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Cards’ Bats Finally Come Alive in 10-3 Win Over Rockies

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MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Colorado Rockies Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

After the Cardinal bats were largely silent for the last two nights, the club desperately hoped that they could avoid the sweep. Fortunately, the bats showed up today with 5 home runs. The Rockies used another obscure starter named Tim Melville, who graduated from Wentzville Holt High School in St. Charles County, Missouri, and was drafted in the 4th round by the Kansas City Royals in the 2008 draft. He actually started a game for the Cincinnati Reds against the Cardinals on April 15th, 2016 at Busch Stadium and took the loss after allowing 7 R on 6 H in only 3 IP. After his 2nd tour of duty with the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League, the Rockies signed him to a minor league deal in May and added him to the 40-man roster to make an emergency start on August 21st of this year. In that start he pitched 7 IP for his first ever win and the first time he had ever lasted longer than 4 innings. Tonight, he made his 8th career start in just his 11th career major league game. The Rockies hit 2 home runs off of Miles Mikolas, but the Cards fortunately won the home run derby, hitting 4 home runs off of Melville and knocking him out of the game after 3 innings.

Dexter Fowler launched Melville’s first pitch, a low-and-in fastball, into the second deck in right field for a solo HR to put the Cards on the board 1-0.

Kolten Wong hit a middle-away fastball just over the center field fence for a back-to-back solo HR and a 2-0 lead.

Melville retired the rest of the side in order, including a strikeout of Marcell Ozuna. Mikolas walked Garrett Hampson to lead off the bottom of the 1st. Ryan McMahon struck out looking at a 2-2 low-and-outside slider just barely on the edge of the zone. Nolan Arenado ripped a low-and-in fastball down the left field line and into the corner for a double. Hampson scored all the way from 1st to cut the Cards’ lead to 2-1. Charlie Blackmon hit a curveball for a sinking liner to right. Fowler came forward and made a good sliding catch that likely saved a run. Mikolas threw a 1-2 curveball into the dirt to Sam Hilliard that Knizer blocked, but the ball scooted away to his left. Arenado decided to run to 3rd base. Knizner ran to the ball, fielded it and cocked his arm like he was going to throw, but decided not to, and Arenado reached 3rd base on the wild pitch. It looked like Knizner had a shot at least to throw Arenado out, but it turned out not to matter because Mikolas struck Hilliard out swinging at an up-and-in fastball on the next pitch.

Melville threw a changeup near Ravelo’s head on the 1-1 pitch to lead off the top of the 2nd and knocked him down. On the next pitch, he hung a slider and Ravelo absolutely crushed it deep into the seats in left-center field for a solo HR to extend the Cards’ lead to 3-1. The ball went 487 feet and was 111.5 mph off the bat, which is the longest HR hit by a Cardinal since the Statcast era, which began in 2015.

Knizner blooped a slider to center for a base hit that it looked like Yonathan Daza might have had a play on, but didn’t dive for. Bader walked. Mikolas tried to sacrifice the runners to 2nd and 3rd, but the ball was bunted hard to the pitcher Melville, who threw to 3rd to force Knizner out. With runners now at 1st and 2nd and 2 out, Fowler worked a 3-2 walk to load the bases. Wong popped a fastball towards third in foul territory. Arenado raced back and made a fantastic basket catch for the out. He then spun around near the wall, and in one off-balance motion, launched the ball to home plate. Bader had tagged up and was trying to score. Arenado’s throw bounced once and beat Bader to the plate. The catcher Dom Nunez stayed at the plate to block it instead of coming up the line to receive the throw in the air. Nunez didn’t catch the bounced throw, and Bader scored, tripping over Nunez and limping back to the dugout. Wong ended up with a Sac Fly and the Cards were now ahead 4-1, with Mikolas moving to 3rd and Fowler moving to 2nd. DeJong grounded out to 3rd to end the inning.

With 1 out in the bottom of the 2nd, Josh Fuentes skied a low-and-away slider just over the left-center field wall for a solo HR to cut the Cards’ lead to 4-2. Fuentes is a rookie with 20 career PA and only 2 career hits going into today’s game, and that was his first career HR.

Nunez lined a low-and-in fastball to the gap in right-center that Bader misjudged and took a circuitous route to. Nunez stood up with a double. The pitcher Melville struck out. Hampson slowly grounded to short, but DeJong charged and made a good throw to nip Hampson at 1st to end the inning.

Ozuna golfed a low 2-2 slider into the left field seats for a solo HR to lead off the top of the 3rd to extend the Cards’ lead to 5-2.

