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Cards Win the Wildest and Best Game of the Year 9-8 on Back-to-Back Homers in the 9th

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St Louis Cardinals v Chicago Cubs Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

I hesitated to put as much as I did in the title. I’m going to dispense with my usual introductory thoughts on issues that I thought relevant going into the game and on what I thought the key to the game was. Instead I’m going to get right to the action. If, by chance, you recorded the game, you’re in for a wild 4 hours and 24 minutes, as the game featured a little bit of everything. If not, I won’t spoil anything more, and hope you enjoy following along. I’ll just leave this here for emphasis.

Dexter Fowler struck out looking on a low 3-2 fastball to lead off the game. He thought it was ball four and started toward first base before being punched out. Tommy Edman drove a low-and-away curveball to the gap in right-center that hit the base of the ivy for a triple. Paul Goldschmidt bounced an inside curveball slowly down the line at 3rd base. Kris Bryant charged and made a good pick off the ground. Bryant started to throw home. Edman was running on contact and was standing straight up several feet from the plate. Instead, Bryant threw to first, and Anthony Rizzo picked the ball off the ground for the out. Edman scored to give the Cards a 1-0 lead. The video below shows both the triple and Edman scoring.

Marcell Ozuna walked with 2 out. With the count 1-1 on Yadier Molina, Jose Quintana threw a changeup in the dirt low-and-inside for a wild pitch to move Ozuna to 2nd. Molina, however, struck out swinging at an elevated fastball to end the inning.

Dakota Hudson struck Anthony Rizzo out looking at a 3-2 inside fastball on the corner. Nicholas Castellanos sliced an inside fastball to the gap in right-center. Harrison Bader made a sliding stop to prevent the ball from going to the wall, but Castellanos still slid in safely with a double, his 58th of the year, and his 21st since joining the Cubs at the trade deadline.

Bryant walked. Kyle Schwarber also walked to load the bases. In Schwarber’s plate appearance, the umpire called a ball inside on the 2-0 pitch when it looked like it was on the corner. After Ben Zobrist chased what would have been ball 4 on a 3-2 pitch and fouled it off, Hudson went ahead and walked him anyway with another fastball outside. Castellanos scored to tie the game 1-1. Hudson just can’t find the plate, and he went down in the count 3-0 to Victor Caratini. Hudson recovered a bit to get back to 3-2, but then walked Caratini on a 3-2 inside slider. Bryant scored to give the Cubs a 2-1 lead. That’s four walks in a row now, and Shildt still hasn’t taken him out, despite the fact that relievers have been warming up in the bullpen. How many guys is he going to let him walk? Jason Heyward drove an outside fastball towards the left field line that Ozuna caught on the run. The Sac Fly scored Schwarber to extend the Cubs’ lead to 3-1. Hudson then went down in the count 3-0 to Nico Hoerner. Hoerner drove an inside fastball to the gap in right-center, but Fowler caught it near the track to mercifully end the inning.

Quintana retired the Cards in order in the top of the 2nd with three groundouts. Zobrist made a real nice play and off-balance throw to nick Bader at 1st to end the inning.

After Quintana grounded out to 3rd on the first pitch to start the bottom of the 2nd, Rizzo smoked an outside fastball to the gap in left-center. Bader got to it quickly and Rizzo just barely made it sliding in safely at 2nd base for a double. Castellanos grounded the first pitch sharply to Edman at 2nd base. Edman had what looked like an easy shot to throw the hobbling Rizzo out at 3rd base, but decided to get the sure out at 1st base, with Rizzo going to 3rd. Fortunately, that decision did not come back to haunt the Cards, Bryant struck out looking at a fastball on the outside corner to end the inning with Hudson throwing only 9 pitches.

Hudson helped himself by leading off the top of the 3rd with a base hit up the middle on a high-and-outside fastball. Fowler grounded an up-and-in fastball through the hole to left for a base hit past the glove of the diving Hoerner. Edman grounded a high-and-outside fastball right to Zobrist at 2nd for the force out, but hustled to beat the return throw to 1st base. With runners at the corners and 1 out, Goldschmidt lined a high fastball to the track in left-center for a Sac Fly to score Hudson and cut the Cubs’ lead to 3-2. Ozuna was ahead in the count 3-0, but struck out swinging at an elevated 3-2 fastball to end the inning. That swing was influenced by the prior pitch, which the home plate umpire called a strike even though it looked like it was above the zone.

