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Smoke and Mirrors: Cards Ride Just 2 Hits (and Other Stuff) in 5-Run Third to 6-4 Win!

Split DH with Twinkies

MLB: Game Two-Minnesota Twins at St. Louis Cardinals
Sexy bases-loaded walk!
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals busted out the rotation spackle once again, taking a big scoop of Daniel Ponce de Leon, throwing it at the wall to see if it’d stick (this time). He’s thrown just 12.2 total innings this season over 4 starts (including .1 IP in relief). All of his starts have common factors: at least 3 walks, 1 HR given up, with lots and lots of pitches thrown:

  • 3.2 IP: 85 pitches
  • 3.1 IP: 79 pitches
  • 4.2 IP: 93 pitches

Even in his last start, in which he didn’t make it out of the first inning, he threw a whopping 41 pitches.

He still needs work, is what I’m sayin’.

Earlier today, your very own Blake Newberry mused: What to Do With Daniel Ponce de Leon. His conclusion? Bullpen. I agree Ponce seems better suited for the bullpen, where he can rely (even) more on his bread-and-butter 4-seamer and not worry about corralling secondary offerings, when to mix them in, and which one(s) won’t behave in a given start.

But in cray-cray 2020, when a bum forearm completely removed one starter, an outbreak limited another to 2 starts so far (between July 28 and earlier today), one was placed on the 10-day DL 3 days ago due to a balky kidney, Mike Shildt defied Blake and handed the ball once more to Ponce. At least for now.

Lineup wrinkles for game 2:

  • Kolten Wong: sitting; Brad Miller: 2B (Fun!)
  • Paul Goldschmidt: DHing
  • Rangel Ravelo: 1B
  • Matt Wieters: C (Really!)
  • Harrison Bader: CF (5 starts in row!)

The Bird’s-Eye View

Better-ish(?) Ponce: In one way, Ponce had a significantly improved performance tonight: he threw strikes. Unfortunately, the Twins connected on several in the early going. Now, Daniel’s first inning was great: 14 pitches, 12 strikes, and a harmless single.

But the second quickly went off the rails, as he more than doubled his pitch count, throwing 30 pitches (20 strikes). The Twins pounced Ponce for a lead-off single followed by a homer to make it 2-0 with no outs. But that’s all they got in that frame. It coulda been worse, is what I’m sayin’.

The Twins went right back at him in the third, however, starting with a double and a walk. But he settled to retire the next two then got help from BroNeill, who made a diving catch on a liner that woulda plated two, but instead became the final out. It coulda been worse, is what I’m sayin’.

Ponce likely would’ve remained in to continue his game in the fourth, with the score just 2-0, him at 63 pitches (43 strikes!), and the ‘pen needing a rest. But the Cards’ half of the third, was very lengthy, due to plating 5 runs, but even more so because of a 19-pitch at-bat by Matt Wieters. Shildt decided to replace Ponce instead of sending him back out after sitting through the long frame.

The offense had just 5 hits on the night, but apparently, their recent strategy is to load the bases as often as possible, and let the chips fall where they may, using any means possible to score, hits not necessary.

Birdo Big Inning: The Cards notched their first hit in the third, and added onto that big-time, sending 11 Birdos to the plate. And there’s nuthin’ in the rules that says you have to get many hits to score, and the Cards took advantage of that not-rule. The Cards immediately loaded the bases, using, oh, sure, a single to center by Carpenter, but then a hit-by-pitch of Wieters and a walk to Bader.

They scored their 5 by keeping the bases juiced and the line moving with just one single that scored one of the 5. For the others, they used a HBP, walk, and fielder’s choice ground-out, which scored a run only because the catcher didn’t have his foot on the plate when receiving the throw to force the runner at home..

Recap within the recap: 5 runs on 2 singles, 3 walks, 2 hit-by-pitches, and a fielder’s choice.

Keeping the Twins at Bay: The Twins pulled within 2 in the fifth, getting a single run in a very 2020 Cardinals way on a lead-off walk, single, and fielder’s choice ground-out off of Gant.

The teams traded single tallies after that, as the Birdos got an insurance run in the sixth on a walk and two singles to bump it back to a three-run gap at 6-3. The big-hittin’ Twins are always a swing or two away from you, however, and they put more fear into Cards Nation, as Cruz belted a 1-out solo homer off Giovanni Gallegos in the 7th to close the gap to just a bloop and a blast away at 6-4. Gio prevailed, however, as he kept the game there through the final out.

It coulda been worse, is what I’m sayin’.

The Flight Path

Top of 1st - Ponce was efficient and filled the zone (14 P, 12 S) for a good beginning.

