By Mike Bailey
The Springfield Cardinals will be returning to the Texas League play-offs for the first time in four years, following a incredible late surge that saw them win their final five games on the road, clinching the title on the field of their nearest rival.
“Winning is hard enough,” said Springfield Cardinal manager Dann Bilardello. “But to (win the division) on the road was especially satisfying for us.”
The Springfield Cardinals clinched the first half North Division championship with a 5-2 win against the Tulsa Drillers before 4,152 fans at ONEOK Field, the final stop of an eight-game road trip. Tulsa lost its final four games, giving the Cards the title by 3½ games.
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (BaseballStL) -- That all-important road trip did not start well. The young Cards lost the first game and played poorly, but steadied as the trip wore on, winning games 2-1, 1-0 and 2-0 to put them in a strong position for the final series against Tulsa (Dodgers).
“Our starters pitched deep into games and our bullpen was just awesome,” Bilardello said. And the young Cards got a huge break. “Tulsa lost a 14-inning game the night before our first game (of the final series). They had a four-hour bus trip home and didn’t get to bed until 5:30 a.m. before our 1 p.m. game. We had a game and a half lead so all we had to do was win one game to take the division. I really liked our position.”
Paul DeJong got the scoring started with his 12th home run of the year. Carson Kelly (.292 with four homers) got a big hit and J.C. Sulbaran held Tulsa in check until the bullpen took over with two on, two outs in the fifth inning. “I know at this level a lot of people say that we are developing young pitchers who need to learn how to get out of jams. But the other side of the coin is that we also need to develop relievers who can learn how to get out of those jams. Ronnie Shaban (4-1, five saves) shut the door. I really didn’t want to go to the next day,” Bilardello said.
Also contributing down the stretch was the organization’s number 3 prospect, Luke Weaver (3-0 1.37), who re-started his season after suffering a broken wrist in spring training.
Weaver made a splash in his first start for Springfield, striking out a career-high 10 batters while scattering four hits over 7 1/3 innings en route to the Cardinals' 5-0 win over the Frisco RoughRiders. He didn't issue any walks.
The broken wrist delayed Weaver's appearance two months, the second consecutive year an injury delayed the start to the 22-year-old's season. Tightness in his right
arm forced him to miss the first six weeks of 2015. But St. Louis' first-round pick in the 2014 draft eventually went 8-5 with a 1.62 ERA in 19 starts for Class A Palm Beach in the Florida State League.
"It was really tough," he said in a published story of this year's injury. "Like anyone who gets hurt, I really couldn't believe it when it first happened. Plus, I wasn't expected to miss as long as I did. It just took a really long time to heal. But I was also able to keep with my program as much as possible. The medical staff and trainers helped me with certain workout routines. And I was still able to throw to stay in form, I just needed someone to catch for me.”
Bilardello and his staff of Jason Simontacchi and Ramon Ortiz will manage the North Division all-stars in the June 28 all-star game held at Hammon Field in Springfield, Mo.