When the Cardinals were bumped out of their final National League wild card hope at September’s end, I observed several things. Including the trio of Stephen Piscotty, Randall Grichuk, and 2016 rookie star Aledmys Diaz dropping off the OPS+ table to a collective 87 between them. The Cardinals, I noted, were going to have to figure out how to re-adjust the trio.
You could say it happened in almost a blink Thursday night. Cardinals rookie Paul DeJong, the club’s home run leader with 24 despite his late May call-up, drove one that looked like its final resting place would be the other side of the center field fence in the bottom of the eleventh, with his club down, 2-1. Cubs centerfielder Leonys Martin thought it looked like something else and made it happen, timing a perfect leap and grabbing the ball before it crossed the fence.
No, we’re not going to blame Yadier Molina’s glove turning into a jack-in-the-box near the plate as Jackie Bradley, Jr. scrambled back to touch it after sliding past it. But the Cardinals have gone 6-8 since Molina’s Muff, and in that span they’ve played only one serious or semi-serious contender while losing enough close ones to teams who weren’t supposed to be equal to them.
And the natives are getting restless.
One of the rarest things in baseball, for a decade and a half, almost, is sucking to be Yadier Molina. You can count on half a hand how often that’s happened. At least until this week in Boston.
Tuesday night—Molina kills a fourth-inning no-out rally by grounding into a 5-4-3 triple play, an inning before the Red Sox drop an eight-spot on the Cardinals. Molina probably wanted to find the nearest mouse hole to hide in after the 10-4 shellacking.
Once upon a time, Jose Alberto Pujols Alcantara became baseball’s first player to join the 500 home run club by hitting numbers 499 and 500 on the same night. Saturday night, he became the only one to join the 600-home run club with a grand slam at the expense of a former teammate.
“I’m not the only one [to surrender a homer to Pujols], you know,” Ervin Santana kidded after the game. “I’m No. 9 right now on the 600 club. He’s very nice and very humble. He always worked hard, and you can tell. He’s ‘The Machine’.”
It looked innocent as the Bad News Bears Thursday afternoon. Brett Cecil, the Cardinals relief pitcher, threw a fastball to Cubs pinch hitter Matt Szczur opening the top of the seventh that hit the dirt and disappeared, allowing Szczur to reach first despite the stickout–er, strikeout.
Except that the ball didn’t disappear. It bounced into catcher Yadier Molina’s chest protector. And stayed there. Cecil had to shout, “Chest! Chest!” before Molina realised where the ball was. And the amusing mishap, over which even the Cubs had to laugh, proved to be the moment that turned toward the Cubs a game the Cardinals led 4-2 at the time.
Vin Scully ended his broadcasting career in the home ballpark of the Dodgers’ age-old rivals, receiving an affectionate pre-game visit from Willie Mays, awash in a sea of placards (THANK YOU VIN) and maybe the only known standing ovation ever afforded a Dodger in San Francisco. His final words were as gracious as you might have expected from this excessively modest man who always seemed to believe his gift from God was merely something on loan.
Already thought to be on the hot seat for much of the year, with his Reds clearly in rebuilding mode and performing a little worse than expected, manager Bryan Price may not have thrown the switch on his own execution Thursday night. But being asleep at the switch against a team looking for every break it can get clawing for a second National League wild card spot can turn up the seat’s heat even further.
How Tuesday ended with one National League club all but eliminated from the postseason, another contender setting some home run records, a third contender showing a couple of vulnerabilities that might prove fateful come postseason time, and a couple of crazy (and heretofore unlikely) American League wild card sharps getting a little crazier . . .
If you’ll pardon the expression, Joe Garagiola—who died at 90 Wednesday—made it necessary for the Yankees to sign Yogi Berra. And, in turn, the U.S. Senate made it necessary for Garagiola to transition from a journeyman catcher to a broadcaster. Which story would you like to read first?