History nerds roll their eyes and shake their heads when you ask about 16th century Spanish explorer and conquistador Juan Ponce de León’s search for the Fountain of Youth. “Myth,” they mutter. Cardinal baseball nerds show the same disdain when you inquire about 21st century reliever and starter Daniel Ponce de Leon’s search for the Fountain of Proof. “Math,” they sneer.
Your game 2 pitcher tonight continued his quest to prove he can stick as a starter. He’s always had the strikeout numbers flashing 8.9 Ks/9 (38 IP) and 9.6 Ks/9 (48.2 IP) in his 2018 and 2019 stints, respectively. This season, he’s bumped that up even more, with a fun-with-small sample sizes 12.1 K/9 rate over 15.2 innings (21 strikeouts).
The problem, of course, has been his poor control, exposed even more as a starter, as blotated pitch counts have prevented him from getting past the 5th (he got into the 5th just once this year in 5 starts).
He did exhibit better control in his most recent outing last Tuesday against the Twins, when 68% (43) of his 63 pitches were strikes over 3 IP, with just one walk and 4 Ks. The Twins did dent him for 2 runs on 5 hits (including a homer). But hey, the Twins have really good hitters.
So as always, the proof is in the pudding. Mmmm...a Fountain of Pudding...
Mr. Burnes is Excellent
The Cards’ hitters were going to have their hands full against 23-year-old righty Corbin Burnes, who the Brewers have brought along slowly since his debut in 2018 (38 IP all in relief), then 49 IP in 2019 (including 4 starts), and now to full-blown starter in 2020. He came in with a shiny 1.99 ERA not propped up by his defense (2.06 FIP) with a whopping 64 Ks (12.7 K/9).
The Bird’s-Eye View
For a while this game had the look of an old-fashioned pitcher’s duel. Some of those matchups include lots of weak contact to produce outs. Tonight’s had lots of strikeouts—LOTS—as Burnes and Ponce combined for 19Ks (10 by Burnes, 9 by Ponce). But even more stunning (and depressing) was that Burnes exited after just 4.2 innings, giving up 5 hits and with a 2-0 lead. A big zone in all directions for both pitchers helped keep the offense down and hitters muttering and barking all night.
Ponce’s first dose of trouble was in his 25-pitch inning in the third, as two baserunners reached with a walk and a single. That bumped up his pitch count to 52 at that point.
Now, oddly, the Cards did get hits. In fact, they significantly out-hit the Brewers 10-4. It’s just that the Cards’ knocks were singles that produced opportunities that fizzled due to poor sequencing. Oh, and for good measure the Cards struck out 16 times; but hey, they walked 4 times.
The Brewers, on the other hand, got theirs using the quick, 2-run homer strategy, and they were busy on their way to striking out 16 times as well! Ponce dispatched the first two with Ks’, his 7th and 8th of the night, looking sharp. But then, the dreaded “bloop-and-a blast.” Big lefty DH Daniel Vogelbach sent a good-luck, flared single to left, Ponce got burned by Jedd Gyorko, who sent a 1-1 misplaced fastball over the fence in left for a 2-0 lead.
Cards’ hitters teased all night, with at least one runner on base in each of the first 5 innings, but came up with zeros each time through 4. They finally got a bases loaded chance, (albeit with 2 outs) in the 5th and finally scratched across a run with an infield hit off a slow roller from speedy muscle man Tyler O’Neill to make it 2-1 Brewers.
But they saved their first—and only—extra-base hit of the night for the 7th, when Goldy led off with a double, followed immediately by a single by Brad Miller to tie it at 2. The Cards really should’ve pulled ahead in that final frame, as another single made it first and third with no outs, but they didn’t tack on.
The Brewers had first and second, one out and second and third two out chances in their half, but Alex Reyes, who bent but didn’t break, kept the score tied.
After Ponce exited after a lead-off single in the 7th, the bullpen trio of Reyes, Cabrera, and Webb covered the remaining 9 outs, giving up no hits and striking out 7 (3 from Reyes and Cabrera, and one—an important one—from Webb). But they each also walked one to add to the runner starting on second drama.
A key play in the bottom of the 9th was after Webb walked lead-off man Gyorko, he induced a double play, to put a man on third with 2 outs. Then of course, of all the 16 strikeouts Cards’ pitchers notched in the game, the least likely to get one got one—for the final out of the game.
