It’s been nearly six months, but the St. Louis Cardinals are back at Busch and I am back recapping what will hopefully be 100+ Cardinal wins this season! Following pregame ceremonies honoring Cardinals Hall of Famers — including a great video tribute for Scott Rolen, St. Louis’ newest MLB Hall of Famer — the entire 2023 team was introduced as well.
Everyone not included in Thursday’s lineup was introduced first, followed by the starters. Here’s how Oli Marmol’s 2023 Opening Day lineup shook out:
- Brendan Donovan, 2B
- Lars Nootbaar, LF
- Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
- Nolan Arenado, 3B
- Willson Contreras, C
- Tyler O’Neill, CF
- Nolan Gorman, DH
- Jordan Walker, RF
- Tommy Edman, SS
Miles Mikolas - SP
The Toronto Blue Jays made a few additions in the off-season as well, and rolled out this starting nine:
- George Springer, RF
- Bo Bichette, SS
- Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B
- Daulton Varsho, LF
- Alejandro Kirk, C
- Brandon Belt, DH
- Matt Chapman, 3B
- Whit Merrifield, 2B
- Kevin Kiermaier, CF
Alek Manoah - SP
After Adam Wainwright absolutely slayed the National Anthem in front of a sold-out crowd (see below), Mikolas strolled to the mound and Cardinal baseball resumed after a nearly six-month hiatus.
Unfortunately Wainwright’s knockout performance did not provide enough good mojo for the Cardinals to win, as St. Louis ultimately fell to Toronto, 10-9. The two teams combined for 34 hits, as the Blue Jays rallied against the Cardinals’ bullpen in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings to complete the comeback on Opening Day.
The Blue Jays worked Mikolas to the tune of 37 pitches and three earned runs in the first inning alone — not exactly the start he or the Cardinals wanted. Springer led off with a sharp single into right-center field that came off the bat at 101 mph. Bichette followed with a bloop single into shallow center field, moving Springer up a base. Guerrero — the number three hitter — got every bit of a 2-1 center-cut sinker and hammered it to the warning track, where O’Neill settled under it for the first out of the 2023 season. Springer tagged and moved to third.
Varsho, in his first at-bat as a Blue Jay, doubled into the right field corner scoring Springer. Bichette was held at third but Toronto took a 1-0 lead.
Kirk followed Varsho with a 76 mph exit velocity single to center field off a 1-2 curveball from Mikolas. The short and stout catcher fell to one knee hacking at the bender, but served it up the middle to score two runs and give the Blue Jays a 3-0 first inning lead.
Belt flew out to O’Neill in center for the second out of the inning, and Chapman singled to right — moving Kirk into scoring position. Mikolas got the benefit of the doubt on a 1-2 slider to Merrifield to finally end the top of the first inning.
Donovan worked a six-pitch at bat leading off the game, ultimately leading to an infield single in the 5.5-hole. Bichette’s throw wouldn’t have beaten Donovan anyway, but it sailed high and into the Cardinals’ dugout, allowing him to advance to second. After falling behind 1-2, international superstar Lars Nootbaar took three consecutive pitches to work a walk. Goldschmidt struck out after a seven-pitch battle with Manoah, but Arenado followed with a fly ball single to left field that dropped in front of Varsho, scoring Donovan and getting St. Louis on the board.
Contreras lined out to second base in his first at bat as a Cardinal, and O’Neill struck out on four pitches — stranding two runners — to end the first inning.
Toronto picked up where they left off in the first inning, scoring on Mikolas in the second inning after nine pitches. Kiermaier led off the inning and flew out to Walker in right field —his first major league putout. But Springer followed with the third softly-hit single of the game for Toronto, a soft knock into left that jumped off the bat at a crisp 69.9 (nice) miles per hour. Bichette followed with a sharply hit double into the right field corner that Walker misplayed off the wall, allowing Springer to score from first and make it 4-1 Toronto.
Guerrero was hit by a pitch to put two on and one out, but Miles was able to strike out Varsho and get a flyout from Kirk to end the top of the second and prevent any further damage. Mikolas threw 56 pitches through his first two innings.
Staked to an early 4-1 lead, Manoah struck out Gorman on a high fastball to kick off the inning. Walker followed, and in his first major league at bat he scorched a single up the middle and into center field for a base knock. The 20 year-old’s first hit came off the bat at 103.4 mph.
Edman placed a single perfectly into shallow center field to put two on and one out. Donovan turned on a full count fastball and ripped it into right field, but Springer made a diving catch to save one — and potentially two — runs from scoring. Nootbaar grounded out to Merrifield at second to put an end to the second inning.