Schwarber drove an outside slider to center field that one-hopped the wall for a double to lead off the bottom of the 3rd. Bader was playing Schwarber to hit to the opposite field, and would have likely been able to get to the ball if he was playing him straight away. Zobrist flied an inside fastball to shallow left for the first out and slammed his bat to the ground in disgust. Hudson’s first pitch to Caratini was a curveball in the dirt that got away from Molina briefly. Schwarber decided to run to 3rd base, but Molina recovered and threw him out. The Cubs challenged the call and in a quick review, the call on the field was upheld. The crowd booed and Cubs manager Joe Maddon was screaming, but the replay showed that Carpenter got Schwarber on the back with the laces of the glove before he touched the bag.

Caratini grounded out to 2nd base to end the inning.

Molina lined a low-and-away changeup to right for a base hit to lead off the top of the 4th. DeJong struck out swinging at an elevated fastball. Quintana then hit Carpenter in the ribs with a first-pitch fastball. Bader walked on 4 pitches and now the Cards have something going. Shildt had Rangel Ravelo pinch hit for Hudson. Ravelo hit a low-and-away changeup for a sinking liner to center field for a base hit. Molina scored to tie the game 3-3. The ball was hit hard, and the runners had to make sure that Heyward didn’t catch the liner. With the bases still loaded, Maddon brought in lefty Danny Hultzen to pitch to Fowler. Fowler softly lined an inside fastball to center for a base hit to score Carpenter and Bader to give the Cards a 5-3 lead. Ravelo moved to 2nd on the play.

Edman lined a center-cut fastball for a base hit to center to move Ravelo to load the bases. Pop Warner elected not to send Ravelo. Maddon brought in righty Duane Underwood to pitch to Goldschmidt. Goldschmidt grounded a low changeup to short for an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play to prevent any further damage.

Dominic Leone came out to pitch the bottom of the 4th on 7 days of rest, and it’s now the battle of the bullpens. Heyward worked a 3-2 walk to start things off. Hoerner grounded a ball to 2nd for the 4-6 force, but it was hit too softly to turn the double play. Ian Happ pinch hit for Underwood and smoked a center-cut fastball over the center-field wall to tie the game 5-5.

Rizzo lined a low-and-away cutter for a base hit to center. Shildt had seen enough of Leone and brought Junior Fernandez in to pitch to Castellanos. With the count 1-1 on Castellanos, Fernandez threw a changeup that was way outside in a location Molina didn’t expect it, and the ball got away to the backstop for a wild pitch to move Rizzo to 2nd. Castellanos lined out to left-center. Bryant struck out swinging at a 97-mph fastball low and out of the zone to end the inning.

Righty David Phelps came out to pitch the top of the 5th and got Ozuna to fly out to right on the 9th pitch of the at-bat. Molina grounded out to 3rd. After DeJong walked, Carpenter softly lined an 0-2 up-and-in fastball to right for a base hit to move DeJong to 2nd. Bader struck out swinging at a curveball to end the inning. Genesis Cabrera came out for the bottom of the 5th. Schwarber grounded a low-and-away slider to Goldschmidt, but Cabrera slowed up before reaching the bag and Schwarber touched first base before Cabrera did. Schwarber was credited with an infield single. But no harm was ultimately done. Zobrist struck out swinging at a high-and-outside fastball and Caratini struck out swinging at an inside fastball. Heyward grounded out to 2nd to end the inning.

The Cubs made a double switch to start the top of the 6th. Willson Contreras came in to catch in the #9 spot and lefty Kyle Ryan came in to pitch in the #6 spot. Jose Martinez pinch hit for Cabrera and grounded out to short. Fowler struck out swinging at an outside cutter. Edman grounded out to short to end the inning. Ryan Helsley pitched the bottom of the 6th. Hoerner smoked a 1-1 center-cut 98-mph fastball over the left-center field wall for a solo HR to give the Cubs a 6-5 lead.

Contreras grounded out to 3rd, with Carpenter making a good spin and throw. Rizzo hit a 99-mph fastball that was right down the middle into center for a base hit. Castellanos flied an outside cutter to center for the 2nd out. Bryant struck out swinging at a low cutter to end the inning. Goldschmidt worked a 3-2 walk to lead off the top of the 7th. Ozuna reached down and golfed an 0-2 curveball that was almost in the dirt over the left-center field wall for a 2-run HR to give the Cards a 7-6 lead.

