It has been 283 days since your St. Louis Cardinals played a game that counted, and 299 days for a regular season game. Although the VEB staff his tried to keep you all interested and coming to the site, there is no substitute for an actual baseball game against a club that wears a different colored jersey that matters in the standings. And as the writer who brought you the last recap 283 days ago, it will definitely be nice to see a new series of headlines under the recap section than “Cards can’t hit Washington pitching,” and “Cards’ bats silent once again.” It’s different. There are no fans. There is fake crowd noise. There are new rules. But we’re all happy to have it back.
Although each club is authorized to have 30 players on its opening day roster, the Cards opened the season with 29 men. The reason is that the club is waiting for a couple of days to see if Giovanny Gallegos, who was waylaid in Mexico for the majority of Summer Camp, will be ready. And the reason they can get away with waiting to add a player after opening day is that for this year, a player can be recalled from the minor leagues without spending 10 days on option during the regular season—even if he wasn’t recalled by opening day—as long as that player was optioned before opening day. Chew on that one for tonight, and I’ll explain it in greater detail tomorrow morning. Fourteen pitchers ought to hold us for a couple of days, especially with the Designated Hitter rule in effect.
Jack Flaherty got Kevin Newman to ground a 1-1 curveball to Edman at 3rd for the first out of the 2020 season, then got back-to-back flyouts to right by Bryan Reynolds and Adam Frazier for a quick 8 pitch first inning with 5 strikes. Wong got a center-cut fastball on the 3-1 pitch from Pirates’ starter Joe Musgrove to lead off the bottom of the 1st, but popped it foul to 3rd base for the first out. Tommy Edman tapped a low 1-0 changeup towards the hole, but 3rd baseman Colin Moran charged and made a good throw to make the play. Paul Goldschmidt flared a first-pitch low-and-away sinker to right for the final out of the inning. To lead off the top of the 2nd, Josh Bell lined a low 1-1 fastball sharply but right into the shift where the 3rd baseman Edman happened to be standing on the second base side of the bag. Moran sliced an inside first-pitch fastball deep to the track in left, but O’Neill hauled it in. The DH Jose Osuna grounded a 2-2 curve to short to end the inning. It turned out okay that Yadier Molina dropped a 1-2 fastball that was a foul tip right in his glove. In the bottom half of the 2nd for the Cards, Paul DeJong struck out swinging at a 1-2 fastball in the center and at the top of the zone. Our DH Matt Carpenter drew a 3-1 walk, taking a high fastball that looked like a strike. Our first baserunner got a gift. After Molina flied out to right, Dexter Fowler initially got behind in the count 0-2. He worked his way back with a good eye to 3-2, but Musgrove threw a gutsy changeup right at the edge of the bottom of the zone and Fowler took it for strike 3 to end the inning.
Flaherty struck Guillermo Heredia out on three pitches to start the top of the 3rd, getting a swing on a nasty curveball on the last pitch, for his first strikeout of the season.
Jacob Stallings also struck out, this time looking at a low-and-away 96 mph fastball on the edge of the zone, low-and-away. Jarrod Dyson popped out on a flare to short on an 0-2 high fastball to end the inning, and Flaherty has only thrown 31 pitches, with 22 strikes and only one 3-ball count. In the bottom of the 3rd, O’Neill got the first hit of the game. It was also the first run of the game, as he drove a hanging 1-1 curveball into the bullpen for a solo HR to give the Cards a 1-0 lead.
Harrison Bader struck out looking at a hanging back door 2-2 slider for the first out. He had watched two fastballs near the middle go by earlier in the plate appearance. Wong grounded out to 1st. Edman chopped a low changeup up the middle, which Adam Frazier ran to his right and fielded. He made a double clutch before throwing across his body. Edman clearly beat the throw, but he was called out. On review, it easily showed that Edman beat the throw by at least a step, and the call on the field was reversed. Edman tried to steal second base on the 1-1 pitch to Goldschmidt—which was a slider, but Stallings threw him out to end the threat. It was a very close play, and it looked like he was safe. Although Mike Shildt retained his challenge by virtue of getting the base hit call overturned, he decided not to risk losing his challenge on this play. You make the call.
Flaherty gave up his first hit to Newman to lead off the fourth, who lined a fastball high in the zone to center.
Reynolds grounded a first-pitch curve to Wong at 2nd for a tailor-made 4-6-3 double play, but DeJong bobbled the ball as he tried to transfer it from his glove hand to his throwing hand, so all the Cards could get was the one out. Frazier drove a low-and-away 1-1 sinker down the line in left for a base hit to move Reynolds to 2nd. Bell flied a low changeup to right, too shallow for the runners to advance. Flaherty got out of the inning by striking out Moran swinging at a high 0-2 fastball near the top of the zone. Goldschmidt worked a 3-2 walk to lead off the bottom of the 4th, showing a good eye by laying off some close curves. DeJong struck out again, this time on an up-and-in 2-2 fastball above the zone. Carpenter struck out swinging at a good low-and-away 0-2 changeup. Molina forced Goldschmidt at short to end the inning.
