Much digital ink has been spilled touting the second half of Jack Flaherty, and rightly so. It’s no longer sufficient to speak of his performance just in terms of NL pitchers, but of all pitchers in MLB this season. Entering tonight’s second game of the Brewers’ three-game series, one stat that stood out was his overall season ERA, which began with a 2 (at 2.99, heh heh). This was made possible by his MLB-leading 0.76 ERA since the break; (the next-lowest was the Reds’ Sonny Gray at 1.84.) His FIP came in to tonight at 2.19 during this time, second only to the venerable Verlander’s 1.94.
Others have put his recent ERA in historical context.
Since ERA became an official stat, the only pitchers in @MLB history to have a sub-1.00 ERA and sub-.150 opp. BA over a 12-start span in a season are Jake Arrieta (2015), Chris Sale (2018) and Jack Flaherty (2019). pic.twitter.com/XMMJ4BQjT2— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) September 14, 2019
The Brewers sent righty Jordan Lyles to the hill, whom the Cards faced three previous times this season, the first two when he was a Pirate. (He became a Brewer at the trade deadline.) Throwing just 12.3 innings over those three outings, he gave up 7 earned runs, 5 of those coming in an very brief start on July 24 when he lasted just 1 2⁄3 innings. But that was his last start as Pirate. Perhaps he was distracted by his trade situation.
The Cards came in looking for yet another high-water milestone, sitting one win away from 20 games over .500. Since the break, the Cards have remained focused, driven, relentless. Sounds like a certain young pitcher you know.
The Brewers sported their version of powder blue unis. They looked even worse than the Cards’ Victory Blues. But they did match the hue of the pretty sky above Baseball Heaven that blanketed the beginning of this game.
The script did not go as planned on this night. Jack was cruising along just fine through three innings of 2-hit, 5-K, 0 BB, 0-run, pitching. His teammates already had given him a 2-0 lead in the second via a Tommy Edman solo homer and a steal of third that Bader scampered home on as the throw went into left.
But Jack got bitten by a Bloop ‘n a Blast in the 4th, resulting in a 2-2 tie. The 6th ultimately became his undoing, as the Brewers parlayed two walks, a single, and a run-scoring groundout to nudge the score to 3-2. He threw 31 pitches in that inning alone, and his night was done at 102 pitches. Yet on an “off” night, Jack still technically booked a “Quality Start” for what that’s worth.
The bullpen couldn’t keep the score there. Actually, Webb couldn’t. He relieved in the top of the 8th and promptly walked the leadoff hitter then gave up a 2-run dinger making the score 5-2. After Schildt then yanked him, the bullpen was its normal awesome self, with Gant, Brebbia, and Fernandez blanking the Brewers over the rest of the game.
After the Cards’ quick burst in the second, they only mustered two singles and a double for the rest of the game. An important key to keeping the Cards at bay was that none of the 5 Brewers’ pitchers issued a walk.
Top of 1st
Trent Grisham, he of the interlocking golf grip, led off by greeting a 2-0 fastball and pulling it to right for a single. So much for the no-hitter. Jack then made it seem like that never happened, as he next got Yasmani Grandal to ground into a tailor-made double-play ball,
4-6-3. Grandal hit it hard (105 mph), but that’s the way it goes, son.
Jack finished the frame by striking out Mike Moustakas on a nifty knuckle curve that Yadi partially blocked. It kicked to the catcher’s left, but Mousse was in no mood to run. Yadi snagged it quickly anyway, and threw to first for the out.
Bottom of 1st
Dexter Fowler led the night off in the most unproductive way ever, by striking out swinging on just three pitches, the final one a fastball up and in that tied him up. Wong next did what Dex couldn’t, lining a high fastball the other way for a single. (It was over the plate, though, not inside, so easier to get the barrel to.)
Friday night’s RBI hog Goldschmidt stepped in and nearly continued his homer-happiness, sending a deep fly just in front of the right-field track for the second out, with Kolten remaining at first.
Marcell Ozuna kept the inning alive by timing a slightly hanging 3-2 curve just right, slamming it to center for a single. Wong was running on the pitch, so he trotted into third easily, presenting Paul DeJong with a 2-out RISP opportunity. Pauly D squandered that chance, topping a first-pitch low-and-away/not-strike curve to third for the last out. Perhaps he was too anxious there.
Top of 2nd
Jack went to a full count on Ryan Braun then got him to swing on a fastball many inches outside, which produced a weak bouncer to Wong for an easy first out. Eric Thames then got schooled on a back-foot slider, swinging over it for strike three. Jack followed that up by taking care of Lorenzo Cain immaculately on three pitches, striking him out on the third with a nicely placed 2-seamer over-but-down in the zone.
Bottom of 2nd
Youth was served in the second inning. Yadier Molina started things off by sending a fly ball that hung up in right center and was grabbed easily by Cain. Rookie Tommy Edman showed the old catcher how it’s done, banging a line-drive homer just over the wall in right for a 1-0 Cards lead!!!