Ponce read Blake’s VEB article and had a message for him: a first-batter K, as he downed LaMonte Wade swinging, using three pitches: a curve book-ended by two four-seamers. Ponce liked the look of that, so he repeated the strikeout result against Josh Donaldson, getting him to chase a way-high 1-2 fastball at 96 mph.

Nelson Cruz singled to left on the first pitch he saw, but it was a good pitch that bore in on him up and in. Nelson’s just good, is what I’m sayin’. Ponce then induced clean-up hitter Eddie Rosario to fly out to Tyler O’Neill in left for the final out.

Bottom of 1st - Lead-off man Edman reached but was left standing at first. Literally.

Tommy Edman grounded weakly up the middle, but second baseman Marwin Gonzalez couldn’t backhand it, as Tommy reached on what was ruled an error. Paul DeJong followed by ripping a laser, but it was right at shortstop Ehire Adrianza, who turned it for an easy (looking) double play. Tommy had retreated to first, thinking it had been caught on the fly. It had not. So while he looked silly standing on first as the relay came over and Pauly crossed the bag, it woulda been a DP if he had run.

Your DH tonight, Paul Goldschmidt ended the frame by grounding out to short.

Top of 2nd (In Play, Run(s)) - When your opponent’s lead-off man appears again in the second, things have gone awry.

Miguel Sano started the inning by singling to center on a 1-2 4-seamer that was in a good spot, down and off the outside corner, but Miguel got just enough wood on it (87 mph EV) and in the right spot, allowing it to find grass.

The next batter was sixth in the line-up and the sixth best prospect in the Twins’ organization. They like symmetry, I guess. Ponce made a mistake on 2-2, hurling a center-cut 93 mph 4-seamer that the youngster turned around and blasted into left (107 EV, 390 ft) for his first MLB homer and a quick 2-0 lead.

Ponce re-grouped to notch his third strikeout, whiffing Adrianza on four pitches, the last a 94 mph 4-seamer the lefty-swinger whiffed through. Ponce then went to 3-2 to Marwin Gonzalez, but got him to top a high fastball to Miller at second for the second out. Next, Ryan Jeffers kept the inning going, singling to left on a cutter out over the plate.

That turned the lineup turned over already, and Wade Jr. got to a full count, but Ponce popped him up to Bader in shallow center to finally end the inning.

Bottom of 2nd - This inning was like a mute rabbit: quick and quiet.

Righty Twin pitcher Randy Dobnak needed just 7 pitches to get his three outs this inning: 2 each for Brad Miller (grounded out to short and Ravelo (popped out behind the plate to catcher), and 3 for Canadian Strongman Tyler O’Neill (swinging strikeout).

Top of 3rd - Ponce was good and bad and lucky that Tyler saved his bacon.

The Twins continued their offensive ways, as first batter Donaldson drilled a not-enough-down-and-in curve, dropping the bat head and scorching it into the left-field corner for a double. Ponce next issued his first walk of the night, not wanting much to do with Nelson Cruz, who didn’t chase and took his free pass to make it first and second.

After a brief mound visit, Ponce tied up Eddie Rosario up and in, resulting in a can ‘o corn to left for O’Neill for the first out. Against Sano, Ponce got ahead 1-2 and got him to wave over a nice pitch that Gameday called a 4-seamer but that dove down and in like a sinker for out 2.

Looking to get out of the inning without the score changing, Ponce repeated the get-ahead formula, going 0-2 on Rooker, he of his first Big League homer previously. But Ponce hurled a cutter that wasn’t outside nearly enough, and the youngster cranked a sinking liner to left. But Tyler O’Neill got a good jump, dove in and to his left, snagging the ball at full extension, saving two runs and notching the final out!

Bottom of 3rd (In Play, Runs)) - It was the Cards’ turn for fun! Highlighted by 19-pitch at-bat fun!

Matt Carpenter, wistful about his former lead-off glory, led off the inning by sizzling a change-up right up the barely glancing off the glove of the pitcher for the Cards’ first hit of the game.

Matt quickly got into scoring position, as Dobnak yanked the next pitch to Matt Wieters, plunking him with a 91 mph fastball on the foot (I think). Bader then squared to bunt on pitch 1, fouling it down third. He bagged that immediately, going back to swinging like GOB intended. After taking a 2-2 sinker that barely moved below the zone, Bader watched another that wasn’t as close, as it was just above the dirt, earning himself a walk to load the bases with no out!

Now top o’ the lineup hitter Edman stepped in, getting all non-fastball pitches. Then on a 1-2 slider, Tommy took one for the team, allowing it to just graze the top of his front cleat, with harry a move, scoring Carpenter to cleave the lead, 2-1! (Somewhere, Jon Jay smiled.) The Twins challenged, but the call stood, loading the bases now for DeJong.