Melville retired the rest of the Cards in order. With 1 out in the bottom of the 3rd, Arenado reached down and lined a low 3-2 fastball just over the left field wall for a solo HR to cut the Cards’ lead to 5-3. Mikolas retired the rest of the side in order with 2 strikeouts in the inning. Jesus Tinoco came out to pitch the top of the 4th and Bader crushed an 0-1 center-cut fastball deep into the seats in left-center for a solo HR to extend the Cards’ lead to 6-3. According to the Cardinal Twitter account, this is the first time in franchise history where the Cardinal batters to lead off innings #1 through 4 each hit home runs.

After Mikolas struck out, Fowler walked. Wong ripped a middle-in fastball to right field for a base hit towards the line. Blackmon cut it off before it could roll to the wall, but Wong reached 2nd base with a double and Fowler moved to 3rd. With the infield in, DeJong chopped a slider to short and Hampson threw home to nail Fowler at the plate. Nunez was blocking the plate, with no lane for Fowler to reach the plate and the TV crew said they must not understand the rule. In a section after this game recap and before the Odds and Ends, I will go over the rule and explain what I think happened. With runners now at the corners and 2 out, DeJong stole 2nd base with Ozuna at the plate. Ozuna sharply grounded a ball deep in the hole at short, but Hampson showed amazing range and a strong arm. He not only fielded the ball deep in the hole, but with a quick release, launched the ball to first with an off-balance throw to nail Ozuna by several steps at 1st base.

With 1 out in the bottom of the 4th, Fuentes lined a foul off of home plate umpire Gerry Davis’ chest. Play was stopped for several minutes, and a decision was made to change umpires. Brennan Miller, who had been the 1B umpire, went behind the plate, and play resumed after about a 12- minute delay with the count 1-2 on Fuentes. There will be only 3 umpires the rest of the game. Fuentes lined a 3-2 inside fastball to center and we got the 2nd out of the bottom of the 4th about 15 minutes or so after Fuentes first came to the plate. Nunez flied to center to end the inning. Righty Joe Harvey came out to pitch the top of the 5th. After Carpenter struck out, Ravelo grounded a ball deep in the hole at short, but Hampson made another good play and strong throw, with Fuentes picking the throw out of the dirt at first for the out. Knizner struck out to end the inning. With 1 out in the bottom of the 5th, Hampson laid down a surprise bunt down the 3rd base line. Carpenter charged and tried to make a barehanded play, but couldn’t come up with it and Hampson had an infield hit. McMahon lined out to the track in left. Arenado flied an inside fastball to Fowler in right-center to end the inning.

The Rockies pinch-hit for Harvey in the last half-inning, so they had to bring in another pitcher for the top of the 6th, and this time it was righty DJ Johnson who got the call. With 2 out in the inning, Fowler blooped an inside fastball that dropped into left field for a base hit. The Rockies then decided to bring in lefty reliever James Pazos to pitch to Wong, who grounded out to 2nd base on the first pitch to end the inning. Jose Martinez had pinch hit for Mikolas—who had already thrown 99 pitches—in the last half-inning, so Shildt brought in Tyler Webb to pitch on no rest in the bottom of the 6th. Blackmon flied out on the first pitch to Ozuna in left. Hilliard walked on 4 pitches, with the 3-0 fastball clearly looking like a strike on the outside part of the zone. With 2 lefties out of the way and 2 righties coming up, Shildt brought in Giovanny Gallegos to pitch. Daza struck out swinging at a good low-and-away slider. Fuentes struck out looking at a 95-mph fastball just on the edge of the outside corner to end the inning.

Pazos came back out for the top of the 7th, and Ozuna worked a 3-2 walk with 1 out. Carpenter struck out, and Ravelo grounded out to 3rd to end the inning. Gallegos came back out for the bottom of the 7th. After Nunez worked a 3-2 walk, lefty Yonder Alonso pinch hit for the pitcher Pazos and grounded an outside fastball into a 5-6-3 double play. The unusual assist sequence was due to the fact that the Cards were in a shift and Carpenter was basically playing the shortstop position. With 2 out, Hampson lined an up-and-in fastball to the gap in right-center that rolled to the wall for a standup triple, making that double play especially timely. Shildt then made a double switch to bring in Andrew Miller to pitch in the #6 spot, with Paul Goldschmidt coming in to play 1B in the #9 spot. Miller struck McMahon out on 3 pitches with a slider at the end to end the inning and keep Arenado in the on-deck circle.

