This Time, it Counted
This was your old manager’s second time visiting Busch Stadium in 2020, as you surely recall, his Royals came to The Lou for a July 22nd tune-up exhibition before the shortened season began. It was an Opening Day “Dress Rehearsal,” or as Mike recalled it:
Two other former Cardinals on Mike’s roster included reliever Greg Holland and closer Trevor Rosenthal (whose having a career resurgence).
But ever the traditionalist, Mike insisted that a starting pitcher begin the game. Therefore, he sent young righty Brad Keller to exact revenge on the club that showed his manager the door a season and a half ago. The 24-year-old is in just his third Big League season, but he came into tonight having a mighty fine start to 2020. In 3 starts, he’s pitched 17.2 innings and has yet to be scored upon, sporting a spotless 0.00 ERA, which you might guess leads all of MLB for that stat.
Matheny’s replacement for the Cardinals sent out Jack Flaherty, whose had two starts separated by 25 days: July 24 and August 19. And he was treated with kid gloves in that last start, as he was on a very restrictive pitch count. He was pulled after 41 pitches, which got him through just 1.2 innings in which he gave up 1 run on a solo homer.
The boys and girls down at the FanGraphs Lab cranked up the Win Expectancy Machine and gave the Royals some points for “Mr. Zero” Brad Keller, but subtracted more for Mike and their 11-17 overall record, then added a bunch on the Cards’ side of the ledger to arrive at a 64.9% probability for a Cards victory, with just 35.1% for the Royals.
Game 1 of the Show-Me Series went to the Good Guys.
The Bird’s-Eye View
Jack was not capital-D Dominant, but Capital-D Dang good, lasting a full 5 innings. He set down the first 8 batters he faced, ultimately yielding just one hit (a double) 0 hits, 0 walks and 3 SOs in his 5 innings of work. That was a bit deceiving, however, as Jack gave up hard contact (greater than 95 mph EV) in 5 instances, but all found gloves to produce outs. As a result, the Royals never mounted any threat against him, the lone 2-out ground-rule double (which advanced to third) being the only RISP he faced.
It would’ve made for a nice narrative for the Cards to honor Whiteyball, seeing as the White Rat skippered both of these clubs in his career. Early on, the Cards exhibited two of those elements, clogging the bases with singles and walks (and a HBP) in three of the first 4 innings, just never going with the stolen base during those frames.
In fact, the Redbirds broke on the board in the first without the need of a hit at all, using 2 walks, a HBP, and a sac fly to plate a single tally. Somewhere, a jolly old guy with a flat top sipping Bud in a Barcalounger, smiled.
Things remained quiet through the 4th, as Jack continued mowing down Royals, and the Cards had runners on in both the 3rd and 4th but couldn’t string productive at-bats together to score.
But then the game blew up as the Cards busted things open in a big 5th inning, batting around. Mixing a potent cocktail of 3 singles, a walk, a HBP, and 2 doubles, the Cards plated 5 to suddenly make the score 6-0, seriously.
But you know a Mike Matheny-managed team was told after that inning how vital it was “to answer,” which is what they did in the 6th. With the big lead, Jack was replaced with Alex Reyes, who gave up a 3-run bomb to Jorge Soler on a mis-placed heater. One of those runners was on due to a one-out error, but the second runner was produced by a walk.
But you know a Mike Shildt-manged team was told after that inning how vital it was to “answer-answer,” which is what they did in the bottom of the 6th, via a Brad Miller (swoon) single and Goldy dinger, to push the score to 8-3 and totally deflate the Royals hopes.
For good measure, the Cards tacked on a single run in the 7th, and the bullpen combo of Gomber and Woodward took care of the final 3.2 innings, yielding 0 runs 1 BB (Gomber), and 2 H (Woodford).
Welcome home, Mike.
P.S. About that Defense - The Cards had 3 errors. That’s bad. But the damage was minimized by tough pitching after those miscues. Jack pitched around the first error in the 5th by striking out a final batter to prevent any scoring. The final 2 errors happened in the same inning, the Royals’ lone-run-scoring 6th. One runner on due to an error scored via the 3-run tater given up by Reyes, but the other runner via error was stranded when Gomber got a strikeout to end the inning. Coulda been worse, is what I’m sayin’.
