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Bombs from Youngsters and Help from Reds Defense Leads to 11-6 Opening Day Cardinal Win

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MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Cincinnati Reds David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a new Cardinal baseball season, and I’m sure most of you are tired of looking at the section on the site denominated “St. Louis Cardinals Scores and Recaps,” and seeing the most recent entry read “Not in the Cards,” which covered the Cards’ 2020 season-ending loss to the Padres in the Wild Card Round. We’re planning on a 162-game season in 2021, so that recap section should fill up real quick. This is the first entry of the new season, which saw Jack Flaherty match up against the Cincinnati Reds and Luis Castillo.

If it weren’t for Castillo’s struggles, his defense letting him down and an absolutely ridiculous TOOTBLAN mistake by the Reds in the bottom of the 6th, the narrative of today’s game, played in about 37 degree weather, might have been about Jack Flaherty. It wasn’t that he pitched poorly, because that blanket statement would not be a fair characterization. He had a 57% whiff percentage on his slider, he lasted for 94 pitches, and he showed his traditional maximum velocity at times of up to 96 miles an hour. But he struggled with his fastball command (despite only two walks), and got drilled on occasion, with 5 out of his 15 balls in play being hit harder than 95 miles per hour, and 4 over 100 miles per hour. On the other hand, it was very cold out there, Great American Ball Park is a bandbox, and both of the home runs the Reds hit were actually on good pitches. Flaherty is the least of my worries right now, and his 4.1 IP was actually the most of any NL Central #1 starter today.

Both clubs had 10 hits, but the Cards’ hits mattered more, as the Reds’ defense, mostly with the help of newly converted shortstop Eugenio Suarez, extended the innings. I won’t spoil the show other than to point out that Goldschmidt got four hits, Arenado picked up another two and his first Cardinal RBI, and our young outfield showed us something today. Even Justin Williams, who didn’t pick up a hit, hit the ball hard.

Before we begin, a tip of the hat goes to cardinalgifs, and his Twitter page, who provided many of the images for your viewing pleasure. If he’s watching the game and posting, it’s a page you should definitely check out, especially if you were unable to watch the game yourself.

Luis Castillo took the hill for the Reds, and got Tommy Edman to slowly roll a low 1-0 sinker to 2nd base for the first out of the season. Paul Goldschmidt then drove a low-and-in 0-1 sinker deep to right. It sliced towards the line and looked like it hit the top yellow line of the wall. It was initially called a solo homer, but the umpires called a crew-chief review to determine whether the ball stayed in the park or not. They ended up ruling it was not a homer and sent Goldschmidt to 2nd base with a double. The relevant ground rule appears to be that the ball is not a home run unless it strikes the top of the outfield wall beyond the yellow line. You make the call:

Nolan Arenado grounded a low-and-in 1-2 change slowly up the middle to the left side of the second base bag. Rookie second baseman Jonathan India made a diving stop to prevent a run, but had to put it in his pocket, as he had no play. Goldschmidt advanced to third. Paul DeJong then fought off an inside 0-1 sinker right on his hands, and grounded it to the right side, right where the second baseman would typically stand. But because the Reds were lined up in the shift, it was a base hit, which scored Goldschmidt, gave the Cards a 1-0 lead and moved Arenado to third.

Castillo then drilled Tyler O’Neill in the left side with a 1-0 sinker to load the bases. New Reds shortstop Eugenio Suarez botched his first chance of the season, when Yadier Molina grounded a first-pitch low-and-away slider to the hole. Suarez tried to backhand the ball, but didn’t get his glove down far enough, and the ball rolled under his glove and into left field for an error. Both Arenado and DeJong scored to extend the Cards’ lead to 3-0, with O’Neill advancing to second.

Dylan Carlson then launched a middle-in 95 mph fastball off of the foul pole in right for a 3-run homer to give the Cards a 6-0 lead.

Justin Williams grounded a low-and-away 0-1 change to 2nd base for the 2nd out of the inning, and Jack Flaherty lined a hanging 1-2 slider to right to end the inning.