Belt led off the third and struck out hacking at a high fastball for an out. Chapman followed with yet another softly-hit ball into center field that dropped in front of O’Neill for his second hit of the game, and Toronto’s eighth. Mikolas struck out Merrifield and Kiermaier back-to-back to finish his first scoreless inning of the day — and season.
Goldschmidt and Arenado each hit easy fly balls for the first two outs of the third, but the Cardinals started cooking with two outs. Contreras poked a seeing-eye single into left field, just out of the reach of a diving Bichette. O’Neill stepped up and cranked a first-pitch fastball into the seats in right-center field for a two-run homer, pulling St. Louis back within one run. It was a high fly ball that left the bat at 105.2 mph, and it marked the fourth-consecutive season that O’Neill has homered on opening day.
Gorman poked a 2-0 sinker into right field for a two-out single, prompting a mound visit for Manoah. He was able to induce a soft grounder from Walker to end the inning, with Toronto still leading, 4-3.
After an efficient third inning, Mikolas got jumped by Toronto in the fourth and didn’t get through the inning. Springer led off with a softly hit ground ball to the right side, just out of the reach of Donovan for a leadoff single. Bichette struck out swinging, but Guerrero hit a missile into right field for his first hit of the season. Walker fielded it and threw through to third base — over the cutoff man — but Springer was safe, and Guerrero had moved into scoring position as well.
That was it for Mikolas, who was pulled in favor of 25-year old left-hander Zack Thompson after just 3.1 innings. Thompson faced the lefty Varsho first, and he wound up scoring Springer with a sac fly to left field. Thompson struck out Kirk with a curveball in the dirt to escape the inning with no further damage.
Mikolas’ final line: 3.1 IP, 10 H, 5 ER, 0 BB, 6 K’s (90 pitches)
Edman reached on a swinging bunt down the third base line to lead off the fourth inning — his second hit in two at bats. After falling behind 0-2 and fouling off another, Donovan turned on a two-strike slider and hit a towering two-run homer into the Cardinals’ bullpen to tie the game at five apiece. It only left the bat at 99 mph, but the 31-degree launch angle helped carry it just over the bullpen wall in right field for Donovan’s first homer of the year.
Nootbaar grounded out for the first out of the inning, but Goldschmidt drew a nine-pitch walk off Manoah, and that was all she wrote for the 285-pound right hander. Zach Pop jogged in from the Toronto bullpen and got Arenado to ground into a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning.
Manoah’s final line: 3.1 IP, 9 H, 5 ER, 2 BB’s, 3 K’s (85 pitches)
Thompson stayed in the game and struck out Belt and Chapman before getting a groundout from Merrifield for a three up, three down inning.
Pop returned for the fifth as well and struck out Contreras for the first out in the bottom of the fifth. O’Neill grounded out to short for out number two, and Erik Swanson — Toronto’s third pitcher — struck out Gorman on five pitches to end the fifth.
Kiermaier led off against Thompson and knocked a single to left, chasing Thompson after 1.2 innings. Drew VerHagen entered to face Springer, who’d reached in all three at-bats. He challenged Springer with a high 1-2 fastball and punched him out for the first strikeout of each of their respective seasons. Bichette followed with a single to left — his third hit of the day. Guerrero grounded into a fielder’s choice for out number two, with Arenado firing to second and getting an out there.
Andre Pallante entered for his first appearance of the year in a crucial spot — with two runners on and two outs in a 5-5 ballgame. He threw one pitch and got Varsho to ground out to second. Still a tie game.
Walker led off the bottom half of the inning and worked the count full against Swanson before being called out on strike three on a slider that looked just a bit outside. Edman grounded out to Chapman at third base for the second out of the inning, but then the Cardinals once again cooked up a two-out rally.
Left-hander Tim Mayza relieved Swanson with two outs. John Schneider’s plan to throw the lefty against Donovan and/or Nootbaar backfired, as both second-year players hit two-out singles to left field to set up Goldschmidt. Goldschmidt worked the count to 1-1 and then looped a single into right field — scoring Donovan and giving the Cardinals their first lead of the day, 6-5.
Anthony Bass was called on to escape the mess with no further trouble, and he did that by inducing an inning-ending groundout from Arenado.
After escaping the sixth-inning jam on just one pitch, Pallante returned for the seventh but surrendered the Cardinals’ one-run lead.
After a groundout from Kirk to begin the inning, Belt ripped a center-cut fastball into right field for a one-out double. Chapman followed with a single to right field — his third hit of the day — to drive in the tying run.
Pallante walked Merrifield to put two on with just one out, but Chapman was thrown out by Contreras trying to steal second base and Kiermaier grounded out to end the top half of the inning.
