In lieu of having nothing new to talk about, I thought I’d talk about something old. Something that happened four years ago today. Well yesterday, since it happened on April 8. It was a joyous occasion. Baseball was being played for one thing. The Cardinals broke an MLB record in that game. The Cardinals obviously won a baseball game, and I say obviously because I already say it was a joyous occasion. What exactly am I talking about?
On April 8, 2016, the Cardinals were struggling. It was early in the season - really early - but the Cardinals hadn’t even won a game yet. They got swept by a Pittsburgh Pirates squad that would ultimately go 78-83. The Cardinals ended up finishing one game out of the wild card, so it’s fair to say that sweep was very costly. I’ll set the backdrop for how we as fans probably felt at the time before getting to the game.
On Opening Day, the Cardinals lineup got shut down by Francisco Liriano, who struck out 10 in 6 innings pitched. Tommy Pham got the starting nod, batting 2nd, and immediately injured himself. He didn’t play in the majors again until June. Adam Wainwright allowed three earned runs over six innings, but the offense didn’t score until the 9th in a 4-1 loss. In the second game, both the Pirates and Cards scored five off the starters, but then both bullpens weren’t budging. The Cards bullpen budged first, with Seth Maness allowing a run in the 11th inning. The Cardinals had their third straight not particularly great start from Mike Leake in Game #3 and the offense didn’t show up to that game either in a 5-1 loss.
So that’s the backdrop to the April 8th game. You have three games where none of the starters pitched well (Wainwright was the best, but still had a 1:1 K/BB ratio with 3 earned runs), and the only game the offense showed up for happened to be a game where they also didn’t score any runs for the last six innings. Not encouraging.
If there’s such a thing as a “right” opponent after a three-game sweep to what ends up being a losing team, they could not have picked much better than the 2016 Atlanta Braves. The Braves were 0-2 to start the year, but more importantly, ended the year winning only 68 games. Their April 8th manager was Fredi Gonzalez who was fired after starting the season 9-28. Brian Snitker, still manager of the Braves, ended up going 59-65 to finish the year. So right opponent and right time to face that opponent.
Not much seemed different at first. The Cardinals stranded two runners in the 1st, and the Cardinals tried desperately to give the Braves a run in the bottom half. Well Jedd Gyorko did, who had back-to-back errors to lead off the game, but lefty Jaime Garcia got out of the inning by inducing a double play ball. The Cardinals next six batters got out. Garcia, in the bottom of the third allowed two straight singles, which thanks to a stolen base, ended up being 2nd and 3rd, nobody out. A sac fly and then a strikeout gave him a chance to get out of it minimally scathed.
But then Mike Matheny had him intentionally walk career 89 wRC+ hitter Adonis Garcia to load the bases. He was playing the handedness game, which backfired tremendously. Lefty Nick Markakis singled, then Hector Olivera singled, and Tyler Flowers singled, and it was 4-0 at the end of the inning. In Mike Matheny’s defense
Thankfully, the Cardinals bounced back. Matt Holliday doubled, and Matt Adams singled. A slow groundout by Randal Grichuk advanced Adams to 2nd, but didn’t score Holliday to put runners at 2nd and 3rd, 1 out. Yadier Molina grounded out to advanced both runners, and then a wild pitch scored run #2. Kolten Wong ended up walking and Gyorko singled to bring up the pitcher. Garcia singled too though and the Cards got a third run out of the inning, but trailed 4-3 at the end of the inning.
The score remained 4-3 when the 7th inning started. In the intervening innings, the Braves Matt Wisler had pitched 2 perfect innings with 3 Ks while Garcia had pitched 3 scoreless innings with 4 Ks and just a walk as far as baserunners allowed went. After a pop out by Gyorko, Jeremy Hazelbaker pinch-hit for Garcia. He saw a ball and then cranked a get-me-over fastball that Wisler surely regretted soon after. Hazelbaker homered to let Garcia off the hook and tie the game.
After a shaky Seung Hwan Oh inning, which involved a BB, a wild pitch, an IBB, and then Kevin Siegrist getting out of it, the Braves put in lefty Eric O’Flaherty to face Matt Adams. Matheny pinch-hit for Adams with Aledmys Diaz. Same exact thing happened here. Diaz led O’Flaherty pitch a ball, O’Flaherty didn’t want to fall behind more so he threw a very hittable pitch, which was crushed into the left field stands. Siegrist pitched a scoreless inning in the bottom half of the 8th to keep the score 5-4 Cardinals.
The Cards weren’t done though. After Gyorko struck out to lead off the game, Greg Garcia pinch-hit for Siegrist. Not quite the same as the other two, but the patient Garcia did let pitcher Jim Johnson fall behind him as well, leading to a 2-1 count. Again, the pitcher threw over a pitch that was very hittable, which Garcia uncharacteristically took over the fence. Two batters later, Stephen Piscotty homered as well. Trevor Rosenthal pitched a 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts to end the game with a 7-4 win.
The Cardinals ended up sweeping the Braves and winning their next 3, scoring at least 10 runs in all three games, and beating the Braves (and Brewers in the other game) by a combined 34-10 score. They then teetered around .500 for a looooong time, with a 60-56 record as late as August 12th.
Oh yeah I said the Cards set a record? If you haven’t figured it out by now, the three pinch-hit home runs were an MLB record. Not tied for the record, the actual record. And while it proved to be more likely than at the time, Diaz had just his fourth plate appearance of the year and first home run and he was largely thought of as a non-prospect at that point. Hazelbaker was only in the MLB because Pham got hurt I believe (and you guys can correct me if I’m wrong there). And of course power is just about the weakest part of Garcia’s game with a career .096 ISO and 14 career home runs in over 1,200 PAs.
- Here’s a video recap of the game, where you can see all three home runs hit, although not Piscotty’s homer.
- And here’s mister_manager’s recap of the game, formerly known as Pegasus, now known as Andy Schrag and I’ve given you way too much information about the history of his name at this point.
- Matt Holliday played 1B in that Opening Day game. One of 10 times he played there in 2016.
- The two errors committed by Gyorko were at SS, which is largely why Diaz was able to quickly be a regular starter soon after this, because Jhonny Peralta was also hurt.
- That was Hazelbaker’s second home run of the year. He was fun for a second.