DeJong was patient, watching 3-straight balls; on 3-0, the Twins didn’t get the “gimme” strike call on a up-and-away fastball that actually was within the zone, tying the game 2-2!

Goldy then sauntered in to keep the line moving. Opposite to his namesake Pauly D, Pauly G was quite over-anxious, waving at two-straight not-strikes to get down 0-2. Then on 1-2, he chased again, whiffing on a down-and-away slider well beyond the zone for the first out.

Brad Miller followed by topping a mistake, hanging change-up to first. Sano charged it and gloved it cleanly, throwing home on the run. But recall that Bader was the dude at third. The throw was on the mark and actually did beat Tots to the plate, but the catcher’s foot was not on the plate for a 3-2 lead now for the Cards! He didn’t get pulled off. It wasn’t there in the first place.

Ravelo then got in on the fun, singling past a drawn-in infield, past the diving shortstop, as the ball zipped through the hole and into left, scoring Edman to up the lead to 4-2! DeJong was held up at third.

Now with 2 out and the bases still loaded, Tyler tapped a 1-0 slider way outside, right back to the pitcher, who under-handed to his catcher, who actually had his foot on the plate this time for the second out, as O’Neill reached.

That allowed the Cards to bat around, as Carpenter, who started the inning, re-appeared.

The Twins starter Dobnak was pulled, replaced by lefty Caleb Thielbar. Throwing nothing but slow curves (one at 67 mph) and sliders, the count was 2-2. Then on Thielbar’s first fastball on the count, he tried to get more on it (though it was only 89 mph) and spiked it into the dirt for a walk to bring in Miller to make it 5-2!

In a lengthy Professional At-Bat™, Matt Wieters immediately got behind 0-2; fouled off 3 more, took a ball to make it 1-2, then fouled off another; laid off a high fastball and a down-and-in curve off the plate to get the count full! With the runners going each time, he fouled off pitches 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 (which he hit long and high, but just foul down the left-field line), 15, 16, 17, 18,...but on pitch 19, he golfed a down-and-in 90 mph fastball to deep center, (102 mph EV) just without enough club, as it died at the track (380 ft) for the marathon third out.

Top of 4th - After the long Cards’ inning, Shildt pulled Ponce and brought in feels-inducing lefty Genesis Cabrera to face the Twins’ 7-9 hitters.

Genesis induced Adrianza to ground out to Carpenter at third then whiffed Gonzales swinging on a big 12-6 curve that bit under the zone and under the bat. But he seemed to get ahead of himself and got behind next batter Jeffers 3-1, walking him on pitch 5.

After hurling a first-pitch ball to Wade, Wieters gave Genesis the “just throw it to me” signal. Genesis calmed and ultimately got his man, getting a harmless fly-out to left on a 1-1 change-up.

Bottom of 4th - Wieters’ 19-pitch at-bat gassed Thielbar, as the Twins replaced him with righty Tyler Clippard.

On a 2-0 pitch leading off, Bader tried to check his swing, but instead on a kind of semi-check-swing, he foul-tipped it directly backward, striking the umpire squarely on the front of his chin, actually knocking off his mask’s throat guard. The Cardinals trainer checked him out, and he remained in. It actually took several minutes to get the throat guard back in place.

On a 2-2 pitch, Clippard elevated a fastball that Bader couldn’t catch up to, whiffing for out 1. Tommy was retired on a 3-2 change-up he was out in front on and popped up to third for the second out. Pauly D worked a walk on four pitches, then Goldy put a good jolt into an 0-1 over and slightly down change-up, shooting it to right, but it was caught at the track to end the inning.

Top of 5th (In Play, Run(s)) - John Grant now entered for El Birdos to face the meat of the Twins’ meaty order, the 2-4 batters. They got one back, but that was it.

Johnny made Mike Maddux wince, as he walked the first batter Donaldson, then gave up a single to right off the bat of Cruz to make it first and second, suddenly bringing the tying run to the plate in lefty Rosario. Gant totally caught him off-guard, as he started him off with a 76 mph curve that the batter cued to Carpenter, who could only go to first for the first out, as the runners advanced to second and third.

Now with big dude Sano up looking to do damage, but Cant retired him on a grounder to Miller at second. Donaldson was able to score and Cruz chugged to third, with two outs.

Looking to finish without further damage, Gant schooled young slugger Rooker on two change-ups and a 94 mph biting sinker, striking him out on those very three pitches to end the inning.

Bottom of 5th - Righty Trevor May entered for the Twins. The Cards missed a good shot to tack on.

Brad Miller pounced on pitch 1, singling to right center. Wong then entered the game to pinch-run for him. Ravelo then bounced a slow grounder to second, slow enough that Wong advanced to second without a play there, as the infielder chose to take the safe out at first.

