ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- It may be the second half, but the 2016 storyline picked up right where it left off.
Friday night saw another admirable effort from a starter, a handful of costly defensive misplays, a bullpen meltdown and valiant charge from the offense that fell short.
Game stories this season are like baseball Mad Libs. Just swap out the opposing team name and reuse the narrative.
“This hurts. It was just one of those days. I know every decision I went to didn’t seem to work,” Mike Matheny said.
Early on, his decisions looked good. Tommy Pham got a start in left field and went nuts on offense, belting two homers and driving in four runs. His first one put the Cardinals up 4-1, and for a moment it looked like the Cardinals would roll.
But then the decisions started to turn on Matheny.
With two men on and a 4-2 lead in the seventh, he went to Trevor Rosenthal out of the bullpen. The struggling former closer has been searching for the form that earned him the single season franchise saves record a year ago and the Cardinals have been seeking opportunities to let him work through his trouble.
It wasn’t the worst decision to deploy him in the seventh. After all, Rosenthal is still on the roster, and risk-free situations aren’t easy to come by. Sooner or later his progress needed to be tested to know where he was.
It turned out he wasn’t ready.
Rosenthal struck out the first batter he faced, but walked the next man to load the bases and then hit Giancarlo Stanton to bring in a run.
Boos started pouring out from the stands, and when a ground ball single scored two more to surrender the lead, the fans unloaded. Rosenthal was booed on his walk from the mound to the dugout in an uncharacteristic display of vitriol. It seems the Best Fans In Baseball have reached the end of their patience.
“It does hurt, but I think he gets it. It’s never easy for a guy to go through that or to watch someone one your team go through that. He’s been taking good steps forward, today just wasn’t one of them,” Matheny said. “Unfortunately it’s happened here at home a few times and the fans are going to respond how they’re going to respond. That’s something he’s going to have to work his way through.”
Pham’s second homer in the bottom half of the seventh tied the game, and Grichuk followed after with a go-head shot. Despite Rosenthal’s blunderous appearance, St. Louis still seemed to have control.
But defensive misplays continued to plague the Birds, as they had all game.
Aledmys Diaz short-hopped a throw on a double play in the fourth inning that eventually resulted in a run. In the eighth, Kevin Siegrist threw a ball away on a pickoff attempt that moved Ichiro Suzuki into scoring position, and when Stephen Piscotty mishandled a single to right field, he scored to tie the game.
In the top of the ninth, Grichuk badly misread a liner to center and ended up chasing it to the wall. It was scored a double because he never touched it, but his misplay put the go-ahead run on second base. A single to left eventually gave the Marlins the lead, and the stunned Cardinals went down in the ninth for a 7-6 loss.
“I don’t know how to describe it. We felt like we had the game the whole time,” Pham said. “It’s tough to lose like this.”
It’s as frustrating as it is familiar. They hit four home runs. They had four fielding mistakes that cost runs. Their bullpen allowed five runs to score (two of Rosenthal’s runs were actually hung on Jaime Garcia).
Friday was the 29th time this season a St. Louis reliever has come in with at least two men on and the 11th time at least two have scored.
Friday night, the teamed snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
As for Rosenthal, it’s becoming increasingly clear he may need work that doesn’t carry major league consequences.
Last year he had 25 walks and one hit batter in 68.2 innings. In 30.1 innings this season, he already has 24 walks and three hit batters. It’s apparent his control has abandoned him and regular outings in Memphis could be the only remaining course of action.
The Cardinals simply can’t afford to let three-run leads evaporate. They can’t waste four-homer nights, especially when they’re fueled by a role player.
12 of their next 16 games are against NL Wild Card foes. They have reached a point where every loss could be the one that sends them home in September. Fans and players were hoping the team could turn a corner coming out of the break. Friday, they turned the wrong direction.