ST. LOUIS — Now that the analysis and reflection is wrapped up, it’s time for a little fun. Over the course of 162 games, the moments of a a baseball season tend to blur together. As much as each game matters, it can sometimes be hard to differentiate between plays from May and those from August. With some time off to look back, I’ve compiled part one my list of the things I couldn’t forget from 2014.
Best play of 2014
Winner: Peter Bourjos’ catch in Milwaukee.
Bourjos is universally regarded as a top-tier outfielder. He has blinding speed, a strong arm and the innate ability to use both in such a way that no fly ball can find a place to land.
No purer expression of his talent exists than his game-saving catch in Milwaukee on September 5. The Cardinals entered the four game series against the Brewers up three games in the NL Central. Michael Wacha was making his first start after going to the DL in mid-June, and had finished three innings allowing one run. Several tremendous plays had kept the charging Brewers from overtaking the Cardinals, but Pat Neshek served a meatball up to Logan Schafer with two on and the center fielder crushed it.
It looked like the St. Louis’ luck had run out, and another heartbreaking game was going to slip away. Bourjos broke back, sprinting like an action hero outrunning an explosion. The longer the ball hung, the wider my mouth got. There was simply no way. It was such a given that the ball would land safely that neither Milwaukee runner bothered to tag. Even Hector Gomez, who was on second, figured it wasn’t worth waiting and headed toward third.
But Bourjos made it, crashing into the wall in dead center as he pulled in Schafer’s shot. He turned and fired a ball back to the infield, keeping everyone where they were. It deflated the Brewers, who at that point had to feel fated to lose. The Cardinals went on to win three of four and the Brewers never got closer than three games back the rest of the season.
Runner up: Triple play in Toronto.
Best pitching performance of 2014
Winner: Adam Wainwright vs. Arizona on May 20
Wainwright turning in a complete game shutout isn’t all that remarkable. He does it a lot. But his May 20 evisceration of the Diamondbacks elevated pitching domination to a form of high art.
He struck out nine, walked none and allowed only one hit. It was like watching Kasparov play nine amateurs in Central Park. Wainwright moved in, out, up, down, fast, slow and everywhere in-between. Not only did he know where each hitter’s weaknesses were, he knew the next three things they would try to do to fix it. He’s not a power pitcher, which makes the whole thing even more impressive. The Diamondbacks were playing tennis against a wall. Not only was Wainwright everywhere, he was unrelenting.
Runner up: Lance Lynn vs. the Yankees on May 27.
His first ever complete game, and it was a shutout. He only struck out two, but conserved energy enough to go the distance on 126 pitches. In the ninth, he asked for nine tosses to finish the game. He did it in 10.
Most memorable at bat of 2014
Winner: Mark Ellis vs. Aroldis Chapman on Sept. 9
This is one might seem strange since it concluded with a game-ending strikeout. I can’t forget it because of not only how impossible Ellis’ assignment was, but how close he came to succeeding.
The Cards were down 9-4 to the Reds and managed to plate a runner in the ninth. They had men on first and third, and Ellis was tapped to pinch hit. The 37-year-old had one at bat since August 14, and Aroldis Chapman throws so hard the ball is like a quark: science says it exists but no one can see it.
Instead of (justifiably) Murtaugh-ing, Ellis stood in for an 11-pitch at bat. He got down 1-2, then proceeded to foul off pitches of 101, 100, 101, 88, and 99 miles per hour while taking two pitches at 102 and 89. That’s insane. Sure he struck out, but that battle was absolutely captivating.
Runner up: Matt Holliday vs. Pedro Baez on October 3.
It was the middle of an improbable NLDS comeback and the Cards had a one-run lead with two on. Holliday was going to homer. It just felt sure. He took the first pitch out, removing all mystery or drama as to when. I appreciate that.
Best quote of 2014
Winner: “I don’t think I touched the ground the whole way around the bases.” - Matt Adams.
Clayton Kershaw had Matt Adams down 0-1 in Game 4 of the NLDS with two men on and a two-run lead. Two things were true: Kershaw does not give up homers to lefties on the curveball, and Matt Adams does not hit lefties well. None if mattered as the big first baseman hammered a Kershaw curve out of the park for a 3-2 lead and knocked the Cy Young winner out.
As the ball cleared the wall Adams leapt into the air, then trotted beaming around the bases. Afterward in the clubhouse, the normally stoic Adams was grinning ear to ear. He delivered that line dripping with champagne and completely unencumbered with concern for appearance.
For a Cardinal team that prides itself on a workman-like attitude toward the game, this was a moment of pure levity from perhaps the most unlikely source. It was fun. Baseball can be fun.
Runner up: “Everything is happy.” - Oscar Taveras.
Nothing I could write here would sum it up better than this piece from Joe Trezza.