Jack Flaherty took the mound for the Cards and delivered Jesse Winker a fastball with too much plate on the 1-1 pitch, and Winker drove it to right for a double to lead off the bottom of the 1st. Nick Castellanos drove a low first-pitch fastball deep to right. Williams drifted back to the track and made caught the ball with extension while crashing into the wall. Winker tagged up and went to 3rd on the play. I’m honestly not sure if this was a great play or if Williams just got a poor jump and made it harder than it needed to be. But it looked like a good catch, anyway.

Flaherty bounced a 1-2 fastball to Joey Votto in front of the plate, and it got by the catcher for a wild pitch to score Winker and cut the Cards’ lead to 6-1.

Votto then skied a popup to short on a 3-2 high fastball for the 2nd out, and Eugenio Suarez struck out swinging at a 1-2 slider to end the inning.

Edman sliced a low 1-2 fastball down the line in left for Winker to lead off the top of the 2nd. Suarez then committed his 2nd error in two chances. Goldschmidt grounded a 1-2 fastball towards the hole. Suarez made a good play to get to the ball, but he bounced the ball to first, and Votto couldn’t make the pick. The ball rolled to the dugout and Goldschmidt advanced to 2nd base. Arenado broke his bat on an inside 1-1 sinker, but lifted it enough to just get into the outfield to left-center for a base hit to score Goldschmidt and give the Cards a 7-1 lead.

DeJong ended the inning by sharply grounding a first-pitch slider to 3rd for a 5-4-3 double play. Flaherty retired the Reds in order in the bottom of the 2nd by getting Mike Moustakas to fly to left, striking out Nick Senzel swinging at a slider and striking India out looking at an inside fastball near the corner.

Castillo retired the first two Cardinal batters in the top of the 3rd on 10 pitches, O’Neill on a foul pop to right, and Molina on a grounder to short that Suarez handled successfully this time. When Carlson came to the plate this time around, Castillo fed him a steady diet of changeups, and Carlson did a fine job in working a 3-2 walk. The inning ended when Williams grounded a fastball to India for the 4-6 flip. To start the bottom of the 3rd, Flaherty bounced what looked like a 1-1 change to Tucker Barnhart and hit him on his left leg, and Castillo sacrificed him to 2nd, which was scored 2-3. After Winker struck out watching a 3-2 four-seamer tail over the inner half of the strike zone, Castellanos smoked a low-and-in 90 mph fastball into the seats in left-center for a 2-run homer to cut the Cards’ lead to 7-3.

Votto flied a first-pitch curve to right to end the inning.

After Flaherty worked a 10-pitch 3-2 walk to lead off the top of the 4th, Edman reached for a 2-2 low-and-away change and slowly rolled it towards first. Castillo raced from the mound to get it and made an off-balance flip to Votto. But the ball bounced and Votto couldn’t pick it off the dirt. Edman was safe, Goldschmidt went to 2nd and the scorer called it a base hit, presumably because Castillo had to run to get it and Edman was almost safe anyway. Castillo served Goldschmidt a fastball down the middle, and he sharply grounded it through the right side for a base hit to score Flaherty, move Edman to 3rd and give the Cards an 8-3 lead.

Castillo then bounced an 0-1 slider low-and-away to Arenado. Barnhart made a valiant effort to try and block it, but the ball bounced off the side of his mitt and got away for a wild pitch. Edman scored to extend the Cards’ lead to 9-3 and Goldschmidt moved to 2nd.

With still nobody out, Arenado hit a low-and-away 2-2 change for a sinking liner to the gap left of center, which Nick Senzel grabbed with a great diving play.

With Castillo already at 73 pitches, the Reds brought in righty Cam Bedrosian to pitch to DeJong with 1 out and a man on 2nd, and he struck him out swinging at a high fastball. But O’Neill crushed a hanging curve into the seats in left for a 2-run homer to give the Cards an 11-3 lead. Molina grounded out to the pitcher to end the inning.

Suarez led off the bottom of the 4th by lining an outside 3-1 fastball on the corner, just over the right field wall for a solo shot to cut the Cards’ lead to 11-4.

After Moustakas grounded to 2nd, lefty Tyler Naquin pinch hit for Nick Senzel, and at that point the broadcast speculated that Senzel might have injured himself on the diving grab in the previous half-inning. Naquin sharply grounded a 1-1 curve towards the 1st base line, but Goldschmidt made a nice stab for the unassisted play. With 2 out, India logged his first career major league hit, when he poked a low-and-away slider down the left field line that bounced off the sidewall for a double. But he was stranded there when Barnhart flied out to left to end the inning.