Harry Bader then re-started things by hitting the first pitch he saw on a stiff grounder just to the left of the diving second baseman for a single. Jack then did what NL pitchers are paid to do and sacrifice bunted Bader to second.
Not content to wait for Dex to advance him, Bader stole third safely, diving in head first. The throw was rushed and bad, and sailed past the out-stretched glove of Moustakas, as it went into left. Tots popped up immediately and scampered home easily, making it 2-0 in flash!!!
Dex couldn’t re-fill the bases, as he flew out to shallow right-center, and I believe swearing at himself for not getting better wood on an up and in fastball.
Top of 3rd
Jack faced the bottom three of the Brewers’ lineup to begin the third. Cory Spangenberg battled valiantly, but succumbed to Jack’s knuckle curve, which Cory whiffed at for a strikeout. You might think that was just another notch in Jack’s belt, but it represented a nice round number for him:
Orlando Arcia got good wood on a slider, lining it left but right at Ozuna for out 2. Marcell, however, thought it was the third out, tossing the ball into the stands. (He did not ask for it back.) Jack then retired his counterpart, pitcher Jordan Lyles on a 2-2 slider.
A third of the way into the game, Jack was at 41 pitches (26 strikes) and had 5 Ks already.
Bottom of 3rd
Kolten Wong started the third by getting a backward-K, watching a nicely placed changeup that dotted the inner half. Goldschmidt went the other way with a first-pitch slider that was up and out over the plate, but he mis-timed it, skying it the right fielder for out 2.
Lyles then retired Ozuna, getting him to ground out to short for the Cards’ first 1-2-3 inning.
Top of 4th
Leadoff batter Grisham got just enough wood on an elevated fastball, blooping it into the Bermuda Triangle over short and between Ozuna and Bader for a single, the second hit of the night for the Brew Crew.
Jack did get the next batter, Grandal to hit a grounder, but it went far enough to Kolten’s left that it was not possible for him to turn it; instead, he wisely took the easy out at first. While not a “Gold-Glove” play, it took very good range.
With a runner on second and one out, Jack threw a mistake down-and-in fastball to Moustakas, who didn’t miss it, and cracked it over the wall in center for a game-tying homer.
Jack recovered, however, to get back-to-back strikeouts on Braun via the knuckle curve and then Thames on the slider.
Bottom of 4th
Paul DeJong went after a hanging curve on his second pitch, but it hung up and away enough, and he didn’t square it, flying out to right. Yadi then swung at a first-pitch slider far beyond the outer edge, (because why not?) grounding out to second for a quick two outs.
Edman kept the inning alive, bouncing a slow roller to second. Arcia tried bare-handing it, but couldn’t grab it cleanly, worried about Tommy’s speed, allowing Edman to reach. Bader then bounded a grounder to third that Moustakas backed up on a step then fired, barely getting the speedy Harrison.
Top of 5th
Now with a new ballgame tied at 2, Jack faced Cain and got him to fly a can of corn to Dex for the first out. Next batter Spangenberg jumped a changeup that Jack left up, lining it to right for a single. On an 0-2 count, with the runner going, Jack spiked a knuckle-curve in the dirt Yadi whiffed on, as the ball bounced off the backstop and caromed right back to Yadi, keeping the runner at second. Fortunately, the hitter Arcia was ruled to have offered at the pitch, striking out on his check-swing.
Now with two outs and a runner on second, and the pitcher up, Counsell opted to leave Lyles in to hit, belying his usual predilection for revolving relievers. Predictably, Jack dispatched him, striking him out looking on a tight down-and-in slider.
Bottom of 5th
Jack led off and became Lyles’ third strikeout victim, watching a 1-2 fastball go by disinterestedly. Dex got into scoring position by shooting a line drive the other way into the left-center field gap, which hopped the wall for a ground-rule double.
Wong advanced Dex to third by grounding out to second, giving Goldy a 2-out RISP chance. Alas, Goldschmidt got under a high fastball, skying it to the shortstop, who caught it near the mound.
Top of 6th
Facing the top of the order, Jack collected his 10th K by retiring Grisham for the first time on the night, getting him swinging at his down-and-away knuckle curve. Jack then got ahead of Grandal 1-2 but lost him, as he couldn’t locate two sliders or a curve, walking him. Recent home-run hitter Moustakas then strode in, and Jack spotted a 1-2 fastball on the outer half, but it was up, and Moustakas lined it into left for a single, making it first and second, one out, which prompted a mound visit with Braun up next.
In this key at bat of the game and looking for a double play ball, Jack focused on sliders down on his first two offerings. After spotting a fastball down and away for a swinging strike, he just missed in that same area to make it 3-1. Using the fastball again, he got another swing and miss and a low heater to make the count full. Perhaps reading for something extra, Jack buried a 96 mph fastball in the dirt to load the bases.
With the dangerous Thames up next, Jack induced him to hit a bouncer to short. Shifting on Thames, Pauly had to scurry to back-hand it and throw across his body to get the force at second, but the run scored, making it 3-2 Brewers.