Tyler then got jobbed big-time by the ump, who rung him up on a 2-2 slider nowhere near the outside corner for a head-scratching second out.

After Carpenter got his second walk of the night, to make it first and second, two out, Lane Thomas pinch-ran for him. Marathon Man Wieters then entered. On an 0-1 pitch, May uncorked a 97 mph heater above his catcher’s reach, as it went to the backstop and allowed both runners to advance into scoring position.

Wieters’ at-bat went much faster this time around, as he struck out swinging on just pitch 5.

Top of 6th - Veteran lefty Andrew Miller came in to keep the reliever load dispersed. Shildt put in the gloves. Lane Thomas stayed in to play right. Wong stayed in to play second. Tommy went from right to third to end Carpenter’s night.

First batter Adrianza grounded out to Edman on just the second pitch for out 1. Gonzales then tapped one in front of the plate that Miller pounced on, whirled, and fired to first to record the second out. With two out, Miller nailed Jeffers with a slider he hung on too long, bringing up the tying run to the plate in the form of righty Willians Astudillo, replacing lefty Wade.

Shildt countered with righty Giovanni Gallegos for the potential 4-out save. Gio wasted no time and risked no batted ball, whiffing Astudillo on three pitches, a slider and two 92 mph heaters.

Bottom of 6th (In Play, Runs(s)) - Righty Jorge Alcala became the Twin’s fourth reliever on the night.

Bader became the first out by grounding out weakly to short on a 1-2 slider that actually was middle and only slightly low, very hittable. Tommy Edman then walked, but DeJong followed by flying out to left. Goldy kept the inning alive by banging a hard grounder off the pitcher’s foot that took a right-turn and rolled into short-right field for a single, as Tommy motored to third.

Alcala couldn’t continue, so he was replaced with righty Sean “Corn’s-A” Poppen to face Wong in his first at-bat of the night. Looking to tack on, Kolten came through, singling on a grounder up the middle, plating Tommy for the State Farm Insurance Run of the Night™, to make it 6-3!

Goldy rumbled to third on the hit, giving another run-scoring shot to Ravelo. But after ball one, Rangel whiffed on three straight: sinker, slider, slider (down and away out of the zone) to end the inning.

Top of 7th (In Play, Run(s)) - Gio remained in to face tough hitters Donaldson, Cruz, and Rosario. It was nice to have that insurance run from the previous inning.

Donaldson swung at a first-pitch slider that caught more of the zone than Gio would’ve liked, but it was down and away just enough and fooled Donaldson just enough to result in a lazy fly-out to right for the big first out.

But, ugh. Despite getting ahead 1-2 to Cruz, Gio left a 93 mph fastball over and not up enough, still under the top of the zone, and Cruz didn’t miss it, slamming it for a line-drive homer that just barely cleared the fence in left-center to make it 6-4.

Gonzalez got ahead of Rosario 0-2 and this time didn’t make the mistake-pitch mistake again, instead flinging a tight, biting curve low, getting Rosario to fly out in foul territory way beyond third that Tommy chased down, catching it with a slight lunge up and back over his head near the wall for out 2.

Realizing how good it feels to get ahead, Gio did that against next batter Sano. But dang it, if the young hurler didn’t quite learn. He left an 0-2 slider middle and halfway between the knees and belt, which Sano hit hard (107 mph EV) but fortunately on the ground to third. Tommy made a slick back-handed play on it and fired to first for the final out!

Cards won, 6-4!

Bottom of 7th

Not applicable!

The Bottom Line

  • Ponce’s Line: 3 IP, (63 pitches, 43 strikes), 2 ER, 5 H, 1 BB, 4 SO
    If not for the lengthy Cards’ third, who knows where his night would’ve gone?
    (Sorry to be pessimistic, but it prob woulda gone poorly.)
  • Wieters’ 19-pitch at-bat in the third took 10 minutes and one second.
  • As best I could find, the longest at-bat since 1988 (when the data began being available) belongs to Brandon Belt, who, in 2018, had a 21-pitch at-bat against Jaime Barria that lasted 12 minutes and 48 seconds.
  • Carpenter’s second walk of the night was the 660th of his career and tied him with Rogers Hornsby for 7th all time in Cards’ history.
  • The Cards were 2-9 with RISP; the Twins were 0-6.
  • Giovanni Gallegos’s appearance tonight was his 100th in The Show.
    That sounds like a lot. He began with the Yanks in 2017 and came to the Cards in 2018.
  • Your WPA Leaders: Tommy: .151 (0-2, 1 BB, 1 RBI, 2 Runs; LOL; Giovanni: .128
  • See, it’s not all about dingers:
Wild third.