The ball left Eduardo Escobar’s bat at 98.7 miles per hour. It would be the third hardest hit ball by the Arizona Diamondbacks on the evening, and it would provide the evening’s first turning point.
Everything is so magnified in a one-run game. In this one, Cardinal starter Carlos Martinez walked the first batter of the game – a bad omen. Carlos had walked 7 in his previous start, and it was clear that after several shaky appearances, he was fighting here to hold on to his rotation spot.
Escobar came to the plate after Pavin Smith (Arizona’s second batter) had popped out. He had fallen behind in the count, 1-2, when he turned on Carlos’ change-up and drilled it toward right field – but right at second baseman Edmundo Sosa, who not only gloved the ball for the second out, but quickly tossed the ball to first baseman Paul Goldschmidt when he noticed that Josh Rojas (the runner at first) had strayed too far from the base. Instead of another complicated inning for Martinez, the first was suddenly over after just 12 pitches.
The Diamondbacks would put a runner in scoring position in three of the first five innings of the game, but would fail to score any of them. After going 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position on Monday, they were just 2-for-10 on Tuesday, with the second of those hits providing another flashpoint for the game.
Eighth inning, Cards up 3-2. Leading off for the D-Backs, David Peralta reaches when his grounder to second kicks out of Sosa’s glove. He is replaced by pinch-runner Tim Locastro. There is still no one out as Cardinal pitcher Alex Reyes promptly balks Locastro to second. Then Josh VanMeter rolls a little grounder toward the shortstop position.
But there is no one there. Everyone except third baseman Nolan Arenado had shifted to the right side of the infield, and Arenado was near the left field line leaving a yawning void where the shortstop would normally play. But as the ball trickled into left field, for some reason Locastro didn’t score. He advanced to third, but (with no one out) he proceeded no further.
These are the things that happen to you when your team is 2-19 in one-run games – and, incredibly, that is Arizona’s record in these contests.
The Cardinals have worn their share of frustration as well this season, but have held their own in one-run games. Their problems have been staying close enough in games to pull off one-run victories. They are now 10-8 on the season in these contests.
And they have now won consecutive games for the first time since they swept Miami from June 14-16, twelve games ago.
Is this the start of something? Time will tell. After Arizona and Colorado (St Louis’ next opponent) they will play their next 13 games against the Giants and the Cubs. Cincinnati and Cleveland line up after them. By this time next month, we should have a better idea of who these Cardinals are.
Speaking of magnified moments, Arenado provided two of them. In the bottom of the fifth inning, his two-run home run off the left field foul pole broke the scoreless tie. In the top of the sixth, he made a key defensive play. Josh Rojas began the inning squibbing a grounder up the middle that neither Sosa nor Paul DeJong at shortstop could come up with. Pavin Smith then threatened to beat the shift with a bounding grounder of his own that was headed for the left field line. Arenado was able to chase the ball down from behind, and, while falling toward the foul line, managed to deliver a strong and accurate throw to nip the runner at first. Escobar then dropped a soft fly ball into short right to deliver the runner (Rojas had advanced to second on the previous grounder). It was the only run scored off of Martinez. The next batter (Peralta) drove a flyball deep enough into center that it would have driven in the tying run – if Nolan hadn’t made that play on Smith.
So, on the evening, Arenado was a plus-3 in a game his team won by only one run. This was not a singular occurrence. Nolan is far and away the team’s most productive bat in one-run games. Arenado is now hitting .328 this year in one-run games (20 for 61) with half of those hits for extra bases (6 doubles, 4 home runs). He has 12 runs batted in and a .623 slugging percentage in one-run games this season.
Paul continues to search for his swing. Hitless in 3 at bats last night, DeJong is battling through a month that has seen him hit .148 (8 of 54).
St Louis has now scored the first run in four of the last five games.
With two wins against Arizona, the Cards now have as many wins in two games of this series as they managed in their three previous series combined.
Arenado’s home run proved to be the game-winning RBI. With 9 on the season, Nolan has tied Yadier Molina for the team lead. Paul Goldschmidt is just behind with 8.
My Designated Hitter Rant
Every year now, baseball purists in the National League are continuously threatened with the permanent infliction of the designated hitter. Last year, I responded with an extensive rant against the DH. While trying to update that document, I managed to delete it. So, I have re-written it here. The hope is to set forth a reasonable argument for keeping the DH far, far away from National League parks. I encourage you to read it and pass it along to other like-minded fans of this great old game.