After Molina grounded out to the pitcher, DeJong softly lined a hanging cutter towards the left field line for a base hit. Carpenter drove an up-and-in fastball off of the top of the basket in left-center above the ivy. At this point, we were treated to some terrible base running. DeJong could have possibly scored on the play. Heyward tried to make a jumping grab from the track, which was a doubtful proposition at best, and the ball bounced a bit before Heyward could get to it. Yet DeJong could only reach third base. That can be forgiven because he was worried about going too far just in case he had to go all the way back to first base. But Carpenter’s base running mistake was confounding. Even if he was amazed that DeJong was stuck at 3rd base, there was no excuse for what happened with him. Carpenter ending up rounding 2nd base despite the fact that DeJong was stuck there, got caught going too far, and got thrown out on the fly by Heyward as he was trying to get back to 2nd base. Bader flied out to center field, and the Cards wasted an opportunity to get a run or more.

Shildt made a double switch to bring in Yairo Munoz to play 3B in the #7 spot and Giovanny Gallegos to pitch in the #5 spot for the bottom of the 7th. Gallegos struck Schwarber out swinging at a slider to start things off. Zobrist ripped an up-and-in fastball for double to right that one-hopped the wall. Lefty Tony Kemp pinch hit for Ryan. On the 0-2 pitch Gallegos appeared to strike Kemp out swinging at a fastball. But the 2nd base umpire had yelled balk as the pitch was on its way to the plate, and had concluded that Gallegos failed to come to a complete stop.

Was it a balk? Yes. This is straight from Official Rule 5.07(a)(2), which deals with the Set Position and the stretch:

The pitcher, following his stretch, must (a) hold the ball in both hands in front of his body and (b) come to a complete stop. This must be enforced. Umpires should watch this closely. Pitchers are constantly attempting to “beat the rule” in their efforts to hold runners on bases and in cases where the pitcher fails to make a complete “stop” called for in the rules, the umpire should immediately call a “Balk.”

In addition, Rule 6.02(a)(13) makes it clear that with a runner on, it is a balk when the “pitcher delivers the pitch from the Set Position without coming to a stop.” If you look at the video, you can see Gallegos go from the stretch, to the Set Position and then deliver the pitch in a continuous motion without stopping. The television crew made an argument that Gallegos was not trying to deceive a runner. Zobrist was on second base, and Gallegos wasn’t even paying attention to him. As shocked as the crew was about the call, the argument is a red herring. The Comment to Rule 6.02(a) does state that the purpose of the balk rule is to prevent the pitcher from deliberately deceiving the base runner. But the next sentence of the comment goes on to make clear that pitcher deception is only a tie-breaking rule designed to inform the umpire’s opinion if he is in doubt. In that case, the umpire is directed to determine the intent of the pitcher to govern the situation. Here there was no doubt in the umpire’s mind. In addition, there are other ways for a pitcher to balk without deceiving the runner. For example, it’s a balk if the pitcher has the ball accidentally slip out of his glove or hand when he’s on the rubber, and deception has nothing to do with it.

It is true that there have been actual quick pitches in similar situations that have not been called balks, and it is true that the rule is not always enforced. But it was still a balk by the letter of the rules. The timing, however, was exquisite. Thinking he had struck out, Kemp started to walk toward the Cubs’ dugout. Instead, he was called back to the batter’s box and Zobrist was awarded 3rd base. Gallegos’ next pitch was a high-and-outside 95-mph fastball that Kemp drove over the center-field wall for a 2-run HR to give the Cubs an 8-7 lead.

A fan in a Cardinals jersey caught the ball, then traded his Cards jersey for a Cubs jersey right in the stands at the request of gentlemen in blue shirts. Shildt then brought in Tyler Webb to pitch. Heyward out struck out swinging at a 1-2 slider in the dirt and broke his bat over his knee. Hoerner grounded a first-pitch changeup to 3rd to end the inning.