Righty Yency Almonte came out to pitch the top of the 8th. Knizner struck out swinging at a slider in the dirt. Bader struck out swinging at a slider. Goldschmidt launched a slider off the top of the right field wall for a double. Lefty Sam Howard came in to pitch to Fowler, who struck out swinging at a low-and-in slider in the dirt to end the inning. Miller came back out for the bottom of the 8th and issued a leadoff walk to Arenado. A first-pitch slider slipped out of Miller’s hands and hit Blackmon right in the backside. Miller’s 2-2 pitch to Hilliard was a fastball too far inside that got away from Knizner and went to the backstop for a wild pitch to move the runners to 2nd and 3rd. But Miller’s 3-2 pitch was a slider that the umpire called strike 3, even though it looked like it was a little inside. With 1 out now, Shildt made a double switch to bring in Carlos Martinez to pitch in the #1 spot and Randy Arozarena to play RF in the #6 spot. Lefty Daniel Murphy pinch hit for Daza and struck out with a late swing on a 2-2 outside 97-mph fastball. Lefty Tony Wolters pinch hit for Fuentes and struck out looking at a 3-2 slider to strand the runners.

The Rockies made several changes in the top of the 9th. Murphy stayed in the game to play 1B in the #6 spot, with Hilliard moving from LF to CF. The Rockies then made a double switch to bring in righty Wade Davis to pitch in the #7 spot and Ian Desmond to play LF in the #9 spot. Wong walked to lead off the inning and stole 2nd base with DeJong at the plate. Wong did not slide and could have been thrown out, but McMahon dropped Nunez’s bounced throw. Davis then hit DeJong on the left forearm with an inside fastball. On the first pitch to Ozuna, Wong and DeJong executed a double steal to reach 2nd and 3rd. Ozuna walked on 4 pitches to load the bases for Carpenter. Carpenter reached down and poked a 1-2 slider that bounced past Murphy’s glove into right field. It looked like Murphy was flustered by Ozuna standing in front of him and just lost sight of where the ball was. The chopped ball went by his outstretched glove to his right and into right field towards the line. Carpenter was credited with a double to score both Wong and DeJong to extend the Cards’ lead to 8-3. Ozuna went to 3rd base. Lefty Jake McGee came in to pitch to Arozarena and grazed him on the left elbow with a 2-2 fastball to load the bases with still nobody out. Arozarena leaned down into the pitch. Knizner sharply grounded a base hit through the right side to score Ozuna, extend the Cards’ lead to 9-3 and keep the bases loaded. With the count 2-2 on Bader, the home plate umpire called a balk on McGee.

This balk revolves around the rules regarding pitching out of what we think of as the stretch, and which the Official Rules call the “set position.” Rule 5.07(a)(2) defines the “set position” to mean when the pitcher has his back foot on the rubber, his front foot in front of his back foot, is holding the ball in front of him with both hands and has come to a complete stop. In preparation to get in that position, the pitcher is allowed to make a “preliminary motion such as that known as the stretch,” and then must pitch from the set position. The rule goes on to state that “Preparatory to coming to a set position, the pitcher shall have one hand on his side; from this position, he shall go to his set position as defined in Rule 5.07(a)(2) without interruption and in one continuous motion. The italicized portion is what tripped McGee up. With runners on base, McGee starts with his glove hand at his side, his pitching hand behind his back with the ball, and his body hunched over. But before using “the stretch” to go into the “set position,” he lurched his upper body back and to the right ever so slightly without continuing into the set position. It was very subtle, but the home plate umpire caught him and that’s why he called a balk. Presumably the violation of Rule 5.07(a)(2) is interpreted as the pitcher making a motion associated with his pitch and failing to make his delivery, which is a balk under Rule 6.02(a)(1). Carpenter scored on the balk to make it 10-3, and the other runners advanced to 2nd and 3rd. Bader struck out swinging at a slider in the dirt for the first out. Goldschmidt was intentionally walked. Yairo Munoz pinch hit for Carlos Martinez and struck out looking at a fastball on the inside corner. Wong struck out swinging at a slider in the dirt to end the inning.

John Brebbia came out for the top of the 9th on no rest with it no longer being a save situation. After Nunez struck out, Desmond grounded a fastball through the right side for a base hit. Hampson popped out to Goldschmidt in foul territory. McMahon walked on 4 pitches. Arenado struck out swinging at a slider in the dirt to end the game.

The Play at the Plate

Let’s go back to the play that confused the Cards’ television crew. It was the top of the 4th inning with 1 out, with the Cards ahead 6-3. Fowler was on 3rd base, with Wong at 2nd base and DeJong at the plate, and the Rockies’ infield in. DeJong chopped a ball that was fielded by the shorstop Sampson. Rockies’ catcher Nunez immediately got in a position to stand in front of the plate and block it, without the ball, and without a path for Fowler to slide in and score. There are 5 separate provisions in the rules that appear to deal with this problem.

