Earlier this week, I watched the musical biography Rocketman. (Two thumbs up, yo.) Perhaps that’s why my brain went to Elton John songs when thinking about two key figures in tonight’s game.
The Pitch is Back
I was justified, when I threw five
Raisin’ counts, I grit right on by
Times are changin’, now the Ponce breaks bats
But Matt Wieter’s gonna catch you when the pitch gets back, oh-Oh-OH!
Austin Gomber woulda pitched the second game tonight, but in last night’s contest, Dakota Hudson’s bum forearm set dominos in motion. Gomber provided the emergency relief in that game, throwing 1.2 innings.
So someone, then was going to have their usual schedule altered in some way to start tonight. Enter Daniel Ponce de Leon. But hey, Ponce started the second game of double headers in his last two starts, so maybe that’s become his thing now. What was different this time, however, was that he was doing so on short rest, having thrown six innings just this past Monday.
Aaaand while he had his best outing in that start fours days ago (6 IP, 2 ER on 4 H (1 HR), 1 BB, 9 SO), he of course threw the most pitches of his starts this season (97; 67 for strikes). So short rest,... right after almost throwing 100 pitches? What could go wrong? That’s so 2020.
And I think it’s gonna be a long, long fly
‘Til touch down brings me ‘round the bags to find
I am the man to trot from third to home
Oh bro, bro, bro
I’m a rocket man...
Young Dylan Carlson got a start in center tonight, and he came up huge in the 6th, busting the game open for El Birdos.
Just so you’re not confused: The Cards were actually the home team while visiting Pittsburgh, as this was a make-up game postponed previously scheduled to occur in St. Louis. Makes sense, right?
The Bird’s-Eye View
Daniel Ponce de Leon took another stride toward more serious consideration as a full-time starter at some point instead of merely an emergency starter due to the Covid Season 2020. It was a 2-1 game with barely any threats from either offense through 5. But in the 6th, the Pirates repeatedly shot themselves in the foot and Dylan Carlson re-announced his presence with authority, as the Cards blew open the game late.
Ponce pumped strikes all night and was cruising through 4, keeping the Buccos off the board, notching 7 strikeouts through that frame, with just 1 walk and 2 hits given up. He ended up with 66% of his 86 pitches (57) being strikes.
The broken record of the Cardinals’ offense didn’t pick that needle up for the first half of the game and continued to starve for runs. They finally did scratch a run across in the 4th with three singles, back-to-back ones from Edman and Goldschmidt to start the frame then a one-out fortunate bloop off the bat of DeJong to make it 1-0 Cards.
The Pirates answered in the 5th, however, as one of those top-of-the-zone 4-seamers that got Ponce so many of his 9 strikeouts was timed up perfectly by Kevin Newman, who cranked it into the Allegheny River on a hop. And unfortunately, it occurred with a runner on base put there with a walk, just Ponce’s 2nd of the night (to the same batter, catcher Jacob Stallings. Weird.)
That slim lead was brief, though, as the tide turned in the 6th, with several things going the Cards’ way in that frame. Leading off, Edman got jobbed on a bad strike call that resulted in a 3-2 count instead of a walk. But he seemed to get a makeup call when the 7th pitch, a strike, was called a ball. Things just got worse for the Pirates as the next events included: catcher’s interference, a walk to load the bases, a sac fly to tie it at 2, then back-to-back fielder’s choice throwing errors scored 2 runs to put the Birdos on top 4-2. Dylan put the icing on the cake by blasting a 3-run homer to make it 7-2.
If you’re scoring at home, that was 6 runs on just one hit (sure a 3-run homer), and 3 errors: All 6 runs were un-earned.
Ponce was pulled after 5, and a tandem of Andrew Miller (1 IP) and Seth Elledge (.2 IP) covered the rest, with Miller looking sharp striking out 3. Elledge gave up a harmless lead-off single in the 7th but that was it. Neither walked a batter.
The Flight Path
Top of 1st - Ponce shrugged off a lead-off Texas Leaguer.
