Evidently, Corey Dickerson lost the line drive in the lights.
It was the first inning of a scoreless game against the Pirates. A two-out walk brought Tyler O’Neill to the plate. O’Neill would put his stamp on the game later, but this time he should have ended the inning. Tyler jumped on a 2-0 fastball from Pittsburgh starter Joe Musgrove and drilled a sinking liner to left – basically right at Dickerson.
But Corey couldn’t find the ball. It eventually fell in between his legs and rolled to the wall. The run scored, O’Neill ended up at second, and the Cardinals held a 1-0 lead.
Back in the day – as now-broadcaster Mike Shannon tells it – when Bob Gibson would pitch and the offense would push across a run (and frequently it was Gibson himself providing the run), they would say to him, “there’s your run, big boy.” The expectation was that if Gibson was on the mound, one run was all that he would need. It’s amazing how often that proved to be true.
(Gibson, of course, has been in all of our thoughts and prayers recently. One of the greatest competitors of all time is battling pancreatic cancer.)
The current Cardinal rotation hasn’t achieved quite that stature, but recently they have been getting close. Neither of St Louis’ last two starters (Adam Wainwright on Sunday nor Miles Mikolas last night) gave up runs – with Mikolas’ outing being the most impressive. Miles shut the Pirates out on 100 pitches even.
Luckily for Mikolas it doesn’t matter how he gets the run, so long as he gets it. It’s hard to tell how the game might have progressed if the Birds hadn’t benefited from Pittsburgh’s defensive generosity. Another misplay by Dickerson in the third allowed two more soft runs. When Mikolas took the mound for the fifth inning ahead 3-0, it could be argued that he and Musgrove had pitched similar games, with the primary difference being that while Dexter Fowler raced into deep right-center fielder and – at full extension – stole a certain double and RBI from Starling Marte (in fact, turning a should-have-been double into a double play), Dickerson was dropping to fly balls hit right at him.
Regardless, the Cardinals are grateful, as they have struggled all year to push across that go ahead run. Officially, they were 0 for 3 last night while the score was tied. This month they are slashing .222/.260/.394 in 106 plate appearances in tied games. For the season, 949 Cardinals have come to the plate with the game tied. They are hitting .225/.304/.398. Ninety-two games into the season, and the Cardinal pitching staff has pitched with a lead only 35.8% of the time.
Hard to string a lot of wins together under those circumstances.
Compounding the frustration was the pitching staff’s inability to hold onto that lead that the offense worked so hard to get. Through the end of June, the pitching staff held a 4.23 ERA when they pitched with a lead. If that lead was one or two runs, that ERA was 4.25.
But, if July is a new page (and St Louis is 6-4 so far this month), the change is the pitching staff. Their 3.21 ERA ranks them sixth in the entire major leagues this month (according to baseball reference), and one of the most significant improvements has been pitching with a lead.
The month is still early, but to this point, Cardinal pitchers hold a 2.58 ERA and a .234/.308/.319 batting line against when they hold any kind of lead, and a 2.50 ERA with a .224/.303/.299 batting line against if that lead is one or two runs.
From the very beginning of the season, we knew that if this team was going to be special, they would be special first in the pitching staff. For the past five games – especially the last five starts – they have been very special. How long they can sustain that will determine how long they can hang in the race.
Miles had lost 7 of his previous 8 decisions. He spent the break watching film. He found a very tiny inconsistency. He was falling to the first base side too much (this according to the story filed at mlb.com). It sounds simple, but it caused his breaking balls to misbehave. MLB.com earlier filed a story on the recall of Chasen Shreve. The flaw he found was that his hands in the set position were slightly different.
Pitching – and hitting, too, for that matter – are such finely honed techniques that even slight variations can have catastrophic results.
Tyler O’Neill broke the game open late, his two two-run home runs turning the 3-0 lead into the 7-0 final (box score). Tyler had three hits for the game, and has hit safely in each of his last 6 starts – and it hasn’t been a quiet hitting streak. He is hitting .417 (10 for 24) in those games, with 2 doubles and 3 home runs. None of the home runs have been pulled. The two he hit last night went to straight center field. The home run on Saturday soared over the right field wall – and all of this happened in spacious Busch Stadium, were there are no cheapies.
Since Tyler has been recalled from AAA, he is hitting .325 (13 for 40) and slugging .625. He is 12 for 32 so far in the month of July (.375) with half of the hits going for extra-bases. He has driven in 9 runs in 9 July games, while slugging .750.
Kolten Wong was hit by a pitch, but went 0 for 3 otherwise. The game snapped Wong’s five-game hitting streak. Kolten hit .500 (8 for 16) during the streak.
Matt Wieters has certainly had some big moments as he has substituted for Yadier Molina. After his 0 for 4 last night, though, Matt has only 3 hits in his last 17 at bats (.176). In 8 games since Molina’s injury, Matt has hit 3 home runs and driven in 5 runs, but is hitting just .241 (7 for 29).
Manager Mike Shildt has moved Harrison Bader back into the lineup, but nothing yet has turned his bat around. Harrison was hitless in 3 at bats last night, and is 1 for 14 (.071) over his last 7 games. Bader has had 24 plate appearances this month. They have resulted in 3 singles, 1 double, 1 walk, 1 double play and 8 strikeouts. Harrison has no runs batted in this month, with a .174/.208/.217 batting line.
The seven run victory was the largest margin of victory – and, in fact, the first time the Cards had led by as many as seven runs – since they beat Kansas City 10-3 back on May 22.