I have to admit, seven inning games still feel really weird to me, even if they’re only on doubleheader days, and even if I totally understand why they’re happening. There’s just something about a game in the top of the sixth inning being nearly over that just feels...wrong.
As I’m writing this, Brad Miller is putting an exclamation point on his presumptive National League MVP award, doubling to center field and plating two runs to put the Cardinals on top, 9-1. Even in a nine inning game, a 9-1 lead in the sixth would feel relatively secure, but given the Cards will only have to find six more outs somewhere in the couch cushions of their bullpen, things should turn out just fine in this contest. Oh, and somehow, the Cubs have only a single hit, from their very first batter of the game. Weird.
Anyhow, let’s get to this recapping thing, and hopefully nothing too very exciting happens as I’m writing it. Just five more calm, collected outs, and we can call all go home. For a couple hours. Until the next game starts tonight.
In the First Inning, There Were Runs
The Cardinals were the road team today, which would seem to go without saying, given they’re playing at Wrigley Field, but they were the ‘home’ team a couple days ago, so who really knows what’s going on this year?
I think El Birdos might have thought they were back in the NLDS, because they came out all guns blazing in the first like they wanted another ten run inning so they could just coast the rest of the afternoon. Sadly, they didn’t quite get there, but it was a fast enough start things felt pretty well under control by the time the Cubs came up to bat for the first time.
Facing Alec Mills, owner of a 2.84 ERA coming into this afternoon’s contest (spoiler alert: not for long...), the Cards struck right off the bat, pun definitely intended. Kolten Wong took one for the team, getting hit by a pitch and heading down to first base. Tommy Edman stepped up and singled right back through the box, moving his current double play partner over to third. Paul Goldschmidt was next, and he had a bit of a weird plate appearance. I could tell you he walked, but that doesn’t really fully communicate just exactly what happened. What actually happened was Alec Mills threw seven pitches to Goldy, and none of them were strikes. He also threw over to first base three times, and on none of those occasions did it look to me like Edman was thinking of going anywhere. Goldschmidt swung three times at balls, fouling two off and whiffing on one, before he finally gave up and decided to just let the Cub hurler hand him a free base. It loaded the bases for Carpenter, which was nice, but it still felt like a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
And then came Matt Carpenter, and there was a sound (of a bat hitting a ball, very squarely), and fury (from the Cub pitcher, the Cub bench, and the whole North side of Chicago watching the game, probably), and it signified four runs on the board. Danny Mac had to yell about a grand slamma, which is my least favourite thing about Danny Mac, but it was still okay. When Matt Carpenter hits a laser beam to left center field that just goes over everything, I can be a very tolerant viewer for a moment or two. Cards lead, 4-0.
After that, things settled down a bit. Tyler O’Neill juuust missed one, getting under a high fastball by a hair. A fraction of an inch, and he would have homered to center, driving in Brad Miller, NL MVP, who walked after the bomb by Carpenter. Dexter Fowler lined out, Dylan Carlson lined out. Alec Mills was not fooling anyone, it seemed, but the Cubs escaped without further damage.
Not to be outdone, when they came to bat in the bottom of the first, El Cubbos tried to get off to their own fast start. Ian Happ, who has both turned out to be a very different player than I expected when he was drafted and also answers the question: what if a punch in the stomach had a beard?, turned around Jack Flaherty’s second pitch of the game, a high fastball that wasn’t quite high enough, and put it over the right field fence for a solo home run to lead off. It felt like it might be one of those days, with Anthony Rizzo following Happ’s bomb by lining out hard to center, but then Jack seemed to settle down a little and struck out both Javy Baez and Kyle Schwarber swinging on sliders. The one to Schwarber in particular was a thing of beauty. Still, the Cubs made Flaherty work, and Jack looked a touch rusty after nearly three weeks of inaction. Cards lead, 4-1.
The Second Inning Brought a Little More
After nearly batting around in the first, the Cards decided they would get their run back in the second. Kolten Wong doubled to center field, and Tommy Edman singled him in with his second hit of the day, a solid liner to right. That probably doesn’t sound very dramatic, and it really wasn’t. Just plain baseball, couple hits, a run on the board. It was good. Goldy and Carp decided they were in no mood for further dramatics and sat back down after batted balls of decidedly banal vintage. Cards lead, 5-1.
Jack Flaherty came back out for the second, and things didn’t go great. He walked the leadoff man, Willson Contreras, on a low and away fastball that wasn’t really all that close. He got Jason Heyward to ground into a force out, but then walked another batter. He struck out Victor Caratini, but then hit Nico Hoerner with a fastball in the back that would have looked deliberate if not for the fact Jack clearly didn’t have normal Flaherty levels of command today.
It’s here that we get a very good look at the Cardinals’ priorities in 2020. Mike Shildt, faced with a struggling ace who hadn’t pitched in three weeks but had only thrown 41 pitches, came out and pulled his man. It was the right thing to do, and I think we can pretty comfortably say the club is very focused on just getting through this nightmare slog without anyone getting hurt.
Austin Gomber came in then, and absolutely carved up Ian Happ, getting him on three straight pitches. Two curves, one fastball, two swinging strikes, and it was over.
The Third Was...Kind of Boring
The Cards tried to add on in the third, but things didn’t quite go their way. Brad Miller led off with a liner to center, but was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double. Given Miller’s upcoming Hall of Fame induction, I can’t really argue with his decision-making there, but it wasn’t a great idea. Tyler O’Neill made it sting a little extra, as he doubled down the left field line immediately after. Instead of second and third with no one out, the Cards had a man on second with one out. Fowler struck out, Carlson lined out (again; the contact has been good for Dylan of late, but the results haven’t been there yet), and the Redbirds were done.
