ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- Laboring under a brutal July sun, the Cardinals and Marlins played tug of war with the lead Sunday before the Miami eventually took the win- and the series- 6-3.
Starter Michael Wacha cleared just four innings, beat down by relentless at bats and a heat index well north of 100 degrees.
“I felt like they battled really well,” he said of the Marlins. “Guys were fouling off tough pitches and extending at bats. It’s tough having those long innings whenever you’re trying to get the team back in the dugout as fast as you can.”
Miami managed several at bats of seven pitches or more and by the fourth inning had pushed Wacha’s pitch count to 90.
The big righty surrendered a run on a two-out bunt that frame, but made it back into the dugout with a 1-1 tie. With five innings left, manager Mike Matheny decided to try and wring three more outs out of his starter in hopes of protecting a laboring bullpen.
“You could see he was getting near the end,” Matheny said. “We had a lot of game left, a lot of pitching left that had to happen and we tried to get him through it. He came out in the fifth and things went bad in a hurry.”
A leadoff walk and a ground rule double set the table for Christian Yelich, and the Miami left fielder feasted, driving in two runs on a single and pushing Wacha from the game.
The Cardinals would manage to tie the game 3-3 before Jonathan Broxton and Kevin Siegrist surrendered a trio of runs, but the St. Louis offense struggled mightily to do it.
The Birds managed just four hits on the day, three by Matt Holliday. The veteran outfielder, playing first base Sunday, was moved down a spot in the order, batting cleanup for the first time since 2013.
Matheny, who had previously cemented Holliday as his permanent three hitter, explained Sunday the offense will continue to evolve under his watch this season. As the team looks for consistency, anything that has merit on paper seems to be in play.
“I don’t make a big deal of it because I don’t want the guys to make a big deal of it. We are going to put guys in different spots in the lineup. There’s no ownership on spots. We’re trying to figure out what looks good, where each guy fits, and we’re going to have to be flexible to see how we need to adjust as we go,” he said, clarifying the move to slide Holliday down was not a “shakeup.”
While Holliday thrived against lefty starter Adam Conley, the rest of the offense floundered. One cause for their struggles could have been a generous strike zone from Marvin Hudson behind the plate. Several players seemed frustrated, and leadoff man Tommy Pham expressed his displeasure with the zone after the game.
“When you have Conley throwing that slider in like that, it makes the inside pitch, the inside part of the plate, better for him. Because [the umpire] is giving him off (the plate and) in,” he said. “It’s tough. You see pitches coming in and you recognize them as strikes or balls. In this case, you recognize them as a ball and he’s calling them strikes.”
Conley posted nine strikeouts and Miami picked up 15 total, effectively neutralizing the Cardinal attack.
The result was a series win for the Marlins and pushed the Cards two games out of the Wild Card race. It’s a frustrating start to the second half for team desperately looking to catch fire, especially with 10 games against Wild Card opponents in the schedule in the next two weeks.
“You can’t wait for it to happen, you have to make it happen. Whatever the case may be. You have to find a way,” Pham said. “Where there’s a will there's a way, and there’s definitely a will, so we have to make something happen.”
St. Louis hosts San Diego for four games to begin the week, then the Dodgers over the weekend before heading to New York to face the Mets.