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Flaherty bends but does not break, Cardinals bounce back with 4-1 win over Blue Jays

Toronto couldn’t buy a hit off Jack Flaherty Saturday afternoon over five innings, but the righty’s control was nowhere to be found in the Cardinals’ first win of the season.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at St. Louis Cardinals Joe Puetz-USA TODAY Sports

After a back-and-forth battle on opening day that ultimately ended in a 10-9 loss to Toronto, the St. Louis Cardinals took the field for game two of 162 Saturday afternoon. With blustery winds and a game-time temperature of 45 degrees, Jack Flaherty hopped out to the mound — fully healthy — after starting just eight games last season.

Toronto starting lineup:

  1. George Springer, RF
  2. Bo Bichette, SS
  3. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B
  4. Daulton Varsho, LF
  5. Matt Chapman, 3B
  6. Brandon Belt, DH
  7. Danny Jansen, C
  8. Cavan Biggio, 2B
  9. Kevin Kiermaier, CF

Kevin Gausman - SP

With Lars Nootbaar taking a day off after jamming his thumb sliding into third base Thursday afternoon and Contreras out with a bruised knee, here’s how the St. Louis lineup shook out:

  1. Brendan Donovan, 2B
  2. Alec Burleson, LF
  3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
  4. Nolan Arenado, 3B
  5. Nolan Gorman, DH
  6. Tyler O’Neill, CF
  7. Jordan Walker, RF
  8. Andrew Knizner, C
  9. Tommy Edman, SS

Jack Flaherty - SP

Unlike opening day, runs were hard to come by between these two — as were hits for the visiting team. Flaherty had perhaps the weirdest outing of his career, walking seven but allowing no hits or runs. A timely rally in the third, aided by a few defensive miscues, helped the Cardinals push together a few runs and get in the win column for the first time in 2023.

1st Inning

It took Flaherty just four pitches to retire Springer on a lazy flyout and Bichette on a ground ball to third, but he then proceeded to walk Guerrero, Varsho, and Chapman — loading the bases with two outs. Flaherty got ahead of Belt 1-2, fell back into a full count, but struck out Belt on a high fastball to escape the jam. Flaherty threw 29 pitches in the first inning.

Like Flaherty, his counterpart Gausman also got two quick outs to start the game. Donovan grounded out in a four-pitch at bat, followed by a first-pitch flyout from Burleson on the first pitch he saw this season. Goldschmidt took a center-cut splitter into center field for a two-out single, but Arenado struck out swinging to end the inning.

2nd Inning

Flaherty got himself in another jam in the second, walking Jansen and hitting Biggio in the foot with a slider that slid a bit too much inside. But Kiermaier flew out to shallow center field for the first out, and neither runner was able to advance. Springer followed with a grounder to Arenado at third that turned into an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play. Despite the two baserunners, Flaherty was able to work through the second inning on just 11 pitches.

Gorman grounded out to first and O’Neill struck out on three pitches for two quick outs. Walker followed with a sharp ground ball into the hole between third and short that Bichette was able to get a glove on, but not make a play. Walker’s second career hit left the the bat at 105.8 mph. Knizner struck out swinging to end the second inning.

3rd Inning

Flaherty began his third inning of work by tying his career high in walks, with free passes handed to Bichette and Guerrero. That made six walks in two-plus innings of work. However, Jack walked the tight rope again by getting shallow flyouts from Varsho and Chapman, followed by his second strikeout of Belt.

Edman, batting in the nine-hole for the second consecutive game, flew out to Kiermaier in center for an out. Donovan followed him with a ground ball single through the right side of the infield and into right field. Burleson flew out to Springer in right field for the second out of the inning. With two outs, Goldschmidt looped a soft fly ball into right center field for his second hit of the day, sending Donovan to third — maybe the BABIP Gods were smiling on St. Louis this time around.

With runners on first and third, Arenado chopped a ground ball to Chapman at third base. The three-time gold glover didn’t pull it out of his glove cleanly, and it quickly became apparent the double play was out of the question. Chapman threw to first wildly however, and the Blue Jays got zero outs. The ball flew into the St. Louis dugout, scoring a run and moving Arenado to second while Goldschmidt stopped at third and Donovan scored.

Gorman followed with a squibber down the third base line that Chapman dove (and threw his glove) at but couldn’t stop, allowing both runners to score and make it 3-0 Cardinals. It only left the bat at 65 mph, but Chapman was playing about six feet to the left of where he would normally stand at third due to Gorman’s tendency to pull the ball. O’Neill struck out swinging to end the inning.

4th Inning

Jansen led off and grounded out to Arenado at third. Biggio worked a one-out walk — Flaherty’ seventh of the day. Kiermaier hit a high fly ball to right field that Walker did not charge, so Donovan made a phenomenal over the shoulder catch on for out number two. Flaherty struck out Springer looking with a low fastball for the third out. Flaherty worked through the first four innings allowing no hits but walking seven on 80 pitches.

Walker grounded out to shortstop and Knizner flew out on a lazy fly to center field for the first two outs, followed by a two-out single to right field by Edman. Gausman struck out Donovan looking on a low fastball to end the fourth inning.

