cooked up a pitching matchup between Jack Flaherty, who’s spared no time grilling opponents since the break; and Glen Sparkman, who’s slow-cooked his way to a tenderized season.
Jack needed just to approximate his dominant second half (1.85 FIP; 12.35 K/9 in 31.1 IP) to make the Cards’ better-than-good odds of winning (64.6%) come true. Sparkman was late to pro ball, having shifted careers from his role as sidekick to superhero Gasman, which ended tragically. He first full season as a starter also has been explosive (for hitters) as he came in sporting a 5.95 FIP, giving up 10.7 H/9 (both highs for the lowly Royals).
Overall, the Royals (43-76) are playing at a sub-Pirates level, which takes real effort. The only thing wrong with this series is that it’s merely 2 games and not 12.
Yadier Molina returned to the lineup; Memphis and Springfield players deep-sighed at having to pay for their own meals again. Randy
Arezar... Arozoner...Arozarena’s call-up thrill was squashed a bit when he learned he was playing center dugout. Thanks, coach.
It was kind of a snoozer of a game, but in the best possible way. But really, it was a surprising pitchers’ duel. While Jack blanked the Royals through 7, Sparkman only gave up 2 through 6.
The Cards scored early, at first indicating a big, fun night to come from the offense. They manufactured a single run in the first on a sac fly by Goldy and another tally in the third on a single by Tommy. A couple of base running mistakes, one by Kolten and one by Tommy short-circuited the third inning, but it all worked out.
The game never felt like it was going to tilt the Royals’ way, because Jack continued his great run of starts. He was a bit inefficient in closing out hitters but that’s picking nits. He experienced a bit of trouble with first and second situations in the first and 6th, but he wiggled out of them unscathed each time. He was never in any trouble beyond that, at one point sitting down 13 straight.
In the boilermaker 8th, beer chaser Miller followed that shot of Jack. Miller was effective, walking 1 and striking out 1 over 1.1 innings. El Gallo then closed the door, working around a 2-out single that briefly gave the Royals hope, which finally died on a final harmless groundout to Pauly D.
The Cards took advantage of an early KC miscue to manufacture a run like it was
1985 1982. DH Getting a night off Leadoff man Dexter Fowler worked a 3-2 count and hit a jam-shot fliner right toward second base that was booted by the shifting third baseman for an error, allowing Dex to reach. It was just KC’s 54th error this year, fewest in the AL, if you’re in to that kind of thing. With Tommy Edman up on a 3-1 count Sparkman started fell down to his left during his delivery, committing a hilarious balk even he chuckled at. With Dex at second, Tommy Cardinal-Wayed a grounder to second to advance Fowler to third with one out.
With the infield in (hat-tip to Flaherty), Sparkman went to 3-2 to Paul Goldschmidt (as he did to the first two hitters). Pauly G then launched the 10th pitch to the track in right, easily scoring Fowler on the sac fly for a 1-0 lead.
1st inning. A run on the board. Let's go! pic.twitter.com/gk7i7muycn— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) August 14, 2019
Ozuna ended Sparkman’s long inning quickly, by grounding his first pitch to short for an easy out. But Sparkman flashed 25 pitches already.
Jack skirted a mini Royals rally in the first. Witt Merrifield, leading the AL with 154 hits—didn’t we want him at the trade deadline?—grounded out to Edman at third on the third pitch. Alex Gordon missed a center-cut fastball, lifting it to Ozuna in deep-ish left for a quick second 2 on his third pitch. Hunter Dozier pulled a decent 2-2 slider down the left-field line for a double. After going 3-0 to the DH (Dangerous Hitter) Jorge Soler (35 HR), the Cards just let him have first. That worked, as the next hitter Cheslor Cuthbert came out hacking and popped out to Goldy near the mound on his first pitch.
The Cards got their leadoff man on again, tried to make something happen, but couldn’t. Paul DeJong started the 2nd by walking, a good thing to see from him lately (6 BB in last 28 days). DH Carpenter then sent a hard liner to right, but he didn’t yank it quite enough, as Dozier got a good jump and ran it down for out 1. New call-up Yadier Molina struck out swinging on a 1-2 curve, which happened just as DeJong attempted to steal but did so unsuccessfully for the strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out DP.
Jack had a breezy second inning, setting the Royals down in order on 10 pitches. Ryan O’Hearn grounded out to Goldy who flipped to a covering Jack for the first out. Humberto Artega flew out to Dex in right. Meibrys Vitoria then tapped back to Jack. This game is easy, yo.