(PonceWatch: 17 P, 13 S)
Bryan Reynolds started the nightcap off for the Pie Rats by flaring a 1-2 change-up off the end of his bat into center that dropped in front of Dylan for a single. Ponce then went to a full count on Ke’Bryan Hayes and jammed him, inducing a pop-up to Carpenter at first for out 1. On the first pitch to Colin Moran, the lefty grounded to Kolten, who got the first part of the double-play, tossing to DeJong, but the relay wasn’t in time to get the second, as the ball wasn’t hit hard enough.
The dangerous Josh Bell stepped in, and got behind 1-2. Ponce finished him off by challenging him with his bread-and-butter 4-seamer just above the zone and slightly away, in a spot Josh couldn’t catch up to at 95 mph.
Bottom of 1st - Just one of 3 hitters made contact, and that one wasn’t a hit.
Kolten Wong couldn’t repeat his game 1 lead-off homer at-bat, instead grounding out to third on a nice play by Hayes for the first out. Tommy got in the 0-2 hole on two called strikes then went down swinging at a slider down and away for an unproductive plate appearance. Paul Goldschmidt, your DH tonight, did not designate any hits, as he echoed Tommy’s result, striking out swinging, his on a pitch-4 95 mph sinker on the outside black of the plate.
Top of 2nd - A clean inning with a couple of punch-outs.
(PonceWatch: 32P, 23S)
Fifth-place hitter Gregory Polanco obligingly struck out swinging instead of hitter a laser-beam homer, as Ponce got him swinging on an up-and-away heater on pitch 5, 4 of which were fastballs with a curve (a called strike) mixed in.
Riding the express again, Daniel notched his third K of the night by K-ing Erik Gonzalez swinging on guess what—an elevated four-seamer on a 2-2 count. Kevin Newman then flew out to short right on a nice running catch by Edman, sprinting toward the infield to turn another bloop hit into an out.
Bottom of 2nd - Three more batters unable to get the ball out of the infield in a 3-up, 3-down inning.
Brad Miller whacked at pitch one, a knuckle curve that he thought he had a bead on but hit the wrong direction, popping out behind the plate, caught by the catcher for out 1. Paul DeJong followed by getting fooled on a 2-2 slider well down and away, unable to check his swing, instead becoming the second out. Tyler O’Neill then missed a 1-1 hanging slider, mis-timing it, and chopping it to third. Busting his tail down the line as always, he nearly beat it out, but the ball just beat him to the bag.
Top of 3rd - Ponce’s first walk was to the first hitter, but he was left standing where he started.
(PonceWatch: 43P, 30S)
First batter Jacob Stallings learned by watching his teammates waving through Ponce’s high heat. But in this at-bat, it wasn’t a tough choice anyway, as a 3-1 fastball was way above the zone to produce the first free pass of the night.
Ponce just needed one pitch to retire Jason Martin, though, who popped out to DeJong. Wanting to return to the fun of strikeouts, Daniel got his fourth K against Bryan Reynolds, who couldn’t resist trying to sweat an 0-2 fastball off the outside corner. K’Bryan Hayes got a slower pitch in his first offering, an 88 mph cutter, so he went for it, but could only fly out to Tommy in shallow right to end the inning.
Bottom of 3rd - Wieters broke up the no-hitter with 2 outs. But that was the only positive of this frame.
Former long-time lead-off hitter led off just the inning, not the game, went to a full count, but then swung through a slider for a K. All three strikes were right down the middle. Dylan Carlson, who had a late pinch-hit (strikeout) in game 1, followed by grounding out to second for the second out.
Fortunately, the Cards have wiley veterans around, and the burly backstop used his speed to leg out a grounder up the middle to get a 2-out infield hit. Wong tried to catch the Pirates napping and bunted. But pitcher Chad Kuhl was able to bounce off the mound to pluck it and fire an off-balance throw to first to nab Kolten, aided by a nice stretch by Bell to prevent the high throw from going wild.