The Flight Path
Top of 1st - A funky first out led to a 3 up, 3 down inning.
Whit Merrifield started it off by grounding one right into the wickets of Jack’s legs, which the youngster knocked down with his glove with his back to the plate for an unusual first out.
Jack then dispatched Hunter Dozier on a check-swing strikeout on a tight curve ball down and away on pitch 4. Next on a 2-2 count, Jack got away with a mistake fastball not enough up and in, as Jorge Soler tomahawked it on a hop to Brad Miller’s backhand at 3B. Miller gloved it cleanly and fired to first for the out.
Bottom of 1st (In Play, Runs(s)) - No hit required!
Tommy Edman, leading off and playing 2B to give Kolten Wong a night off, make Kolten proud, drawing a lead-off walk. Brad Miller, wasting no time, hacked at his first pitch, and lined it right at SS Adalberto Mondesi who was shifted to the right of 2B. He gloved it but dropped it on purpose in an attempt at getting a DP. The ump saw through that, calling it a catch. Edman was back to first without a throw.
Paul Goldschmidt stepped in and got to a full count. Edman was on the move, but Keller threw ball 4, so Tommy got an extra wind sprint in just for the heck of it, as it was not first and second with one out for Matt Carpenter, DHing tonight.
On a 1-2 count, Keller held onto a fastball too long, nailing Carpenter in the foot to load the bases for Paul DeJong, looking for his first post-COVID hit after his 0-4 debut vs. the Reds. In a good bit of Situational Hitting, Pauly D drove a slider middle-away on a line at 95 mph EV to right field, driving Dozier back, easily allowing Edman to tag and score to make it 1-0 Cards.
Now with 1st and 3rd 2 out, Yadier Molina hit a can of corn to medium center to end the inning.
Top of 2nd - Jack was fortunate a couple of too-good fastballs went four outs in another clean inning.
The cleanup hitter Ryan O’Hearn led off, which was a good clue that Jack had set down the Royals in order the inning before. O’Hearn got a fastball up he liked and swatted it deep to dead center, but Harrison Bader back-pedaled and caught it easily a step in front of the track (394 ft, 102 mph EV).
Flaherty made quick work of next batter Maikel Franco, getting him to tap one back to himself for an easy out 2.
Veteran “Face of the Franchise” guy, Alex Gordon pounded a knee-high fastball slightly away into center (at 98 mph EV) that Bader got a good jump on and caught on the run, as he sprinted in and slightly toward left.
Bottom of 2nd - An almost run, then nothing.
Dexter Fowler, having lead-off flashbacks, led the inning off and drove one to the wall in left that unfortunately was caught. It actually was a nicely placed sinker down and away. Dylan Carlson swung at that exact same pitch in the exact same location in the zone, but he rolled over on it, grounding out to second baseman Nicky Lopez. Bader followed those two outs with one of his own, missing a mistake middle-middle 0-1 sinker that sat fat in the center of the zone (which is redundant, but that’s how much of a sweet pitch to hit it was), and he popped out to short right toward the line.
Top of 3rd - Jack gave up his first hit but no runs.
Jack’s command looked sharper over the first two hitters. Adalberto Mondesi pulled an 0-2 down-and-away slider to Tommy at second for a lead-off first out. Flashing the curve ball he doesn’t use as much as his slider, Jack got Edman more work, getting Nicky Lopez to ground out to second.
Jack left a 1-2 slider up and out over the plate to Melbrys Viloria, who slapped it down the LF line, and it bounced over the wall for a ground-rule double.
Jack re-grouped, as the lineup turned over, getting ahead 0-2 against Merrifield. But Whit’s a good hitter, and he watched two 97 mph fastballs just outside the zone for called balls to even the count at 2-2. Jack then uncorked a wild pitch that Yadi partially blocked, but it kicked enough to his right, allowing Viloria to beat his throw to third.
Jack bore down, though, and buried a slider in the lower-right corner, and Whit dutifully grounded it to DeJong for the third out.
Bottom of 3rd - Back-back singles, but no runs. (This inning’s lack of “In Play Run(s) in the title shoulda tipped you off.)