Flaherty struck Osuna out swinging at a 3-2 outside fastball to start the top of the 5th. Heredia smoked an 0-1 hanging slider but Edman nabbed it in a little diving play toward the line. Stallings popped a 1-0 backdoor slider to Goldschmidt in foul territory and Flaherty has still only thrown 53 pitches. Fowler led off the bottom of the 5th by launching a center-cut fastball over the wall in right for a solo HR to extend the Cards’ lead to 2-0.
O’Neill got jammed on an up-and-in fastball and flied to short center. Bader struck out looking at an outside 0-2 sinker that looked like it was clearly outside. The first strike fastball that was called on him looked outside as well. Wong lined a first-pitch fastball down the line in right, but it landed just barely to the right of the chalk for a foul ball. After getting behind in the count 1-2, he drove a center-cut fastball to the gap in right-center that dropped between the fielders just shy of the track and went to the wall. He slid safely into third base for a triple, as Frazier, the cut-off man, threw a ball that bounced, hit Wong, and got away from Moran at 3rd. Wong got up and tried to go for home, but the pitcher Musgrove, alertly backing up the play, slid for the ball, spun around and threw across his body from his knees. The throw was off-line and forced the catcher Stallings to go to his left. But Wong stumbled and tripped, and tried to call to the plate, which allowed Stallings to dive and tag Wong out to end the inning. Here’s the play, beginning at the point where the ball gets by the third baseman.
Dyson grounded out to 2nd the lead off the top of the 6th. Newman struck out swinging at a low-and-away 2-2 slider. Reynolds grounded a 1-2 curve to first to end the inning with Flaherty at a tidy 65 pitches. Musgrove started the bottom of the 6th at 80 pitches, but was sent back out there. Edman struck out swinging at an 0-2 low-and-in curve that he fouled into the catcher’s mitt. Goldschmidt lined a 1-2 curve to left for a base hit. Musgrove’s first pitch to DeJong was a wild low-and-away slider that got away from the catcher and went to the backstop for a wild pitch, which allowed Goldschmidt to move to 2nd. DeJong walked on 4 straight pitches. Carpenter worked the count to 3-2, then grounded a slow roller to 2nd to force DeJong at 2nd. Goldschmidt went to 3rd on the play. Musgrove was laboring badly and the Pirates’ manager Derek Shelton waited until Musgrove’s 99th pitch to take him out. Righty Clay Holmes came in for the Pirates out of the bullpen, and we will see the operation of the 3-batter rule for the first time. Molina hit a first-pitch hanging outside curveball on a sinking looper to left for a base hit to score Goldschmidt, move Carpenter to 2nd and extend the Cards lead to 3-0. Fowler grounded a 1-2 fastball to first for the 3-1 flip to end the inning. Because Holmes finished the inning, the Pirates can make a pitching change for the bottom of the 7th, despite Holmes only pitching to 2 batters.
Frazier grounded a 1-2 curveball to start the top of the 7th. Bell grounded a 3-2 inside slider towards the middle. DeJong charged over near the 2nd baseman, bobbled the ball for a second and threw to first, but Bell beat it out for an infield hit. Moran sliced a hanging outside 1-1 curve to left-center for a base hit to move Bell to 2nd. Osuna sharply grounded a low curve towards the line at 3rd. Edman reacted quickly, but the ball handcuffed him on his short dive, and all he could do was knock it down, giving Osuna an infield hit to load the bases. Heredia worked the count to 3-2 by laying off a good slider, but struck out looking at a 95 mph fastball down the middle at the low edge of the strike zone. He might have been looking slider. Stallings sharply grounded an outside fastball (that was up) through the hole to right, just under Goldschmidt’s diving glove for a base hit. Bell and Moran both scored to cut the Cards’ lead to 3-2. Osuna went to 3rd on the play. With runners at the corners, Dyson tapped a slider to Flaherty in front of the mound. Flaherty charged and threw him out by a step to preserve the lead.
Holmes came back out to pitch the bottom of the 7th, with O’Neill being the third batter he faced. O’Neill grounded out to 3rd. Bader fisted a curve out to shallow center where the 2nd baseman Frazier caught it for the out. He was positioned on the left side of the bag and in good position to go out and grab it. Wong grounded an outside curve up the middle. The shortstop Newman charged over, spun around and threw, but threw wide to Bell’s right, with the ball bouncing in the Cards’ dugout. This was ruled a single, E6, with Wong moving to 2nd base, as Wong would have beat out a clean throw. But Edman struck out swinging at a 2-2 low-and-in curve to end the inning.