Top of 4th - A one-out hit (that should’ve been an out) didn’t bother Ponce none.
(PonceWatch: 65P, 45S)
Ponce was straight-dealing against third-place hitter Moran, just rarin’ back with three-straight fastballs: a called strike and two whiffs for a quick K, his 6th on the night. Ponce pitched Josh Bell more craftily, though, flinging a changeup with a couple of curves, but he did go back to the heat to nail him swinging for out 2.
Polanco spoiled the perfect inning, however, as he hit a sharp grounder (101 mph EV) to Brad Miller at third, but it was right at him. However, it somehow made it under his glove and into left for a 2-out single (ruled a hit).
On a 2-2 count, Polanco stole second as the hitter check-swung (but was ruled not to have gone around). Erik Gonzalez then battled Ponce in a 9-pitch at-bat, but Daniel got him in the end with a four-seamer that was halfway up the zone but right on the outside corner, for a swing and a miss.
Bottom of 4th - Birdos (finally) got on the board-o!
Tommy Edman beat the shift, singling to center off a down-and-away first-pitch change-up to start things off. Goldy, understanding hits are great but they need to be bunched, swatted a line-drive single up the middle to bump Tommy to second.
Now with something brewing, Brad Miller’s teammates’ eyes were upon him, willing him to keep the action going. On a full count, the Cards didn’t start the runner, as Miller Ks often; unfortunately, he did, swinging at a horrible knuckle curve inside and in the dirt, for out 1.
Bases loaded no out is quite different from first and second one out. After watching two 1-0 strikes go by that looked hittable, DeJong laid off 2 pitches well above and below the zone, respectively. But he got just enough of a slider off the outer edge, looping it into left (72 mph EV), and it found grass (242 ft), scoring Tommy as Goldy motored to third in a nice bit of base running to make it 1-0 Cards!
We are on the board! pic.twitter.com/YV1yMsaYpU— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) September 19, 2020
Tyler O’Neill hit 1-2 sinker right up the middle that woulda been a single in a shift-less infield, but second baseman Newman was positioned perfectly, gloving it near the bag and turning the double play himself to end the inning.
Top of 5th - A walk and a mistake flipped the score.
(PonceWatch: 86P, 57S)
Kevin Newman chopped a curveball into the turf right back toward Ponce who gloved it and tossed to Carpenter for out 1. Ponce started next batter with three pitches all up and away, one of those strikes. But he couldn’t find the zone with any other offerings, walking the catcher for the second time tonight.
Ponce then went to a full count against Jason Martin and got him on pitch 6, a fastball that just nicked the inside corner for a strikeout.
The game flipped on the next hitter Bryan Reynolds, who didn’t miss a 1-0 93 mph 4-seamer over and at the top of the zone, cranking it into the Allegheny River for a 2-1 lead now for the Buccos.
Ponce shook it off and struck out next batter Hayes on a 1-2 fastball well above the zone, chased with a wild swing.
Bottom of 5th - The Cards scratched a runner into scoring position, but they left still itching to add to their lone run.
Matt Carpenter led off by grounding out to second on an 0-1 pitch for a quick first out. Dylan, however, got himself on by banging a line-drive single to center on a full-count. Matt Wieters then bunted(!), but Kuhl fielded it successfully and fired to first to get Matt easily, as Dylan moved to second.
Now with two outs and the top the order up, Kolten had a 2-out RISP shot. He worked the count full but struck out on a foul tip.
Top of 6th - Andrew Miller came in for Ponce to face three middle-of-the-order lefties. He struck ‘em all out.
Miller retired Moran quickly on three pitches, striking him out with an 86 mph fastball up, away, but inside the upper corner for a called strike 3. Miller repeated that result, getting Bell to wave over a slider that wasn’t the sweeping variety, but had a bit more vertical movement. Polanco joined the K parade this inning, swinging through the more classic Miller wipeout slider down and away to end the inning.
Bottom of 6th - An ump’s (makeup) call, 3 errors, and a big fly busted things open!