The Cards added another run, but it could’ve been a bigger inning. The Royals shifted on Wong in the infield, but he decided to line one down right instead for a leadoff double. (It was the third straight leadoff man on; I was keeping track.) The camera briefly cut to Randy Arozarena, who was standing next to Yairo, chatting. Move somewhere else in the dugout, son.
“Lane Train” Thomas bounced a grounder just far enough to the right of the shortstop to reach first with an infield hit. With first and second no out, and Dex up, a pitch in the dirt inspired Kolten to spring to third. Despite a nifty stop-short, poke your foot in sneakily slide, he was out. Thomas did advance to second. Fowler popped out to short center, then Edman ripped a pitch at his eyes into right for a single, scoring Thomas easily. Tommy broke for second before the through went through, and the first baseman cut it off and the Royals ganged up on Tommy to tag him out in a rundown.
‘Sokay, that made it 2-0 Cards.
Jack got a bit fortunate in the third when the Royals turned the lineup over. But first, ninth-place hitter Nicky Lopez sent a fly to left field that Ozuna had to chug to his left to get to, but he did, for out 1. Back to the top of the order, Whit Merrifield nailed an inside fastball that wasn’t up enough deep to left, but Ozuna caught it easily at (and a little sadly, without scaling) the wall. Alex Gordon also hit a mis-located middle-middle fastball on the nose to right, but fortunately, Dex barely had to move to catch.
Despite two Cards getting good wood on the ball, the Cards went down 1-2-3. Pauly G led off by getting under a meaty fastball, popping out to the shortstop in shallow left. Marcelo Ozuna then hit a sharp grounder (93.1 mph), but not far enough beyond the second baseman, who gloved it cleanly for the second out. Swinging on 3-0, Pauly G also smoked one (109.8 mph, the hardest hit ball of the night), but it also was a grounder right at an infielder, as the shortstop threw him out.
After some misplaced pitches he got away with in the third, Jack seemed to dial things back in for the 4th (with a little ump help). Jack schooled Dozier on a down and in fastball for a backward K (okay, it was a bit out of the zone). Jorge Soler got the same fate, same pitch, same spot, same backward K (again, close, but not a strike). Cheslor Cuthbert, determined to actually make contact, did so, but popped out to Goldy. Jack had set down 10 in a row at that point.
The game was moving right along, reaching the 5th at just a little over an hour since the opening pitch. Carp led things off by watching strike three kiss the bottom of the zone. His body language indicated he didn’t like it, but the ump didn’t change his mind. Wong then tapped a swinging bunt the catcher pounced on. Hustling the whole way, Kolten beat the throw and tumbled over the bag, falling on his back, but un-hurt. Royals manager Ned Yost argued vehemently about Wong initially running in the infield side of the running lane (but Wong veered into the lane about halfway down) and that he should’ve been called out. The ump didn’t like his attitude, so instead, Yost was out. I imagine with the Royals’ record, he doesn’t mind hitting the showers halfway through a game now and again.
With Wong at first and two outs, Lane Thomas flipped a down and away curve to right that wasn’t bloopy enough, and it was caught for the final out.
For the fourth-straight inning, Jack set the Royals down in order. Coming back from a 3-0 count to Ryan O’Hearn, Jack got him to fly out on a can of corn to Ozuna. Humberto Arteaga then flailed at a nice down and away fastball, nearly falling over the plate for the second out. Mixing in several breaking balls to Meibrys Vitoria, Jack struck him out on over but down slider.
Say what you will about Sparkman, but he was still in the game, having given up just 2 runs on 4 hits. He settled down since the third. Dexter started things off by flying out to Gordon in left. Edman hit his second 100-plus mph EV hit on a line to right, but this time, the GOB guided it into the fielder’s glove of the second out. Goldy then dribbled one back to the pitcher for the final out.
Cruising along, having set down his last 13 hitters, Jack got into his first trouble since the first. He wiggled out of it, but it at the cost of 22 pitches, which pushed his total count to 92. He finally gave up his second hit of the night, a solid single up the middle by Nicky “Sixx” Lopez that scooted just under Flaherty’s glove and rolled into center. Next pitching carefully to Whit Merrifield, Jack got ahead initially, but Whit laid off pitches to get it to 3-2. Whit won the battle, as he lined a single to center on a not-bad slider. But it was right at Thomas, so the runner had to stop at second.