The Flight Path
Top of 1st - A 2-out mini rally fizzled.
Burnes attacked Kolten Wong down and in with 6 of 7 offerings. He got him down 1-2, but Kolten extended the at-bat and yanked pitch 7 hard, but it was on the ground right at first-baseman and one-time Cardinal Jedd Gyorko.
Edman was fed a mix of 3 pitches, sinker, 2 change-ups, and 2 cutters, striking out swinging on a down-and-in cutter off the plate for the out.
Goldy kept the inning alive with some GoldenTouch luck, topping an 0-1 sinker into the dirt in front of home plate that slowly rolled right down the third-base line that Burnes grabbed but had no play on, resulting in an infield hit.
Brad Miller was patient, walking on 5 pitches, the last one he held up on with a check swing. Paul DeJong briefly got Cards fans hopes up, as he dunked one off the end of his bat behind first that initially seemed destined to find green. Instead, it held up long enough for Gyorko to shuffle under it and glove it to end the inning.
Bottom of 1st - Ponce K’d the side, and his pitch total began with a 1!
Ponce chucked nothing but 92 mph four-seamers to leadoff man Avisail Garcia, and on a full count, Garcia waved through the 6th one middle-in, striking out. Daniel mixed in a curve and cutter against Keston Hiura, but another 5 pitches later, he had the same fate as Garcia, striking out swinging on another middle-in fastball. Christian Yelich saw a higher ratio of curves (3 of his 5 pitches), but he could do no better than his teammates, whiffing on—wait for it—a beauty four-seamer tailing away from the struggling slugger.
Top of 2nd - A 2-out single was nice and all, but nothing became of it.
Matt Carpenter fouled an 0-1 cutter down and in off his own front foot/ankle, but stayed in. For his troubles, he got jobbed badly by the ump, as a 1-2 cutter dipped obviously below the zone, but the call was strike 3, to Carpenter’s amazement.
Burnes fed O’Neill a steady diet of breaking pitches, whiffing him with a sweeping slider for back-to-back K’s. Matt Wieters altered that trend, sending a soft liner into right for a cracked-bat 2-0 single.
Ninth-place hitter Lane Thomas, however, couldn’t keep the line moving, as he watched a perfectly placed slider on the outer-lower corner for strike 3.
Bottom of 2nd - In a sharp 11-pitch inning, Ponce set ‘em down in order with 2 more Ks in the book.
Ryan Braun jumped on the first pitch he saw, but he didn’t get much of it, popping it into shallow left-center. O’Neill likely was playing fairly deep, as Thomas raced over in front of him to snag it for the near-collision out.
Daniel took care of DH Daniel Vogelbach, striking him out swinging on a middle-in 1-2 fastball bumped up to 93 mph from his 92 to this point.
Gyorko quickly got in the hole 0-2 on nifty back-to-back cutters but worked the count even. He then watched a fastball go right down central just above the knees, as he likely was looking for something else.
Top of 3rd - A great start put runners at first and second with nobody out. Nobody scored.
The lineup turned over, with Kolten banging a sinking liner into center that dropped just in front of tumbling CFer Garcia, who blocked it well enough to keep Kolten at first.
Tommy got the count full, and with Burnes watching Kolten closely, Wong took off, but no matter, as Tommy walked to make it first and second, nobody out for Goldy.
Goldschmidt laid off a 1-2 slider (86 mph) just barely down and away but whiffed on the next-pitch cutter (93 mph) in the same exact spot for strike three.
Miller next had a “productive strikeout,” as he looked silly swinging on a 1-2 big curve I the dirt, but it was so off the mark, it bounded away far enough to the catcher’s left that Kolten and Edman advanced.
So DeJong had the 2-out chance to put the Birds on the Board. He quickly got down 0-2, but got the count even. He got a good pitch to hit, a sinker left up and out over the plate, but it was at 97 mph, and he was late, popping out in shallow right.
Bottom of 3rd - Facing the bottom of the lineup, Ponce gave up the first Brewer baserunners, with a 2-out walk and single, but an angered Ponce kept a zero on the board.