5th Inning

Having thrown 80 pitches but allowed no hits thus far, Flaherty returned for the fifth inning. Bichette grounded out to third, Guerrero did the same, and Varsho struck out swinging. It was Flaherty’s first 1-2-3 inning of the afternoon.

The Cardinals were also retired in order. Burleson — still searching for his first hit of the season — grounded out to first base, Goldschmidt struck out swinging, and Arenado hit a soft grounder back to Gausman to end the inning.

Flaherty’s final line: 5 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 7 BB’s, 4K’s (95 pitches)

6th Inning

Drew VerHagen took over for Flaherty in the sixth and set the Blue Jays down in order. Chapman struck out swinging on three pitches, Belt worked an eight-pitch at-bat and eventually grounded out to second base, and Jansen struck out swinging on three pitches.

Gorman led off the bottom of the sixth by drawing St. Louis’ first walk off the day. O’Neill followed with a sharp single into the right-center field gap, setting up Walker with runners on the corners and only one out. Walker chopped a 1-2 splitter to Chapman at third, who threw to second to start the double play. Biggio caught the throw on the second base bag for the first out, and then went home to try and nail Gorman at the plate. Jansen caught the throw and tagged Gorman on the arm just as his hand was sweeping across the corner of the plate.

Home plate umpire Scott Barry originally called Gorman safe, but Toronto challenged the call and won — it was overturned. Instead of being up 4-0 with a runner on first and one out, the Cardinals led 3-0 with a runner on first and two outs.

Knizner singled to left field with two outs for his first base knock of the young season, but Edman struck out swinging to end the inning, stranding both runners.

Gausman’s final line: 6 IP, 8 H, 3 R (0 ER), 1 BB, 7 K’s (90 pitches)

7th Inning

Andre Pallante replaced VerHagen in the sixth, protecting a three-run lead, a shutout, and a no-hitter. He protected two of those things in a scoreless seventh, but the no-hitter was lost.

Biggio hit a soft line drive with a ton of spin on it that Edman dove and caught just in front of the second base bag for the first out of the inning. Kiermaier swung at the first pitch from Pallante and took a slider into right field for a base knock — Toronto’s first of the afternoon. Springer and Bichette both grounded out to end the inning and send us to the seventh inning stretch.

Gausman exited after six innings and gave way to submarining right-hander Adam Cimber, who also pitched on opening day. He faced Donovan first and induced a lazy flyout to right field. Burleson fell behind 1-2, fouled off five pitches after that, and eventually flew out to left field. Goldschmidt laced a 107.2 mph line drive to Springer in right field, but the Blue Jays right fielder fought off the sun and made the play to end the seventh inning.

8th Inning

Jordan Hicks entered in the eighth inning, trying to put a tough first appearance Thursday in the rearview mirror and get the ball to Ryan Helsley with a lead.

Hicks walked Guerrero and Varsho back-to-back to bring the tying run to the plate with no outs. He did not walk Chapman, but the Blue Jays third baseman did ground into a fielder’s choice at second that moved Guerrero into scoring position. With runners on first and third and one out, Hicks spiked the first pitch to Belt — a 101 mph sinker — and it scooted all the way to the backstop. Guerrero scored to make it 3-1, and Hicks proceeded to walk Belt on ix pitches.

With runners on first and second and only one out, Oli Marmol called on Helsley to shut it down two days after surrendering a slim lead to Toronto in their opening day loss.

Jansen hit a soft grounder back to Helsley in a 3-2 count, and the Cardinals’ closer flipped to Goldschmidt at first for the second out of the inning — both runners move into scoring position, but nobody scores. With two outs, Biggio grounded out to Goldschmidt at first base, who jogged and stepped on the bag to escape the threat.

Toronto right-hander Erik Swanson replaced Cimber in the bottom half of the inning, and the Cardinals were able to scrape across one more to make it a three-run game. The inning started with an Arenado base hit and a Gorman walk — his fourth walk over the first two games of the season. O’Neill grounded into a 6-4-3 double play for outs one and two, with Arenado moving to third base. With two outs, Walker hit a sharp ground ball up the middle that Biggio was able to get his glove on but not field cleanly. He picked up the ball with his bare hand and threw low to Guerrero at first, who could not dig it out, and the run scored. Walker was credited with an RBI single. Knizner followed with a swinging strikeout to end the eighth inning.

9th Inning

After throwing nine pitches in the eighth inning, Helsley came back out and, despite some trouble, kept Toronto off the scoreboard and earned his first save of the season.

Kiermaier led off the ninth with an infield single that wasn’t hit hard enough for Arenado to get to and also make a strong throw on, as the speedy outfielder beat the throw to first by a step. Helsley struck out Springer with a fastball at the knees for the first out of the inning, but Bichette followed with a single to right field that let Kiermaier go first to third.

After falling behind 2-0 to Guerrero, who represented the tying run, Helsley battled back and struck him out with a 2-2 slider in the dirt. Varsho popped out on the infield to strand the runners and end the ballgame.

FINAL: St. Louis 4, Toronto 1

Up Next

The Cardinals (1-1) go for their first series win of the season tomorrow afternoon at Busch. Jordan Montgomery will throw for the Cardinals, and Chris Bassitt will go for the Blue Jays (1-1). First pitch is set for 1:15 p.m.

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