Leading off for the second time of the night, Edman battled in a 10-pitch at bat and the GOB didn’t reward him, as he lined one back up the middle that glanced off the pitcher’s glove and caromed right to third baseman Franco, who actually was shifted just to the right of 2B.
Brad Miller, who seems to be rolling out of bed and making hard contact, singled on a line drive into left-center to put a runner on for Goldy.
Pauly G echoed Miller’s approach, and slammed a liner that followed the same patch as Miller’s for back-to-back singles to make it first and second, one out for Carpenter. On a 2-2 count, Carpenter got schooled, swinging over a sharp slider in the dirt for the second out.
Now with a 2-out RISP shot, DeJong was out in front of a 85 mph slider, got under it, and skied a high pop-out to 2Bman Lopez to end the threat.
Top of 4th - Jack had uneven command again, but good results (again).
Jack missed wide with three pitches to go 3-1 to Dozier, but he didn’t give in, throwing a good slider next that was fouled off. On the full count, Jack said, “Here, see if you can hit this,” firing a 96 mph fastball down the middle. Dozier was late and popped it up to Tommy in short right for the out.
Soler next was treated rudely, striking out on three pitches: 2 fastballs and a perfect, nasty slider. Jack fell behind 3-1 to O’Hearn; then, with the count full, he broke off a down-and-in hook that the youngster dropped the barrel on and screamed a low liner (100 mph EV) to Goldy’s left, who dove and snagged it, preventing a sure double. Instead, it ended the inning.
Bottom of 4th - The first four hitters were lead-off hitters in their own way. That’s the only thing interesting that happened.
Just like he does in his dreams where he’s really fast, Yadi led off the inning. Like a good lead-off man, he fouled off several pitches, but like a bad one, he waved over a slider that bounced in front of the plate, getting completely fooled, striking out for out 1.
Former lead-off hitter Dex next had a 7-pitch at-bat but unfortunately whiffed on an up and away 3-2 fastball for out 2.
Lead-off hitter in a Tony La Russa lineup, Dylan tried to start a 2-out rally. He did just that, exhibiting a Good Piece of Hitting, hitting a hard grounder off a tough 1-2 slider into left against the shift for a single, where a normally placed 3Bman would’ve been.
Lead-off hitter if speed were the only factor, Bader tried to keep things going I mean he really did, but couldn’t lay off a 3-2 not-strike slider (you don’t say?) to strike out and end the inning.
Top of 5th - Jack worked around a 1-out 2-base error.
Maikel “James” Franco started things off by getting a bit out in front of a 1-2 slider, flying out to medium center. Alex Gordon then check-swing tapped one to Miller at third for an easy play, but Miller yanked the throw past a diving Goldy, who was only able to slightly get a glove on it, as it rolled into foul territory, allowing Gordon to advance to second.
Mondesi then pulled a grounder to Edman at second, who threw him out, as Gordon now made it to third with 2 outs. Jack then pulled the string a bit on a 1-2 curve, getting Lopez to swing over it as it flicked the dirt to end the inning.
Bottom of 5th (In Play, Run(s)) - A nice variety of good things an offense can do happened to produce a huge inning!
Tommy Edman led off for the third time tonight and wasted no time, grounding a first-pitch sinker that stayed up, hard just past the third baseman’s outstretched glove into left. Miller followed that by lining a single into right-center to send Tommy flying around second into third, making it easily
Now with a great first and third, no out situation for Goldy, he was ready to fulfill his job description of driving in runs. Trying to go to right field on two swings that produced foul balls, Pauly G ultimately banged a hard one-hopper back to the pitcher Keller that bounced off his glove to the shortstop, scoring Tommy to make it 3-0 and allowing Miller to reach second safely.
So with first and second nobody out, Carpenter looked to add to the fun, Keller went down, up, down, up with each pitch location. On a full count, Matt didn’t chase an inside slider to load the bases.
That was it for Brad Keller, as Matheny brought in one-time Cardinal Greg Holland to face DeJong. Pauly G picked the perfect time for his first post-COVID hit, as he ambushed a hanging first-pitch slider, pulling it down the LF line for a 2-run double to make it 4-0 Cards!