For the top of the 5th, the Reds made a double switch, bringing Tyler Stephenson in to catch in the #9 spot, and righty Sal Romano in to pitch in the #8 spot. Naquin stayed in the game at center field, and it was announced that Senzel had a shoulder injury. Carlson struck out looking at a close 2-2 inside fastball that just tailed onto the corner. Williams hit the ball hard but grounded out to 2nd. After Flaherty worked his second 3-2 walk of the game, Edman grounded to 2nd for the 4-6 flip to end the inning. Flaherty labored in the bottom of the 5th. After Stephenson flied to center, Winker worked a 3-2 walk, and Castellanos lined a hanging 1-1 slider into the left field corner for a double to move Winker to 3rd. Votto chased an elevated 2-2 fastball, but smacked a liner to center for a base hit to score Winker, move Castellanos to 3rd and cut the Cards’ lead to 11-5.

Suarez walked on 5 pitches to load the bases. With Flaherty now at 93 pitches, Shildt had seen enough and brought in Tyler Webb to pitch to Moustakas. Moose flied the first pitch to shallow center, but it was deep enough to score Castellanos on the Sac Fly to cut the Cards’ lead to 11-6.

Righty Aristides Aquino pinch hit for Naquin and popped a 3-2 hanging change foul to Arenado to end the inning.

Romano shut the Cards down in the top of the 6th on 10 pitches. Goldschmidt grounded to 2nd, Arenado struck out looking at a slider barely on the low-and-outside corner and DeJong flied to center. Ryan Helsley came out to pitch the bottom of the 6th for the Cards. India lined a fastball for a base hit through the hole to lead off the inning. Alex Blandino pinch hit for the pitcher Romano, and the Reds now have only Kyle Farmer left on the bench. After Blandino struck out looking at an outside cutter, Stephenson lined a 3-2 low-and-away fastball to right for a base hit top advance India to 2nd. Winker smoked a 1-0 low cutter to right for a base hit, and the Reds held the runner at 3rd. With the bases now loaded and 1 out, the Reds ran themselves out of the inning in ridiculous fashion. Castellanos lined a low 2-0 cutter to O’Neill in left-center. Stephenson ran almost all the way to 3rd base without waiting to see if the ball would drop, and O’Neill fired the ball back into 2nd base before Stephenson could get back to the bag. Instead of a Sac Fly and an 11-7 game with runners on 1st and 2nd and 2 out, it was an inning-ending double play and the score stayed 11-6.

UPDATE: Thanks to our own gifmeister jdog, and our resident umpire expert Nate De Graaf, I now understand that there was a greater complexity to this play. O’Neill was going to throw the ball home, but Arenado alerted him immediately to throw the ball to 2nd base. O’Neill’s throw reached 2nd base just barely before India crossed home plate. If India had touched home plate before O’Neill’s throw reached 2nd base, the run would have scored. Check out this, from the Official Major League Rules:

Rule 5.08 Comment

APPROVED RULING

One out, Jones on third, Smith on first, and Brown flies out to right field. Two outs. Jones tags up and scores after the catch. Smith attempted to return to first, but the right fielder’s throw beat him to the base. Three outs. But Jones scored before the throw to catch Smith reached first base, hence Jones’s run counts. It was not a force play.

Righty Carson Fulmer came out to pitch the top of the 7th. O’Neill grounded a first-pitch fastball to 3rd, Molina popped the 3rd pitch foul to Votto, and Carlson struck out swinging at a 3-2 change to end the inning. Genesis Cabrera came out to pitch the bottom of the 7th for the Cards. Votto popped a high fastball to Molina in foul territory for the first out. After Suarez walked on 4 straight off-speed pitches, Moustakas walked on 5 pitches. But it turned out not to matter, as Aquino did Cabrera a favor and chased a high-and-outside fastball and flied out to right, and India flied out to right on a better pitch to end the inning.