Remember how good I said Austin Gomber looked in striking out Ian Happ? Well, he didn’t look nearly so good when he came back out for the bottom of the third. Rizzo and Baez both made outs on solidly-struck batted balls, but then Gomber decided to get a little avant garde with his pitching. He hit Schwarber with a curveball, then walked Contreras and Heyward to load the bases. What’s weird is he carved up Happ with the curve, but then threw only a single one during this whole stretch, the curve with which he plunked Schwarber. Maybe some rust on Gomber as well, because he went to the fastball and slider in the third, but was all over the place. Luckily there were two outs by this point, and he got Jason Kipnis to harmlessly roll over on a slider, grounding out to second.
The Fourth: More Wong
Matt Wieters led off the fourth inning by, um, making an out. Says he grounded out, I don’t remember it. Kolten Wong followed Wieters by singling to left on a fly ball that Kyle Schwarber really should have been able to get to, I think. Wong stole second base, and then after Tommy Edman popped out Paul Goldschmidt came up and smacked a line drive into right center for an RBI single. Cards lead, 6-1.
The Cubs went quietly in their half of the fourth. Tyler Webb came on to pitch and did Tyler Webb things, which mostly consists of throwing pitches that look supremely ordinary, and then hitters just kinda don’t hit them. Caratini and Hoerner both went down swinging, but Happ at least got the bat on the ball, flying out to left.
The Fifth: Not Much Going On
Brad Miller decided to take pity on the small bears and pretended to strike out swinging. He is a benevolent and merciful king. Tyler O’Neill came to the plate next, and the Cubs’ pitcher (Duane Underwood by this point), did an interesting thing. O’Neill saw five pitches and flied out to center, but that’s not the interesting thing. The interesting thing is that Underwood threw Tyler five straight offspeed pitches, and flat out refused to actually challenge O’Neill. Now, it worked, because Underwood was able to locate his breaking balls, but I can’t help but think of that old piece of research that showed you could actually predict hitter breakouts by the declining number of fastballs they saw even prior to their breakout moment. Pitchers got more careful even before the guy’s reputation would dictate they should, in other words. Just some food for thought.
Fowler flew out, and Webb stayed in to get Anthony Rizzo on a grounder to first. Yawn.
John Gant came in to get the final two outs of the inning, and he made Javier Baez look like a little leaguer while striking out on three pitches. Schwarber grounder out on the first pitch, and we were off to the sixth. John Gant has looked kind of ridiculous again this season, much as he did in the early going last year. I’m worried he’s going to get ground down again this season, but I also have a hard time finding much fault in using him. This season is going to cause a lot of those kinds of problems.
The Sixth: Let’s Just Put This Thing Away
A 6-1 lead is nice. You know what’s even better? More runs.
Dylan Carlson led off the sixth with an infield single, his worst struck ball of the day, and stole second as Matt Wieters struck out swinging. Kolten Wong drew a walk (have yourself a day, Kolten), and then Tommy Edman added his third hit of the day, singling up the middle and driving in Carlson. Cards lead 7-1. Paul Goldschmidt, who is having himself one hell of a season so far, drew a walk to load the bases. Matt Carpenter decided this time he wouldn’t do anything with the bases loaded, keeping up his coin flip odds, but then Brad Miller, smarting over the pathetically small amount of frankincense the Cubs burnt after he took mercy on them his last time up, doubled to center field and put the game even further out of reach. Cards lead 9-1. Tyler O’Neill struck out on a curve in the dirt. I think the guys may be tired.
John Gant struck out Hernan Perez on a wicked changeup. He got Albert Almora on a comebacker to the mound. I love John Gant.
Mike Shildt came out to pull his golden god of pitching, replacing Gant with Ricardo Sanchez. I don’t think Sanchez is a very good pitcher. This will come up later, but luckily not in a scary way. Sanchez walked Kipnis, then got Caratini to fly out harmlessly to right. And just like that, we were into the seventh and final inning.
The Seventh: Let’s Just Wrap This Up...Umm, That Means You, Ricardo
It was the last inning of a 9-1 game. The Cardinals did not look to have a high degree of urgency in their at-bats. Dexter struck out swinging, Carlson flied out to left. Matt Wieters decided he didn’t want to go home just yet and drew a walk, but Max Schrock decided he did, so he watched a curveball right down the middle for strike three. It was fine.
The Cubs weren’t quite ready for that good night, and they took advantage of Ricardo Sanchez’s generosity by scoring a couple runs off him. Nico Hoerner hit the ball on the nose, but right at the light-absorbing black hole that is the glove of Brad Miller at third. No light nor baseball can escape, and Hoerner’s liner died with all the others. The things got a little hairy. Ian Happ worked a walk, David Bote grounded into a force at second, and Josh Phegley, backup catcher and sound of someone chocking on a lozenge, homered on a down and in 92 mph fastball from Sanchez. Cards lead 9-3.
The good news is that there were already two outs, and since home runs are rally killers, the rally was over. Kyle Schwarber grounded out relatively meekly back to Sanchez, and the Cardinals took the first game of the doubleheader by a final of 9-3. It was a good game, even if the Cardinal pitchers by and large looked rusty and a bit wild, with the exception of Gant and Webb, who looked awesome and, I don’t know, Webby?
Oh, good lord. The second game is already into the second inning. This season, man.