Lefty Brad Wieck came out for the top of the 8th. Munoz worked a 3-2 walk. Fowler grounded an inside curveball to Zobrist at 2nd base. By darting to his right, Munoz tried to avoid Zobrist’s tag, which Zobrist tried to apply with his glove only, and with the ball in his other hand. The 2nd base umpire was quick on the draw in calling Munoz out, which must have meant that he concluded Munoz went out of the base line. Fowler reached first base on the fielder’s choice. Wieck then hit Edman right on the left hamstring with a 2-2 fastball. Maddon did not go to a righty, but the Cards could not score. Goldschmidt flied a low-and-in curveball out to the track in left that allowed Fowler to tag up and advance to 3rd. Wieck chewed Ozuna up. Ozuna decided to try and swing at a first-pitch curveball after it was almost in the catcher’s mitt for strike 1. He swung through a high 1-1 fastball for strike 2. After fouling off the next pitch, he struck out chasing a 2-2 fastball that was both high and outside and would have been called ball 3. Webb came back out for the bottom of the 8th. Contreras grounded an inside 1-2 fastball to 3rd to start the bottom of the 8th. Earlier in the at-bat, the home plate umpire generously gave Webb a strike on a pitch that was high by several inches. Rizzo struck out swinging at a high 3-2 fastball. Shildt then brought in John Gant to pitch to Castellanos. Castellanos grounded a 1-0 low-and-in sinker through the mound, but Edman was in position to field the grounder and end the inning.

Righty Craig Kimbrel came out to pitch the top of the 9th. The Cubs also made some defensive changes. Albert Almora came out to play CF in the #4 spot, with Heyward moving from CF to RF and Castellanos moving from RF to LF. Kimbrel’s first pitch was a 97-mph fastball that was in the center of the plate but about shoulder-height and several inches high. Somehow, Molina skied it over the left-center field wall for a solo HR to tie the game 8-8.

DeJong drove Kimbrel’s next pitch—a center-cut 96-mph fastball that was elevated a bit—deep into the left-center field seats for another solo HR to give the Cards a 9-8 lead.

That’s 2 homers on 2 pitches. Check out the reaction of the players on the Cardinals’ bench:

Also another interesting tidbit:

Matt Wieters pinch hit for Gant and walked. Randy Arozarena ran for Wieters. Bader struck out looking at a 3-2 inside slider. With the count 0-2 on Munoz, Arozarena tried to steal 2nd base. But the pitch was a high fastball that allowed Contreras to get out of his stance quick and he threw Arozarena out by a large margin. Munoz then chased a slider about a foot outside to strike out and end the inning.

For the bottom of the 9th, Shildt decided to bring Carlos Martinez out to pitch for the fourth day in a row to attempt the save. On the 3-2 pitch to Bryant, it looked like Martinez had him struck out on a slider, but Molina just missed hanging on to the foul tip and dropped it. On the next pitch, Martinez walked Bryant on an outside fastball. Switch-hitter Robel Garcia pinch hit for Almora (before Almora got a chance to actually bat) and struck out swinging at a 97-mph middle-away fastball. The crowd went wild when Zobrist hit a center-cut 99-mph fastball, but Fowler caught it on the run well short of the track. As loud as it was in Wrigley Field, you would have thought it was hit onto the street somewhere, but it wasn’t even close. When both Bader and Fowler converged on the ball, I seriously thought they were going to collide, but Bader cut behind. In a big surprise, Javier Baez pinch hit for Kimbrel. Baez had not made a plate appearance since September 1st.

Martinez struck him out on 3 pitches. First pitch was a low slider that Baez fouled to the screen and almost came out of his shoes. Baez swung and missed at a high-and-inside hanging slider. Martinez then blew Baez away on a 99-mph outside fastball for strike 3, and picked up save #23 in this instant classic.

Odds and Ends

At the time of this writing, the Brewers were beating the Pirates 10-1 in the top of the 8th, so it looks like the Cards’ magic number only dropped to 5 tonight...The Atlanta Braves clinched the NL East with their victory over the Giants last night. With their victory over the Giants 8-1 tonight, they have home field advantage in the NLDS over their opponent, assuming that the Dodgers hold serve and will end up playing the Wild Card Team...The magic number for the Houston Astros to clinch the AL West is 1, but they are losing 6-4 to the Angels in the top of the 9th and the Athletics are beating the Rangers 7-0 in the 2nd inning...With the Cards undefeated in the powder blue unis for September, what do you think the odds are they will be back next year, when you consider they went 3-9 while wearing them?