Now with 2nd and 3rd with—oh yeah—still no outs, Holland plunked Yadi on his left-elbow pad with a 2-2 93 mph fastball to load the bases.
Now it was Dex’s turn, and he busted things open, pulling a slider that caught too much of the center of the zone down the RF line, bounding off the side wall, scoring 2 more runs to make it 6-0 now!
Young Dylan now stepped in and swung at an actual good slider from Holland, grounding it right up the middle to the 2B bag, but SS Mondesi was right there to glove it, step on the bag, and turn the double play.
Bader followed by getting hit by Holland’s first pitch to him, which Tots didn’t like and walked slowly to first while staring at the pitcher at bit (but not saying anything). The umps warned both benches about any further shenanigans. Bader got revenge in his way, stealing second; however, Tommy next couldn’t take advantage, and flew out to right to end the fruitful inning.
Top of 6th (In Play, Runs(s)) - With a big lead now, and it being Jack’s 3rd start of the season, Shildt pulled Jack, replacing him with Alex Reyes. His appearance was brief and damaging.
Viloria flew out to Dylan in LF to start off the non-Jack 6th. Merrifield hit a firm grounder toward short that DeJong ranged to his left, gloved cleanly, twirled, and fired, but threw off-line, as the speedy Whit reached on the error. The ball did not go far, preventing Dozier from advancing.
Reyes then went 3-2 on Dozier and lost him with a 96 mph heater that rode too far inside to make it first and second, 1 out. After a visit from Mike Maddux to tell Alex to get a ground-ball double play, the youngster broke off curves on the first two pitches, producing a 1-1 count vs. the DH Soler. Yadi positioned his glove outside and called for a fastball. Reyes instead, grooved it down central, and Soler deposited it deep into left-center to suddenly cut the lead in half, making it 6-3 Cards.
That ended Reyes’ night, as Shildt brought in lefty Austin Gomber. Austin retired his first opponent, O’Hearn on a deep fly-out to left. He would’ve been out of the inning soon after, but Edman mis-played an easy grounder up the middle, getting eaten up on the short hop for the Cards’ third error of the night.
Austin shook that off, however, coming back to strike out Alex Gordon on just three pitches, all of which the veteran watched: knuckle curve, four-seamer, four-seamer.
Bottom of 6th (In Play, Run(s)) - Chance Adams replaced Greg Holland. He did not make the most of his Chance.
Brad Miller, quickly becoming my new man-crush, led off by singling to right-center, reaching down to pull a low-and-away full-count change-up, displaying one of those “His Bat Stays Through the Zone So Long” things good hitters do.
Paul Goldschmidt then got a 3-1 hitters count and did not miss the next “Please Hit Me” center-cut 92 mph “I Don’t Want to Walk You But Shoulda” fastball, cranking it deep into left center (418 ft, 111 mph EV) to get 2 of the Royals’ 3 runs back to make it 8-3 Cards!
The next three hitters went down in order to end the loud inning quietly. Carpenter went the other way on a low fastball but flew out to medium left. Pauly D then skied a full-count pitch to shallow center for out 2. Yadi ended the inning, popping out in foul territory beyond first base.
Top of 7th - Austin Gomber remained in to face the bottom of the Royals order, 7-9. A two-out walk was his only blip in an otherwise smooth inning.
Gomber sat down Mondesi on a zippy, well-placed down-and-in fastball on a 1-2 count for out 1. Next Lopez grounded one back to Austin that glanced off his glove and popped toward DeJong, who charged in, caught it on the fly, and gunned over to first in time for the second out.
After getting 0-2 on Viloria, Gomber lost him, tossing 4-straight balls, none close to the zone, to give him the annoying free pass. He followed that, however, with retiring Merrifield on a grounder to Miller at third (granted a hot-shot variety at 96 mph EV).
Bottom of 7th (In Play, Runs(s)) - Chance Adams got a second Chance to get Cards hitters out.
Dexter came in first-pitch swinging, grounding out to first for the one-pitch/one out result. Dylan was retired quickly as well, going down swinging on his third pitch, a 90 mph fastball that went “up the ladder” just enough, and he tipped into the catcher’s mitt for a strikeout.