First batter Luis Urias pulled a grounder to Edman’s backhand, who picked it cleanly and fired across the diamond to get his man for out 1.
Ponce got a bit fortunate against Jace Peterson, as he left a 1-2 curve up and away. Jace knocked it into center, but Thomas ranged back to grab it for out 2.
Ponce perhaps got ahead of himself against 9th-place hitter Jacob Nottingham, as he walked him on 6 pitches, chastising himself for that. Lead-off batter singled followed by smacking a one-hopper that bounced off the calf of Ponce, rolling slowly to DeJong, but he had no play.
Now with first and second two out, Ponce came back with a vengeance, firing three-straight heaters, hitting 94 with pitch 3 right through the heart of the zone, striking out Hirua to end the mini-threat.
Everybody do the Ponce!
Top of 4th - The Cards had more good run-scoring chances that were not followed by the big hit.
Former regular lead-off man Matt Carpenter started this inning by whiffing on a 3-2 cutter in a hittable spot over and just a bit down. Tyler then rolled an easy grounder to shortstop Luis Urias, but he booted it, bobbling it just enough to allow the speedy, hustling Canadian Strongman to reach on the error.
On a 2-0 pitch, Tyler took off, stealing second as the throw from the catcher sailed high. (It looked as if he woulda beaten even a good throw.)
Matt Wieters next came through with his second jam-shot hit of the night, hitting a soft liner into right-center. Tyler went back to second, thinking it had a chance to be caught. It was a bad read, as it seemed not that close, so he could only advance to third.
Now with first and third one out, Lane Thomas stepped in to take advantage. After taking a 1-1 94 mph fastball middle-in to make it 1-2, Lane produced a swinging bunt that didn’t make it beyond the circle of dirt around home. So Tyler stayed put and Lane was thrown out at first.
So it was up to Kolten to get a 2-out hit with runners at second and third. He did not, striking out on a 1-2 curve way below the zone in front of the plate in the dirt to continue the frustration.
Bottom of 4th (In Play, Run(s)) - Ponce was cruising, striking out the third and fourth-place hitters. Then, a bloop and a blast.
Yelich started the inning with more frustration at the ump’s strike zone (he had a legit beef), ultimately striking out swinging on a rising 4-seamer way out of the zone. Cleanup hitter Braun had the same fate on the exact same pitch for a quick 2 outs. Next batter Vogelbach got fortunate, getting jammed badly but got enough wood on it to dunk it into shallow left in front of O’Neill.
Old buddy Jedd then drilled a 1-0 fastball in the left-lower quadrant of the zone, and he didn’t miss, golfing it over the fence in left to make it 2-0 Brewers.
Ponce settled to strike out the next hitter Urias, who was unable to check his swing on a wide full-count cutter outside of the zone to end the inning.
Top of 5th (In Play, Run(s)) - Speed and hustle produced a run!
Tommy started the 5th with a 9-pitch at bat, ultimately walking. Good things happen when that happens, right? Well, it almost happened as next hitter Goldy launched a 1-1 deep fly that just hooked foul and otherwise woulda tied the score. Woulda, coulda, shoulda. Three pitches later, he swung over a slider over but below the zone to strike out for out 1.
After a poor call by the ump turned a walk into a full count on Miller, the DH struck out swinging on the next pitch, a hittable cutter.
DeJong kept hope alive, though, going the other way on an up-and-in 0-1 slider, not trying to do too much, lining a single to right-center, with Edman having to stop at second.
Wheels began turning, as the Brewers brought in lefty Alex Claudio to face Carpenter. Shildt countered with righty pinch-hitter Rangel Ravelo to get the 2-out hit.
Rangel was patient, getting the count to 3-1. Patience is a virtue, as the slugger laid off a sinker just barely below the zone that squirted out of the catcher’s mitt and was called ball four. Had he caught it cleanly, who knows, it might've been a strike.
Now with the Cards’ first bases loaded situation of the night, Meat Pillar showed his wheels, as he topped a meek grounder to short. Urias charged and gloved it cleanly, but his throw was way, way late, as Tyler was almost beyond your TV screen by the time the throw reached first to get a tally to make it 2-1 Brewers.
With the bases re-loaded, Wieters couldn’t take advantage, flying out to medium left-center.
