As soon as ball connected with bat, Luke Weaver’s body language told the story: that thing was heading far, far away from home plate.
Weaver had no sooner turned to watch it go than he slumped to the ground in agony, full knowing the lead was gone, his outing sunk.
The three-run home run off the bat of Yoenis Cespedes in the fifth inning Tuesday had Big Mac Land distance and then some. Had Cespedes hit it six or so feet to the left, his homer would have landed closer to the back of that third deck than the front of it. As it was, the Mets’ longest home run of the Statcast era (463 feet) ducked out of the camera’s view, disappearing into the night along with the Cardinals 4-1 lead.
St. Louis would battle back with a run in the bottom of the fifth to reclaim that lead before ultimately falling 6-5 in extra innings to snap a three-game winning streak. For Weaver, the Cespedes home run cemented a second consecutive rough outing after three strong ones to begin the season. Weaver gave up four earned runs and a career-high six walks. He’s typically much more efficient, having walked only six batters total across his first four starts of the season.
“I can’t remember the last time I had a game like that where the walks really rang up like that,” Weaver said.
Entering the fifth, Weaver was sailing along. But after he retired the first two batters he faced that inning, his command completely evaporated. Weaver threw eight consecutive pitches outside the strike zone to walk Wilmer Flores and Michael Conforto. With New York’s most dangerous hitter due up as the tying run, Mike Matheny left Weaver out there to try and regain his composure.
It often seems that if the Cardinals have a lead and the starting pitcher is one out away from completing the fifth inning, that pitcher will remain in the game until some element of that scenario no longer applies. An eternal optimist, Matheny is never not expecting his guy to deliver the one pitch that allows him to escape the jam in that situation.
Though Matheny felt Weaver had to battle early in the game, he didn’t feel the right-hander had been taxed to an extent that he couldn’t navigate through that last out in the fifth.
“He was still pretty efficient in how he got through the previous ten batters,” Matheny said. “Everything was pointing in a good direction for him to be able to get through that.”
Of course, Weaver didn’t get through it. With a 3-1 count, he tried going back to the only pitch he threw for a strike in his previous 12 deliveries: his changeup.
It ended up as his biggest mistake of the night.
“I threw a really good one earlier in the count,” Weaver said. “That one just, I don’t know if I overthrew it a little bit, it just kinda came out a little up out of the hand and didn’t have enough break down. It was a strike, but it was hung up too well and he sat back well on it.”
With early success to start the season, and in the wake of a strong showing late in 2017, Weaver elicited opinions from some that he might already be the No. 2 starter for the Cardinals at age 24. His last couple outings serve as a reminder of the growing pains that are natural for a pitcher of his relative inexperience. Over those two starts, his ERA has ballooned from 2.08 to 4.85.
Though Weaver would like to get back on track quickly, he understands that the game isn’t always going to be easy, and there there are always lessons to be learned from it.
“It shows how easy you can lose it,” Weaver said. “You ride the momentum, you have games where you battle, you have games where it’s feeling really good. Today was just one of those days where you have no answers for it.”