Next, Bader, after fouling a bunt attempt on a 1-1 pitch with the 3Bman playing back, said forget that, and rocketed the next pitch, a middle-away 92 mph fastball off the very, very, very top of the wall for a double.
Tommy Edman came through next in the 2-out RISP situation, singling to right to bring Bader home easily, to ratchet up the score to 9-3 Cards and knocking out Chance Adams.
Lefty Randy Rosario came in to get out lefty Brad Miller, but walked him. Lastly, a locked-in Goldy got robbed, smashing (99 mph EV) an inside fastball, but it lined right into the glove of 3Bman Franco.
Top of 8th - Jake Woodford, a “Reserve” pitcher, now entered to bridge the game and provide a bourbon pun. The inning had a slight bite, but in the end went down smoothly.
Jake got his first batter, Dozier, on a slider that he flied to the deep-ish LF corner that Dylan caught for the first out. Next batter, Soler, however, used his wingspan to reach a 3-2 fastball outside the zone banging it into CF for a one-out single.
O’Hearn then bounced a grounder to Edman’s left, who was able to force Soler at second, but that was it. Now with two outs and a man on first, Franco hit an easy grounder to DeJong, who went the short way to 2B for the inning-ending force-out.
Bottom of 8th - Righty Kyle Zimmer came in to pitch for the Royals and got his steps in. (He did lots of walking, is what I’m sayin’.) But the Cards came up empty.
Max Schrock, the #55-wearing Skip Schumaker clone, pinch-hit for Carpenter. He quickly got down 0-2 then pulled a grounder to first for the first out. Zimmer then walked DeJong on 4-straight pitches to bring up Yadi.
Looking for his first hit of the night (though he had been hit by a pitch in the 5th), Yadi lined a 1-2 slider sharply but right to the 2Bman for out 2.
Now with Dex up, a passed ball on a 1-0 count pushed DeJong to second. Fowler earned a walk to give Dylan a final at-bat with runners on first and second. Seemingly uninterested in using his defense, Zimmer walked Carlson to to load the bases all on walks.
Bader, looking to put an exclamation point on the currently 9-3 score, stayed alive by barely foul-tipping a 1-2 slider. Zimmer then used that old pitcher’s trick of going high heat after a low breaking ball, and struck out the long-haired youngster to end the inning.
Top of 9th - Woodford remained in to finish. It gave Cards fans everywhere a nice, warm feeling in their bellies.
Gordon led off by grounding to just the left of second base, but DeJong was positioned there perfectly, to field it. He threw low to Pauly G, but he dug out Pauly D’s throw. Mondesi then popped out on the very next pitch, caught by DeJong in short left. Lopez extended the inning by looping a soft liner that dropped into left for a single.
Jake then went full count on Viloria, so the runner was going. No matter, as Viloria bounced an easy grounder to Goldschmidt, who tossed to Woodford for the final out of the game.
Cards won, 9-3!!!
Bottom of 9th
The Bottom Line
- Cards now have won 12 of the past 15 contests vs their cross-state rival; best record in the Major Leagues against any inter-league opponent.
- I think Jack earned a bit longer leash for his next outing: 5 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 3 SO, 0 BB
Brad Keller came into tonight as the only pitcher in MLB with at least 15 innings and no earned runs.
He stood third all-time in most innings not scored upon to start a season.
Uh, that changed tonight, as his 5 ERs ballooned his ERA from 0.00 to 2.08 (LOL)
- Royals came into tonight 0-15 when trailing after 5. Now 0-16.
- With his HBP in the first, Carpenter increased his streak of consecutive games reaching base to 12.
- Goldschmidt’s 1st-inning walk was his 9th-straight game with a free pass, tying his career high.
- The top 3 in the lineup had a huge night, hoarding 8 of the Cards’ 12 hits & 6 of the 9 runs:
Edman: 2-4, 1 BB, 1 RBI, 2 R
Miller: 3-4, 1 BB, 2 R
Goldy: 3-4, 1 BB, 3 RBI, 2 R
- Jack was your WPA leader at .285; Goldy at .158
- Nearly 60% of runs given up by Cards have been via the home run, second only to the Twins.