Tommy led off, getting jobbed by a 3-1 pitch that should’ve been called a ball for a walk but instead was called for a strike for a full count. Tommy got a make-up call, however, as Kuhl broke off a sharp slider that fooled Tommy, who could only watch it kiss the bottom of the zone, but it also fooled the ump, who mistakenly called it a ball for a walk.
On a full count, Edman took off for second, but when catcher Stallings reached for the pitch, Goldy swung and his bat hit Stallings’ mitt for catcher’s interference, making it first and second, nobody out.
Perhaps shaken and annoyed a bit at the turn of events, Kuhl next walked Brad Miller on four pitches to load the bases.
Righty Chris Stratton entered in relief to face DeJong. Pauly wasted no time, hitting a fly to right. Polanco caught it and tried to fire it home. It flew over the cut-off man, and Tommy scored anyway on the sac fly to tie it 2-2!. The throw allowed both other runners to tag and advance to put them at second and third with one out.
Tyler followed by getting down 0-2 but made contact on his nemesis, a down-and-away slider, grounding it to third baseman Ryan. Goldy broke for home on contact, running down the inside part of the base path, which likely blocked a clear path for Ryan’s throw, which went high for an error, as Goldy put the Cards on top 3-2!
Crazier things have happened?! pic.twitter.com/mpYK9WizHV— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) September 19, 2020
The ball rolled to the backstop, allowing Miller to advance to third. O’Neill stayed at first. Bader came in to run for Miller at third.
Matt Carpenter then duplicated that approach, grounding one to Bell at first. The speedster Bader broke for home, and Bell threw wild for another error, allowing Bader to score to make it 4-2!
So now with first and second and still one out, Dylan got the count to 3-0 and got the green light. He put a good swing on a fastball right down central slightly above the knees, but he fouled if off. Stratton went right back to that pitch, but elevated slightly from its previous spot, and Dylan didn’t miss this one, launching a long homer into right center (107 mph EV, 413 ft) to bust things open, 7-2!
Stratton ended the inning quietly after that, striking out both Wieters and Wong.
Top of 7th - Seth Elledge came in to protect the 5-run lead. Dylan moved to right. Tommy grabbed his infielder’s glove to play third. Bader stayed in to man center.
Sixth-place hitter Gonzales singled to left on a 1-0 90 mph sinker that wasn’t in a bad spot, near the bottom of the zone. Newman then flew out to Dylan in right for out 1.
There seemed to be something possibly wrong with Elledge, and the trainer and Shildt came out, but Elledge remained in.
Seth spiked his first pitch to Stallings for a wild pitch, allowing Gonzalez to advance to second. Elledge then came back to get to a full count and on the 7th pitch, Seth spotted a 91 mph sinker over and right at the bottom of the zone for a called strike 3, causing Stallings to spew some words to the home plate umpire about it, noting his pitcher didn’t get that pitch the inning before.
Stallings kept barking from the dugout, so the ump tossed him.
Now with 2 outs, lead-off hitter Adam Frazier was the last hope for the Pirates. Elledge got him to pop up a 1-2 sinker in on him enough, as he popped out to Tommy at third for the game-ender!
Cards won 7-2!!!
Bottom of 7th
Visiting Home Team at-bat not applicable!
The Bottom Line
- In case you missed it:
Ponce: 5 IP, 2 R, 3 H, 2 BB, 9 SO; 86 P (57 S)
- Daniel matched his season high with 9 strikeouts.
- Both starting pitchers gave up just 3 hard-hit balls (over 95 mph EV).
- The Cards out-hit the Pirates only 6-4.
- The Cards were 2-7 with RISP; the Pirates were 0-3.
- Dylan had 2 of the Cards’ 6 hits, a single and dat big 3-run homer, going 2-3.
- It’s cool when the other team sequences errors, as all 3 Pirate miscues were in the 6-run 6th.
- The win put the Cards back to .500 at 24-24, in an exact tie with the Reds, who are 26-26.
- Big Dipper, yo: