Rare Helsley mistake costs Cardinals a sweep, Pallante a win in his best big-league start to date

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Andre Pallante throws during the first inning of a...
St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Andre Pallante throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds Friday, June 10, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)(Jeff Roberson | AP)
Published: Jun. 30, 2022 at 12:27 AM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - It was bound to happen eventually.

Ryan Helsley had been absolute nails all season out of the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen, holding down a microscopic ERA of 0.30 when he trotted out to the mound to close out Wednesday’s game against the Miami Marlins.

Though he left the game with that ERA still sitting below 1.00 on the campaign, he also did so without the save secured. Marlins slugger Avisail Garcia parked a 7-iron onto Freese’s Lawn in straightaway center to give Miami a 4-3 lead in the top of the ninth.

“Ball down the middle gets hit a long way,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “He was sitting fastball. Guessed right.”

Former Cardinal Sandy Alcantara started the game for the Marlins and served as his own closing pitcher following the Garcia blast, going back out for the ninth despite a pitch count north of 100. In his 10th consecutive start of seven innings or more, Alcantara finished off the Cardinals in the bottom of the ninth, concluding his day with 117 pitches and a complete-game victory over his former team.

Garcia’s two-run homer bookended a sequence that saw Helsley notch two strikeouts following a lead-off walk to Garrett Cooper. Home plate umpire Chad Fairchild refused to raise his right arm on a full-count pitch that appeared to have dotted the outside corner, though some excessive movement of catcher Andrew Knizner’s mitt may have hindered the Cardinals’ closer landing that punch-out call.

The late-game mishap meant that the best start of Andre Pallante’s fledgling MLB career was for naught. Pallante was brilliant for seven innings, matching and even exceeding Alcantara during that span. He allowed just two runs on five hits while walking only one batter.

Pallante finished the game with just two strikeouts, but that’s not the statistic that’s on his mind when he takes to the mound these days. In his longest outing as a big-leaguer Wednesday, Pallante was focused on a workhorse mentality that he says he learned from fellow Cardinals rotation-mate Dakota Hudson last season in Double-A.

“When Hudson rehabbed with us in Springfield last year,” Pallante began. “His goal was always, ‘I’m trying to get as deep into the game every time I go out there and pitch.’ I’ve always been kinda like, my job is to put up zeros however you want me to do it. And I never really got deep into games.

“Having him talk to me and reshape my mentality helped me find the zone more and trust myself. It helped me be the best me I can be… That’s probably one of the biggest things I’ve learned, and I’m applying now.”

Marmol has praised Pallante’s unwavering nature despite the whirlwind changes in his professional stature over the last few months. Asked Wednesday about a rookie like Pallante staying within himself to go toe-to-toe with one of the top pitchers in the National League, Marmol replied, “I don’t think we have a guy that cares who’s on the other side, to be honest with you.”

What has impressed Marmol more than anything about the 23-year-old who has transitioned from minor-leaguer to big-league reliever to genuinely trusted reliever to spot starter to a bona fide rotation spot in such a short span of time has been the level of preparation he brings to the table ahead of each outing.

“This is a kid that prepares as if he’s been in the league for several years,” Marmol said. “When we talk about building off of each start, that’s probably what’s going to allow him to have success upon success. He truly has a game plan for the opposition. He knows how to use his stuff, he knows what he needs to go to in order to have success, but he also has a really good idea of what the other guys can and can’t do.”

Pallante’s humility was at play when discussing the same topic after Wednesday’s loss, as he acknowledged his efforts diving into big-league scouting reports are still a work-in-progress. It’s an element of his game that Cardinals pitching coach Mike Maddux recently challenged him to prioritize more heavily, telling the rookie, “you’re not going to pitch in this game very long if you don’t do it.”

Pallante appears to be a quick study and credits Andrew Knizner’s extensive knowledge of the scouting reports as being an invaluable lifeline for him on the mound. He was in command of what he was doing Wednesday⁠—even if gaudy swing-and-miss numbers weren’t part of the equation.

“I’m not trying to get a swing-and-miss, 0-0,” Pallante declared. “I’m trying to get a groundout, 0-0.”

His mindset with each delivery: “How do I get an out on this pitch?”

The lesson in efficiency is one he learned from Hudson⁠—and one Hudson, ironically enough, is presently working to improve upon. It’s also a lesson that could be the key to Pallante holding onto a rotation spot even after previous rotation mainstays like Steven Matz and Jordan Hicks return to the roster.

“When you look at it, you’re debating, once we get healthy, does he go back to the ‘pen and bridge you to your back-end? Do you keep him in the rotation?” Marmol explained. “He continues to throw well and show that he’s more than capable of being in that starting rotation and being a legit dude for us.”