On the first pitch to Alex Gordon, Jack induced a come-backer, which he gloved, then immediately wheeled around, slinging it to DeJong at second, who turned it for two. With Dozier up and a runner at third, Jack just missed with two 97 mph fastballs just off the outside corner. But then he went to a full count again. After fouling off 2 straight fastballs, Dozier finally whiffed at a third, slightly better-placed fastball up and in.
Righty reliever Jake Newberry came in, so the was all for Sparkman. Props to you, son. Gasman would’ve been proud. Ozuna started things off by flailing over the top of a slider in the dirt. Paul DeJong followed by grounding to third for the second out. Carpenter then smacked a hard grounder that deflected off the shifted third baseman’s glove into right center for a 2-out double, his first hit of the night. Yadi then stepped in and quickly ended the inning by flying out to right on the first pitch.
Jack returned to start the 7th to face cleanup hitter Soler, who reached, but it was fine. Jack nicked him on his padded elbow, putting him on. Flaherty then struck out Cheslor Cuthbert on a check-swing at a slider in the dirt on his 100th pitch. Jack followed that up by slinging a nifty wrap-around slider that nicked the down and away corner for a called strike three on Ryan O’Hearn. Flaherty then ended the inning by getting Humberto Arteaga to reach on an over but low slider just above the dirt and ground out meekly to DeJong.
The Royals brought in a LOOGY this time, Tim Hill to face the bottom of the Cards’ order. Wong tapped one in front of the plate, just as he did in his previous at-bat. This time, however, the catcher’s thrown was in time to nail him. The Royals then brought in a righty reliever, Jacob Barnes, confirming the acronym of the previous pitcher.
Lane Thomas waived at a not-strike cutter low and away to strike out. After clanging one off the right-field corner wall just foul, Dexter worked a 2-out walk, only their second of the night. Tommy Edman then lined one toward right center that off the bat looked like it might get down, but right fielder Dozier ran it down for the third out.
Miller Time happened in the 8th, as Jack’s excellent night of work was done. Miller side-armed nothing but sliders to Meibrys Vitoria, striking him out looking on an inside one. Frustratingly, he walked the next batter Nicky Lopez, bringing up leadoff hitter Merrifield as the tying run. Jumping ahead 0-2, he fell behind to a full count. Miller sucked it up, getting a huge 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.
The Cards sent up their 3-4-5 hitters, seeking an insurance run but came up empty. Goldy got caught out in front of an off-speed pitch and popped out to short center. Ozuna worked a walk, then Pauly D then flew out to shallow right. After Ozuna hilariously stole second while no one was watching, Carp walked, to produce a mini two-out rally with a hitless Yadi up. Molina jumped on the first pitch, golfing a foul pop-up that the first baseman snared a few steps before the seats.
Miller stayed in to get Alex Gordon, which he actually did on a pop-up to Yadi in front of the plate. El Gallo then entered for the 2-out save. Throwing everything and the kitchen sink to Hunter Dozier, he retired him on a long fly ball to Fowler in right. That was huge, as the hulking Soler was up next, representing only himself. He smacked a hot grounder to Pauly D’s right. He slid to his knees but could only deflect it, as it dribbled into left center for a single. With Cheslor Cuthbert up, Soler advanced to second on fielder’s indifference. El Gallo got Cuthbert to ground one at Pauly G, this time, about 30 mph slower, so it was a routine out to end the game.
Cards win, 2-0!!!
THE BOTTOM LINE
- Jack’s excellent night produced a line of 7 IP, 3 H, 7 K, 1 BB (intentional)
Flaherty has the longest current scoreless-innings streak in the majors at 23 2/3 innings.
He ended his night at 110 pitches to match his season high.
Jack’s 43.7 Win Probability Added (WPA) was far and away the high in the game.
- In a non-Jack pitching game, this might’ve had a different outcome. The offense mustered only 5 hits (2 by Kolten), but 2 of the team’s hits with RISP (the team went 2-6 on the night). They had 5 LOBsters otherwise.
- Despite not seeing any action, I assume Arozarena still had an enjoyable evening.
- The Cubs lost to the Phillies 4-2, so the Cards gained ground and sit just 1 game back now.
- The Cards go for the 2-game sweep tomorrow night at 7:15 CT with Dakota up against righty Brad Keller
I’ll be recapping that game as well, so I’ll try to use different words that hopefully describe another Cards’ win.