Now with first and third, two outs, Cain watched a 1-2 slider dance at the bottom outside corner, but Jack didn’t get the strike call, shouting something and pumping his fist in frustration. On a 3-2 count, Jack went to the slider again, getting Cain out in front and popping it up to Wong.
The inning took its toll, spiking Jack’s pitch total to 102.
Bottom of 6th
Lyles, now with a lead and having thrown just 76 pitches, remained in for the Brewers to face Marcell, who flew out harmlessly to shallow center for out 1. DeJong, who hadn’t had good swings against Lyles to this point, continued that trend, striking out on a check swing at a curve in the dirt. Yadi ended the inning with poor contact, hitting a soft liner to short, as the Cards went quietly down in order.
Top of 7th
John Gant entered now, starting his night off well, by striking out Grandal on a 97 mph heater pinpointed on the insider corner. Continuing to look sharp, Gant used the Vulcan Changeup to sit down Arcia for the back-to-back Ks.
Pinch-hitter David Freitas came in, ending Lyles’ night. Gant gave him the same experience as his teammates this inning, going to the high heat to strike him out swinging.
Loping off the mound, his gold chain bobbing in front of his revealing unbuttoned jersey, sporting the high socks, Gant coulda been pitching in 1973.
Bottom of 7th
Now with Lyles out of the game, righty Jay Jackson came in. Tommy Edman led off and cranked a down-and-in first-pitch slider that went just foul down the right-field line. Alas, he then was retired on a grounder to first. Then Bader, on a 2-2 pitch, couldn’t hold up on his nemesis, the down-and-away slider, striking out for the second out.
Shildt sent Matt Carpenter to hit for Gant, and Counsell countered with lefty reliever Drew Pomeranz. Shildt did not counter-counter with any of the 8 position players on the bench who hit righty (and the 9th being switch-hitter Wieters). Behind on a 1-2 count, Matt couldn’t lay off a high fastball well beyond the top of the zone at 96, swinging late and striking out to end the inning.
Top of 8th
Lefty Webb now came in to face the top of the lineup and got no one out. It was even worse than that. He began by walking lefty Grisham, the third time he reached base on the night. Then Webb left a changeup middle-up at eye level that Grandal tomahawked into the seats in left-center to up Milwaukee’s lead to 5-2. Pitching shyly to Moustakas, he walked him on 5 pitches, which prompted Shildt to bring the hook.
Brebbia came in to deal with a runner on first, no out, and Braun at bat. He got him reaching at a slider, flying out to shallow center. Brebbia went back to the slider to retire Thames, who flew his out to shallow left. Looking good (well, the beard’s not my thing), Brebbia got Cain down 0-2 but left a fastball on the middle-outer half Cain could handle, and he lined it into right for a single, making it first and second, 2 out.
But, he got out of it, coming back to get Spangenberg to swing through a high hard one.
Bottom of 8th
The Brewers changed two defenders, putting Tyrone Taylor in right to replace ham-handed Braun in the lineup and the previous right-fielder Grisham moved to left. Now with more work to do and two innings to at least even the game up, the Cards got the chance to restart the order, with Dex leading off. He struck out on a high hard one.
Wong started the hope, however, by singling to right on a hard grounder. With Goldy next up, the Brewers brought in a righty, Junior Guerra. As he’s done all night, Goldy went to right with an outside pitch, and he didn’t get all of it, flying out in deep-ish right for the second out.
Now Ozuna came in, flashing a 5-10 lifetime hitting history against Guerra. Just missing a few pitches fouling them off, Marcell worked a full count. With Kolten running, Ozuna flew out harmlessly to center to end the inning.
Top of 9th
The Cardinals brought out their own Junior reliever, righty Junior Fernandez. He began well, striking out Arcia on a pretty changeup. Keston Huira came in to pinch-hit. Junior got him down 0-2 then sat him down swinging on another changeup. Back to the top of the order, Grisham received the same fate as the first two batters, striking out (looking) at—you guessed it—a changeup.
Bottom of 9th
DeJong, Molina, Edman offered the final chances coming into the bottom of the 9th with the tall order of facing Hader. DeJong did not put up much of a fight, striking out swinging on a slider. Molina got good wood on one down and in, lining it to deep left, but the Brewers outfielders were playing deep, and it was caught without issue.
Edman also sent one to left, but it was the easy fly variety, and it was caught to finish off the Cards on this night.
Brewers won, 5-2.
THE BOTTOM LINE
- Jack’s strikeout in the 2nd of Cory Spangenberg was his 200th this season.
- At 23, Jack became the youngest St. Louis pitcher to get 200 Ks since 1891 Jack Stivits for the Browns.
- Jack’s 10 Ks tied his season high.
- The Cards did not walk even once, helping the Brewers keep the bases unclogged.
- The offense produced only 3 RISP and they were o-fer during those chances.
- Earlier, the Cubs smacked down the Pirates 14-1, moving them to 3 back of the Cards.
- The Brewers’ victory got them to 4 back.
- The Cards go for the series win tomorrow at 1:15 CT with Wacha against Chae Anderson in the final time the two teams will meet this regular season.