Bottom of 5th - Ravelo remained in to play first. Ponce had a clean inning without a strikeout!
Ponce got away with an up and in curve, just enough up and just enough in to throw off the swing of Peterson, who topped it to Ravelo, who tossed to a covering Ponce for out 1. Nottingham next grounded to the opposite corner of the infield, as Miller gloved it and got the second out. Garcia then popped out behind first in fair territory, caught by Ravelo.
Top of 6th - Three up, three down, two more Ks.
Lane Thomas couldn’t reproduce O’Neill’s infield single, as he bounced out to short and was thrown out easily. Kolten next got fooled on an 0-2 slider, watching it break over the inner part of the plate for out 2.
The Brewers next switched out lefty Claudio for righty Eric Yardley, to turn next batter Edman back around to bat left.
After yet another poor call by the ump, declaring a 1-1 curve well down and away a strike, Tommy expanded his zone on the next pitch, waving over another curve in the same spot, for strike 3. It woulda been difficult to even foul it off.
Bottom of 6th - Another 1-2-3 inning with no need for a K!
Ponce got his first man, inducing a grounder off the bat of Hiura to Miller at third, who backhanded it and hurled it to first, where Ravelo deftly picked it out of the dirt for out 1. Yelich next sent a fly to deep-ish left toward the corner, but O’Neill circled it, grabbing it on a trot.
Ponce then retired clean-up hitter Braun on a grounder to DeJong, who back-handed it and threw accurately to first to retire the side.
Top of 7th (In Play, Run(s)) - Yardley remained to close the game for the Brewers. Peterson moved from third to second; Urias went from short to third; Tyrone Tayler came in to play right, replacing ham-fisted Braun. Orlando Arcia came in to play short.
The Cards tied it up and had shots to un-tie it but couldn’t.
Goldschmidt battled and battled, fouling off 5 pitches then inside-outing an inside sinker, lining it down the right-field line for a double!
Miller then beat the shift, also going the other way, singling through where a shortstop in Mike Shannon’s day woulda been playing, instead, allowing a single! Goldy chugged around to score as the throw was late to the plate, allowing Miller to advance to second! Tie score 2-2!
Harrison Bader entered to run for Miller.
DeJong kept things rolling, as he banged a sharp liner into left, but it was deemed hit too hard and too directly at Yelich, as Tots was held up at third.
Now with first and third, nobody out, Ravelo came in to try to un-knot the contest. The Brewers sent in righty reliever Drew Rasmussen to try to stop that.
With a drawn-in infield, Rangel got down 1-2 then hit a sharp grounder (95 mph EV) right at the shortstop, who fired home. Bader had broken for home but immediately realized he was a dead duck. He did at least stay in a rundown long enough for the runners to advance to second and third with one out.
Now it was Tyler’s shot to at least elevate a deep-enough fly ball. He also got down 1-2 then was helpless against 99 mph heat that dotted the black on the outside corner, for a backward K.
That left it up to the veteran catcher Wieters. After a mound visit to discuss the “Matter,” (heh, heh, heh), eerily, Wieters also got down 1-2. He got a pitch slightly above the belt and down the middle, but couldn’t catch up to its 98 mph velocity, grounding out weakly to short to end the inning.
Bottom of 7th - Ponce stayed in as Alex Reyes only started throwing in the pen at the start of the inning. Tommy moved from RF to 3B. Bader stayed in to play CF. Lane went from CF to RF. Ponce gave up a lead-off single and was done. Alex made things interesting, but escaped with the game still tied.
Ponce had Vogelbach down 0-2 but the burly DH plunked a soft liner to center, despite the pitch being a placed fastball well outside the zone, though up. Eric Sogard came in to run for him.
Alex Reyes came in to replace Ponce.
Gyorko got ahead 2-0, but Alex came back to get him on a 2-2 slider well outside the zone, making Jedd look bad with a sorta half swing for out 1.
On the first pitch to next batter Urias, Alex spiked a curve that Wieters tried to backhand and barely blocked, and it rolled far enough to his left that the runner advanced to second. Two pitches later, it almost happened again with a slider to make it 3-0, but that time Wieters gloved it, throwing down to second, but the runner made it back.
