You can imagine what Yadier Molina might have been thinking as he launched his sixth home run of the season in the seventh inning Saturday.
‘Do I have to do everything around here?’
Molina’s blast broke a tied score that never should have existed. The Cardinals jumped out to a 3-0 lead on the Reds behind home runs from Paul DeJong and Dexter Fowler-on his bobblehead day, no less. Things appeared to be in hand as Carlos Martinez extended his NL-leading active scoreless streak to 18 innings with a dominant six frames. He was pulled for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the 6th, which tasked the bullpen with three innings to nurse a three-run lead to victory, what should have been a manageable ask for a bullpen with as many talented pieces as St. Louis has.
After Luke Gregerson replaced Martinez to begin the seventh, Mike Matheny turned to Tyler Lyons with two outs and a string of lefties set to bat for Cincinnati. Lyons proceeded to allow each of the four men he faced to reach base, leaving a 3-3 score upon his departure. Though the match ups favored Lyons due to his historical success against lefties, the fact that pitched 1.1 innings the night before-combined with his evident ineffectiveness Saturday-should have triggered another pitching change before the lead was lost.
Matheny recognized that on this occasion, he tried to squeeze too much of of the lone lefty in the St. Louis bullpen.
“We’ve got three lefties in the next four hitters. It’s what we’ve been doing,” Matheny began in describing his process for his decisions in that inning. “I pushed Tyler pretty hard yesterday with 17 pitches, and that hurt us today. That’s a call I made early on going into that inning. Wanted to give Gregerson the righties and then give it over to Tyler. Hope to see one pitch, a pop up, and then everybody hi-fiving then give the ball over to the kid. But I pushed Tyler too far, and that hurt us.”
Matheny acknowledged that the sequence caused the momentum to shift from the Cardinals to the Reds, a rare occurrence in the games between these two teams this season. He also marveled at his catcher’s ability to take that momentum back, as Molina did with his immediate answer in the bottom half of the seventh inning.
While those wild circumstances sent the stadium through a swirling mix of emotions, it all seemed pretty ho-hum to the veteran backstop.
“That’s part of the game,” Molina said. “Sooner or later it’s going to happen that momentum is going to go over there. It could be the difference, it could be impossible to get it back. But it was a great at-bat by me and a team effort to win.”
Inherent in the team’s ability to hang on for that win was the exceptional effort of Jordan Hicks. Though he didn’t get the chance to prevent the bullpen’s initial collapse in the seventh, Hicks got the last out in that inning-with the Reds still threatening-before traversing the final two frames amid myriad dangers in the ninth.
Hicks hit a batter and walked two more to load the bases with one out before using his dastardly combo of velocity and movement to induce 6-4-3 double play to escape the jam and cement his first career MLB victory.
“He’s got special stuff and I think he’s got the kind of makeup that you can put him out there in any situation, I think he proved today,” Matheny said. “He’s just impressive, he was impressive out there.
“He trusts himself, he trusts his stuff, he doesn’t out-think himself. And he uses the strike zone… The more opportunities we get to watch him, the more we like him.”
The opportunity presented to Hicks Saturday led him to his first career major league win. He still hasn’t allowed an earned run in the big leagues. He’s plastered all over the leaderboard for fastest pitches thrown in MLB this season, prompting some to wonder whether Statcast might need to replace their (Aroldis) Chapman filter with a Hicks filter.
For all the successes and praise, none of it seems to phase the 21-year-old rookie.
“I feel like when I’m out there, I can’t be scared, because then bad things happen,” Hicks said. “Just go out there with full confidence and do what you know how to do, what you’ve been doing your whole life.”
Hicks mirrored Molina's veteran-like presence in keeping a level demeanor through some intense moments Saturday; his ability to do so helped spare the Cardinals a potentially regrettable loss, and thanks to a loss by the Pirates, also propelled St. Louis to the top of the NL Central standings.