(BaseballStL) — An ugly night was very close to being a lot uglier for the St. Louis Cardinals.
In the top of the fifth, with the score 2-0 in favor of visiting Philadelphia, Philly third baseman Reid Brignac turned on a ball and sent it screaming down the line at first.
Matt Adams made an incredible diving stop and Shelby Miller, who got a late break, lurched toward the bag.
“I didn’t think the ball was going to be fair off the bat,” he said after the game. The race was on to first, and it was clear it would have a photo finish.
At the last second, Miller slid into the bag, catching the toss from Adams and apparently beating Brignac. The slide created a jumble of feet on first, and Brignac’s leg went in an unnatural direction.
“[Adams] made an amazing play and I got over there just in time,” Miller said at his locker. “I don’t think I would have beat him if I didn’t slide. I don’t think I caused it, I think he hit the bag wrong, but hopefully he’s ok and he’ll be back out there tomorrow.”
For his part, Miller suffered only scrapes on his arms and knees. In the moment it appeared that one or both players would be seriously injured. As Miller popped up from the play, Brignac clutched his left leg below the knee, writhing in pain. He would leave the game with a sprained ankle, and post game status updates from Philadelphia reporters were not encouraging.
When asked what he thought of Miller’s choice to slide into the bag, Mike Matheny was more concerned with what he saw as his starter failing to follow fundamentals.
“I’d rather see Shelby over there on time. That’s the issue. You can’t let a fantastic play by our first baseman surprise you,” he said flatly. “The defense is it’s a ball they don’t thing is going to be fielded, but that’s not a good enough defense.”
The Cardinals have had recent issues with pitchers covering the bag. In his last start Jaime Garcia allowed a baserunner because he was late covering first, which extended the inning and allowed the Nationals to score.
“We work so hard on it through the spring, I back off a little bit during the season because I’m trying not to beat these guys down, but we are seeing some lapses over there getting over to first base,” Matheny said.
Miller would go on to pitch into the seventh inning, ultimately taking his sixth loss. He struck out four while walking three and allowing four earned runs.
The first two came when the Phillies put together a double and back-to-back singles, then a sacrifice fly in the fourth. It was a rally that the Cardinals had failed to replicate, despite having a chance in the second inning.
"They were able to do something that we weren’t. They get a lead double, nice job getting him over, nice job getting him in. Get another guy to third, sac fly," Matheny said. "Those situational hitting opportunities can really turn the tide on a club."
The two Philadelphia runs that followed the gasp-inducing play in the fifth came when Ryan Howard took a ball to the exact left field corner for his 14th homer of the season.
On a pitch that was high and possibly out of the zone, Howard muscled the ball into the air. It looked like it would drift harmlessly foul, but it kept traveling out to the wall.
"No I didn’t think he got it at all. A lot of power in his swing," Miller said when asked if he thought the pitch was a threat to carry out. "That ball was at his numbers and he got to it. He’s a good hitter."
The Cardinals would not be able to mount a meaningful challenge, and fell to 39-34 having lost two straight.