With Flaherty at 89 pitches, Ryan Helsley came out for the top of the 8th, and must pitch to 3 batters. Newman popped an 0-1 curve to Molina in foul territory for the first out. Reynolds flied an outside curve to short left field for the 2nd out, and so far, Helsley has thrown almost nothing but slow breaking pitches. Helsley hung a 3-2 slider to Frazier, but he fortunately flied out to O’Neill on the track. O’Neill, for some reason, had to spin around to make the catch. Righty Richard Rodriguez came out to pitch the bottom of the 8th for the Pirates. Goldschmidt worked the count to 3-2 before sharply grounding a ball deep into the hole near short. Newman made a great diving stop, but the throw was too late to get Goldy, who beat it out for an infield hit. DeJong then drove a middle-in 90 mph 4-seam fastball into the bullpen in left-center for a 2-run HR to give the Cards a 5-2 lead. I caught some high-fives and chest bumps as DeJong went into the dugout.
Carpenter grounded out to 2nd base into the shift for the first out. Molina drove a fastball to the track in left-center, but Dyson ran it down for the 2nd out. Fowler struck out looking on 3 pitches to end the inning.
Now we get to see a first look at Kwang-Hyun Kim as the Cards closer. Lane Thomas came out as a defensive replacement for Fowler in right field in the #7 spot. Bell smoked (103 mph off the bat) a 3-1 center cut fastball for a grounder down the line at 3rd for Edman, but it took a bad hop towards his chest and it went off the heel of his glove. The scorer ruled this a tough error on Edman. Kim hung an 0-1 slider to Moran, who yanked it down the right field line that went into the corner and off the wall for a double to move Bell to 3rd. Osuna grounded an inside 1-2 slider slowly up the middle for a base hit. Bell and Moran both scored to cut the Cards’ lead to 5-4, and there is still nobody out. Pitching coach Mike Maddux came out to the mound with the translator to talk things over. Fortunately, Kim would get out of this mess. Heredia lined a low-and-away first-pitch fastball right to Thomas in right for the first out. Then Stallings sharply grounded an outside fastball to Wong, who spun around and threw it for a 4-6-3 double play. Wong made that play look easier than it was. It was an ugly save, but we’ll take it.
Oh yeah, and Fred Bird needs to have a little chat with the mascot union, because screw shagging foul balls in this heat in that costume.
Flaherty 7 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 6 SO; Helsley (top 8, ahead 3-2) 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 0 SO; Kim (top 9, ahead 5-2) 1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 SO.
ODDS AND ENDS
Yadier Molina set a major league record today by starting in his 16th straight opening day game as a catcher (2005-2020). As I understand it, it was also a record for overall opening day starts at the position. Ray Schalk started 15 straight games from 1913-1927 for the Chicago White Sox. Bill Dickey started 15 overall opening day games for the New York Yankees, but he missed two years due to World War II (1930-1943, 1946). Molina also moved past Lou Brock (15 straight from 1965-1979) on the All-time Cardinal opening day starts record list, and is now second only to Stan Musial (18 consecutive and 21 overall 1942-44, 46-63)...According to FSMW, Jack Flaherty became only the 6th Cardinal pitcher that was 24 years or younger to win a Cardinal opening day game. The last was John Denny in 1977...The last game the Cards had where the club didn’t use a pinch hitter was September 8th, 2019. Yoenis Cespedes of the New York Mets became the first National League DH to homer in a game between 2 National League teams. His homer was enough to beat the Braves the 1-0. Speaking of the Atlanta Braves, after former Card Matt Adams opted out of his minor league deal with the Mets, he signed a minor league deal with the Braves, was added to the 40-man roster and started today at DH. Former Card Breyvic Valera of the Blue Jays is waylaid in Venezuela and has been place on the restricted list...Former Card Joe Hudson just had his contract purchased by the Seattle Mariners. Both Greg Holland and C Oscar Hernandez (who had been released in May by the Memphis Redbirds after being invited to spring training 1.0) got added to the Royals’ 40-man roster. Former catcher turned pitcher Robert Stock wasn’t so lucky, however, as he was DFAd by the Phillies just before opening day... Mike Moustakas went 3-4 with 4 RBIs and Sonny Gray pitched 6 innings with 9 strikeouts as the Reds crushed the Tigers 7-1...The Cubs shut out the Brewers 3-0 at Wrigley Field as Kyle Hendricks pitched a 3-hit complete game shutout with no walks and 9 strikeouts. Anthony Rizzo and Ian Happ hit solo homers for two of the runs.