The comment to Rule 6.01(h)(2), which deals with obstruction says clearly:

The catcher, without the ball in his possession, has no right to block the pathway of the runner attempting to score. The base line belongs to the runner and the catcher should be there only when he is fielding a ball or when he already has the ball in his hand.

But another comment to the Rule talks about what “fielding a ball” means:

If a fielder is about to receive a thrown ball and if the ball is in flight directly toward and near enough to the fielder so he must occupy his position to receive the ball he may be considered “in the act of fielding the ball.” It is entirely up to the judgment of the umpire as to whether a fielder is in the act of fielding a ball.

Moving to Rule 6.01(i) which deals with home plate collisions, we find this in Rule 6.01(i)(2):

Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the umpire, the catcher without possession of the ball blocks the pathway of the runner, the umpire shall call or signal the runner safe.

But the very same rule goes on to state:

Not withstanding the above, it shall not be considered a violation of this Rule 6.01(i)(2) if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in a legitimate attempt to field the throw (e.g., in reaction to the direction, trajectory or the hop of the incoming throw, or in reaction to a throw that originates from a pitcher or drawn-in infielder.

Finally, there is a comment to Rule 6.01(i)(2):

A catcher shall not be deemed to have violated Rule 6.01(i)(2) unless he has both blocked the plate without possession of the ball (or when not in a legitimate attempt to field the throw), and also hindered or impeded the progress of the runner attempting to score. A catcher shall not be deemed to have hindered or impeded the progress of the runner, if in the judgment of the umpire, the runner would have been called out notwithstanding the catcher having blocked the plate.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but one thing is clear. All of the rules surrounding this situation are designed to protect the catcher from being run over at the plate. If the runner deviates from his path or otherwise initiates an avoidable collision with the catcher, then the runner is out, even if he knocks over the catcher and dislodges the ball. But essentially, the rules allow the catcher to block the plate at his own peril either when he has the ball or is in the process of fielding it.

It is true that Nunez stood in front of the plate when before he had the ball. But it is also true that Hampson’s throw beat Fowler by a long shot. And Fowler didn’t even attempt to slide until Nunez had the ball, by which point, Nunez was entitled to block the plate. Fowler did not try to run Nunez over, instead trying to go around with his legs and see if he could squeak his hand directly through where Nunez was position. Fowler did touch Nunez with his left hand but that was the extent of the collision.

So there are a few basic reasons why Fowler was likely not ruled safe on the play. First, Nunez was in the process of fielding the throw when he was blocking the plate. Second, once he had the ball, he was entitled to block the plate, and third, even if he blocked the plate, the umpire concluded under the Comment to Rule 6.01(i)(2) that Fowler would have been out even if Nunez had not blocked the plate.

I also think that Fowler would have been justified in running Nunez over in that situation because Nunez was blocking the plate without giving Fowler a window to slide without avoiding a collision. The same comment to Rule 6.01(i)(2) makes it clear that if the catcher blocks the runner’s pathway, the umpire shall not find that the runner initiated an avoidable collision. So by doing what he did, Nunez made it more likely to make the out, but put himself at risk of being crushed at home plate without penalty.

Odds and Ends

Although the Cubs had a scare in the 9th inning, they held off the Padres 4-1. Starter Yu Darvish pitched 6 innings, giving up only 2 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 14. The Padres made a valiant effort in the 9th off of Rowan Wick. With 2 out and runners at 2nd and 3rd, Wick walked Ty France and hit Manny Machado with the bases loaded to force in a run. But Luis Urias, younger brother of Cards 40-man roster player Ramon Urias, struck out looking to end the game. The Cubs play at home for the next 10 days with a 3-game series against each of the Pirates and Reds before hosting the Cardinals for 4...The Brewers swept the Marlins with today’s 3-2 victory and have now won 7 straight games. A Sac Fly from Mike Moustakas and 2-run HR from Ryan Braun was all they needed to win today. Although the Brewers pulled starter Gio Gonzalez after only 4 IP, their bullpen consisting of Ray Black, Drew Pomeranz, Freddy Peralta and Josh Hader didn’t allow a baserunner at all in 5 IP, walked none and struck out 10. The Brewers come to St. Louis for a 3-game series starting tomorrow. The Cards’ division lead is still 4 games and the magic number is 13 with 16 to play...The Cardinals have changed their mind and will not send 20-year old OF Dylan Carlson to the Arizona Fall League. Although he would have been able to earn the exact equivalent of the minor league salary he was making this year out of a special fund for his service, the club figured that 562 PA across 2 levels was enough and will let him rest.