ST. LOUIS -- For more than two hours Saturday, the Cardinals looked completely unbothered by the AL’s best team. Carlos Martinez rolled for seven shutout innings, the offense put up three runs and all that was left was six measly outs. Hand it off to the bullpen, call it a day.
“Over the course of the season, you go back and remember games you felt you should have put away, and this is one,” Mike Matheny said after the game, one the Cardinals lost 4-3. “It stings right now, that’s for sure,.”
Seung Hwan Oh and Trevor Rosenthal both ended up tagged for two runs, and the 44,000-person crowd at Busch watched in stunned disbelief as the victory evaporated into the 90-degree afternoon air.
Oh struck out the first two hitters in the eighth, but gave up back-to-back hits, putting runners at second and third with two outs.
Then, with Nomar Mazara at the plate, something strange happened. Behind 2-0, Oh threw a slider to the lefty. Mazara swung and whiffed, but the ball skipped past Yadier Molina and both runners advanced.
It was scored a passed ball, something observers of St. Louis rarely see, and the Rangers had their first run. But replay showed the pitch actually hit Mazara in the leg.
“I knew it was a hit batsman but I didn’t necessarily want to give them the extra base and put the tying run on first base,” Matheny said afterward.
The ump had missed it. Matheny could challenge and the play would be reviewable, but the Cardinal manager opted not to.
Unfortunately, he had missed something too.
“That ball, there’s a swing on that. I just saw the ball go past,” he said. “That’s a missed call and that’s on me. That put everybody in a bad spot.”
Had the Cardinals challenged, the play would have been ruled a dead ball strike. No runners advance and no extra runners end up on base.
Instead, the Rangers took the run. They picked up another after Mazara reached on an error and a single scored Ian Desmond.
With a one-run lead carried into the ninth, Matheny went to mercurial closer Trevor Rosenthal to preserve the advantage.
Things started poorly.
A grounder to Matt Adams from Rougned Odor looked like a quick first out, but Rosenthal didn’t make it to first base on time.
“It was a bang-bang play – a fast runner. I should've broken over a hair earlier and we would've had him, no problem,” the pitcher said. “I thought Adams would have a chance to field it cleanly. Once I saw he was playing deeper than I initially thought, that's when I went over.” Odor won the race and a looped single into left followed.
Then, Rosenthal ran a fastball inside to Robinson Chirinos and hit him to load the bases.
Three men on, no outs, the lead now 90 feet away from disappearing entirely.
Matheny appeared from the dugout and pointed to the bullpen.
“It’s always a hard call to go get your closer,” he said, adding Rosenthal was throwing better than it may appear in the box score. “You look at what happened there. Obviously a self-induced issue with not covering first on the first one. Just not an excuse, he knows that. Then you have a jam shot and he just misses a spot because he’s trying to pitch inside. He wasn’t making as bad of pitches as the mess he was in.”
Rosenthal agreed with the assessment, saying he draws a clear distinction between outings like Saturday and the previous command issues that plagued him.
“This is different than walking three in a row,” he said. “I've made some adjustments and I feel today I came out and had my best stuff. I was competing. I was comfortable. I felt like I'm making the turn.”
But the previous issues meant Matheny had Kevin Siegrist on emergency standby. With the bases loaded he went to the lefty, who got one out before a walk and a sac fly gave the Rangers the tying and go-ahead runs.
Rosenthal officially didn’t throw an inning, but he took both runs on his now-4.91 ERA.
Despite the recent struggles, he says job security isn’t on his mind.
“Those types of things aren't up to me,” he said, so he doesn’t worry about them.
For his part, Matheny doesn’t sound like a manager mulling a change at closer. He has continued to express unwavering faith in Rosenthal, saying the 26-year-old’s confidence is, “lower than it ought to be.”
“We put him in those situations because he’s one of the best in the game at being able to get it done. We gotta get him right, that’s all there is to it,” he said.
It is Rosenthal’s second blown save on the year (he has 12 successful conversions), but Cardinals have blown three of their last four save opportunities. It’s the first time they’ve lost all season when leading after eight innings.