St. Louis responded by putting Bass on the hot seat after the seventh inning stretch. Contreras went the opposite way and singled to right, followed by an O’Neill walk. That was enough for Bass, and he was yanked in favor of another right-hander, submarining specialist Adam Cimber.
Gorman walked on five pitches against Cimber without taking the bat off his shoulders. That brought up Walker with the bases loaded and no outs in a tie ballgame (good luck, kid).
The Cardinals’ 20 year-old top prospect hit a ground ball to short that looked to be tailor-made for a 6-4-3 double play, but Walker busted it down the line and beat the throw back to first for an RBI fielder’s choice. St. Louis moved back ahead, 7-6.
Edman followed Walker with a chopper to first base that Guerrero snagged, spun, and fired to home plate on. Kirk tagged out O’Neill at home plate to prevent the run from scoring. Gorman popped out to Bichette at short to end the seventh inning.
Just like the previous inning, the Blue Jays went to work and erased the lead St. Louis had taken just moment earlier. Jordan Hicks took over in the top of the eighth, protecting a one-run lead.
Springer led off the inning with a looping fly ball that plopped into center field in front of O’Neill. It was Springer’s fourth hit of the day, and also his third hit that registered an exit velocity under 90 mph. This one flew off the bat at 70.1 mph. Bichette followed with a soft ground ball up the third base line that Arenado could not make a play on — the second softly hit ball of the inning that Toronto turned into a baserunner.
With Guerrero hitting, a 103 mph sinker in the dirt hit Contreras in the knee and flew towards the Cardinals’ dugout, resulting in both runners moving up a base. Contreras was also forced to leave the game, unable to bend the knee properly after taking that fireball straight to it. Guerrero singled to right field, scoring both Springer and Bichette, and the Blue Jays took an 8-7 lead. Walker’s throw from right field flew over the head of everyone — the cutoff man and Andrew Knizner — and went to the backstop, allowing Guerrero to advance to second.
Varsho struck out and Kirk grounded out for the first two outs in the eighth, followed by a walk to pinch-hitter Cavan Biggio. But Chapman grounded out to end the Blue Jays’ half of the inning.
Dominican right hander Yimi Garcia took the mound in the eighth inning to bridge the gap to Blue Jays’ closer Jordan Romano. He walked Noot leading off the inning, which was the second walk Noot had drawn in the game and his third time reaching base. Goldschmidt followed with a line shot double into the left field corner, moving Nootbaar to third base and setting up Arenado to tie the game or take the lead.
Arenado did the latter, hammering a 1-1 slider into the same spot Goldschmidt had moments earlier. However, Nolan’s 107 mph missile hopped over the wall in the corner, holding him at second base but scoring Nootbaar and Goldschmidt to give St. Louis a 9-8 lead in the eighth. The seesaw affair of a game continued.
With Arenado on second and nobody out, Knizner (who entered the game after Contreras was injured in the top half of the inning) tried to bunt him over to third but popped the bunt up. O’Neill flew out to center for the second out, and the Blue Jays elected to walk Gorman in order to set up a matchup with the rookie, Walker. The move paid dividends, as Walker grounded out to third, stranding both runners.
Ryan Helsley took the mound in the top of the ninth, looking to close out St. Louis’ first win of the year. He was erratic against the first batter he faced, walking Merrifield on four pitches. Kiermaier followed the walk with a sharp single to right field, moving Merrifield (the tying run) to third. Springer fell behind 1-2 before singling on a soft fly ball (62 mph off the bat) behind Edman into shallow left field — Springer’s fifth hit of the day, and his fourth softly hit ball of the afternoon that fell for a hit. Merrifield scored to tie it 9-9, and Kiermaier advanced to third as the potential go-ahead run.
Bichette hit a soft grounder to Donovan at second, who looked Kiermaier back to third before throwing to second base for the force out. Guerrero hit a sacrifice fly to center field to score Kiermaier, and Toronto took a 10-9 lead in the ninth. Varsho flew out to right field for the third out, with Helsley suddenly on the hook for a loss.
All-Star closer Jordan Romano took over for Toronto in the bottom of the ninth, looking to lock up St. Louis and send Cardinal fans home shocked and sad.
Edman struck out swinging, Donovan grounded out to second, and Nootbaar struck out swinging. Ballgame.
FINAL: Toronto 10, St. Louis 9
The Cardinals (0-1) have Friday off and then take on the Blue Jays (1-0) in game two of this three-game set on Saturday afternoon. Jack Flaherty takes the ball for St. Louis, while Kevin Guasman will throw for Toronto.
First pitch is set for 1:15 p.m.
Around the Central
Pirates 5, Reds 0
(Many people are saying the pickle is out of style. I am not one of those people)
MLB Pickle #386 - 3/9