Williams flied out to center to lead off the top of the 8th. Matt Carpenter pinch hit for Cabrera and struck out on 3 pitches, the last one swinging late at an outside curve. Edman flied a low change to center to end the inning. Giovanny Gallegos came out to pitch the bottom of the 8th for the Cards. Kyle Farmer pinch hit for Fulmer and now the Reds are out of bench players. Farmer struck out swinging at a nasty 3-2 slider. Stephenson grounded out to short, and Winker struck out swinging awkwardly at a fastball right down the middle to end the inning. For the top of the 9th, Farmer stayed in the game in the #8 spot to play left field, and lefty Sean Doolittle came out to pitch in the #1 spot. Goldschmidt ripped a down-the-middle fastball for a double down the left field line to lead off the inning. But he was stranded there, as Arenado struck out swinging at a low-and-away fastball (foul tip), DeJong sharply grounded out to 3rd, and O’Neill struck out swinging at an outside fastball.

Alex Reyes came out to pitch the bottom of the 9th for the Cards. Castellanos ripped an inside slider for a lined based hit up the middle to lead off the inning. Votto skied a high fastball to center that stalled near the track for the first out. Suarez popped an inside 98 mph fastball over the 2nd base bag, but Edman ran out and grabbed it in short center. Moustakas worked a 3-2 walk, and in the course of that plate appearance, Castellanos advanced to 2nd base on the 1-0 pitch and then 3rd base on the 3-2 pitch, both on defensive indifference. With runners at the corners, Aquino struck out swinging at an inside 97 mph fastball to end the game.

Flaherty 4.1 IP, 6 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 4 SO, 2 HR, HBP, WP; Webb (bottom 5, 1 out, bases loaded, ahead 11-5) .2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 0 SO, allowed 1 out of 3 inherited runners to score; Helsley (bottom 6, ahead 11-6) 1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 SO; Cabrera (bottom 7, ahead 11-6) 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 0 SO; Gallegos (bottom 8, ahead 11-6) 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 SO; Reyes (bottom 9, ahead 11-6) 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 1 SO.

ODDS AND ENDS

The Cardinals filled their 40-man roster a little before today’s game by claiming a left-handed pitcher named Bernardo Flores, Jr. on outright assignment waivers from the Chicago White Sox. Upon claiming him, the club optioned him to the Alternate Training Site. I’ll have more on him for you tomorrow...The Cards have the day off tomorrow, and pick things back up at 3:10 central time Saturday afternoon, when Adam Wainwright will go up against Tyler Mahle...The bad news keeps coming for the Washington Nationals. From testing done Monday while the club was still in spring training, it was initially reported that the club had one positive test, and that four players and 1 staffer had to be isolated as a result of that contact tracing. On that information, MLB decided to exercise an abundance of caution and announced that not only the club’s opening day game against the Mets be postponed, but that it would not be made up tomorrow on the off-day. The rest of the series that is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday is now in doubt, as the Nationals have revealed that at least three, maybe four, additional players have tested positive. An additional complicating factor is that the local government of the District of Columbia has stricter quarantine rules than Major League Baseball. The whole club is in quarantine right now...Ke’Bryan Hayes of the Pirates kicked off his Rookie of the Year competition with Dylan Carlson as he got the Pirates on the board in the first inning of the club’s game against the Cubs with a 2-run homer in the first inning off of Kyle Hendricks. Adam Frazier was 2 for 4 with 2 walks and 2 RBIs, and two Pirate relievers struck out the side in the Pirates’ 5-3 win over the Cubs. It could have been worse, as the Pirates outhit the Cubs 9-2, left 15 men on base, hit 3 for 20 with runners in scoring position, and Cub pitchers walked 11 batters to 10 strikeouts. Cub batters struck out 13 times to only 4 walks...The Twins were beating the Brewers 5-2 in the bottom of the 9th, but Alex Colome blew the save and let the Brewers tie the score 5-5 on a hit-by-pitch, throwing error after a tap to the mound, single, groundout to advance the runner and a 2-run double by Travis Shaw. Josh Hader struck out the side in the top of the 10th with the runner on 2nd base rule in effect. In the bottom half, Omar Narvaez singled off of Randy Dobnak to move their runner to 3rd. Orlando Arcia won it for the Brewers on a walk-off chopper to 2nd base when Jorge Polanco’s throw couldn’t get Lorenzo Cain in time at home.