After hurling just one strike in the at-bat, Alex walked Urias on the next pitch to make it first and second, one out for Peterson. Alex corralled his stuff in the at-bat, striking out Peterson on a 1-2 curve, blocked nicely by Wieters for out 2.
Pinch-hitter Ben Gamel came in, a lefty. On pitch one, Wieters got crossed up, expecting a breaking ball but got a 99 mph heater Gamel swung through but Wieters completely missed, as the ball zipped to the backstop, bumping the runners now to second and third, that much closer to a game-winning run.
On a 1-2 count, Alex rared back once again, hurling 98 heat up and in perfectly placed in the upper-right corner, as Gamel could only watch it for strike 3!
ALL THE FEELZ!!!
FREE BASEBALL WITH A RUNNER ON SECOND
Top of the 8th - Wieters was the runner at 2nd. It might’ve mattered if The Flash was there, but not anyone else on the Cards’ roster.
Lane Thomas did not attempt to bunt. Instead, he struck out swinging on a Reyes-like 99 mph heater. Kolten at least made contact, tapping back to the pitcher, but it was close enough to home that Wieters advanced to third as Kolten was thrown out easily at first.
Now with 2 outs, Tommy whiffed through an up-and-in 99 mph sizzler to end the inning.
Bottom of the 8th - Genesis Cabrera must’ve gotten a good manicure, as his fingernail held up long enough for him to enter and to actually pitch. Omar Narvaez was the runner on 2nd.
On a 2-2 count, Genesis drilled Gacria directly in the side of the ribs with a 96 mph fastball, making it first and second, nobody out.
With the infield in at the corners and back up the middle, Arcia attempted a push-bunt on a 1-1 count, but it rolled foul down first. Cabrera finished him off on the next pitch, a 96 mph fastball Arcia swung mightily at, but missed, falling to one knee on his follow-through four out one.
Going to a full count against Yelich, Alex fooled him with a 78 mph hook that dropped down beautifully into the middle of the zone and under Mr. Christian’s bat for out 2. Alex walked next batter Tyrone Taylor, however, on 5 pitches to load the bases for left-swinging Sogard.
Cabrera got him looking at a fastball over but up and what looked to be above the zone, but the ump rung him up to end the threat.
Top of the 9th (In Play, Run(s)) - Edman was the runner at second. Righty Justin Topa replaced Rasmussen. Pauly D delivered!
Goldy tapped one to the pitcher, but it pulled him off the mound enough to allow Edman to advance to third. In Bader’s first plate appearance of the night, he struck out swinging at a 97 mph sinker that actually was over but above the zone.
But Pauly D came through with the 2-out hit, rifling a liner just out of the reach of the leaping shortstop, as Tommy trotted him to make it 3-2 Cards!!!
Ravelo ended the inning by flying out to right.
Bottom of the 9th - Tyler Webb replaced Cabrera. Sogard was the runner at second.
Webb walked lead-off man Gyorko on 5 pitches. Unintentional intentional walk to set up a double play?
Well, it worked, as on an 0-2 pitch, Urias grounded to DeJong, who started the 6-4-3 double play, with a nice extended split by Ravelo at first to help nail the runner!
Now just one out away from a DH split (see what I did there?), with the runner at third, Webb broke off a slowww 75 mph curve on 1-2 that lefty Peterson waived over for the game-ending strikeout!!!
Fist-Pump then Fist-Bumps!
Cards won, 3-2!!!
The Bottom Line
- Ponce’s line: 6.0 IP, 2 R, 4 H (1 HR), 1 BB, 9 SO.
- Ponce had at least one K each of his first 4 innings.
- With a single in the 2nd, Wieters reached base safely in his last 5 games.
- Goldy’s lead-off double in the 7th on a 10-pitch at-bat was his 300th career double and the first extra-base hit on the night for his team.
- DeJong had a big night and in key situations, as he went 3-5, with a .353 WPA.
- The Cards were 5-20(!) with RISP; the Brewers 0-8. LOL
- This was only the second time this season in MLB that both games of a double header went into extra innings.
- Whiffing 11 times in game 1 and 16 in game 2 made it the second time this season the Cards’ offense had back-to-back 10-plus-strikeout games.
- The last time the Cards struck out more than 16 times was in the insane 19-inning loss to Arizona in September last year.
- This game had late life, yo!