Grand slam sends Monday off the rails for Cardinals after solid Flaherty outing

The D-backs beat the Cardinals, 6-3 at Busch Stadium.
Arizona Diamondbacks' Pavin Smith, left, rounds the bases after hitting a grand slam off St....
Arizona Diamondbacks' Pavin Smith, left, rounds the bases after hitting a grand slam off St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Andre Pallante, right, during the seventh inning of a baseball game Monday, April 17, 2023, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)(Jeff Roberson | AP)
Published: Apr. 17, 2023 at 11:01 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - Three pitches into Monday’s game against the D-backs at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals found themselves trailing as the trend of early trouble for St. Louis starters continued.

From there, Jack Flaherty was giving the Cardinals exactly the kind of outing they have been desperate to see from somebody, anybody in their rotation. Through six innings, Flaherty had allowed the hits he surrendered to the first two batters of the game⁠—and no more.

But before the top of the seventh had concluded, Flaherty allowed a homer, a double, and a free pass to earn his exit from the game sooner than anyone would have expected based on how he had been dealing.

Andre Pallante relieved him, walking the first man he faced and allowing a game-defining grand slam to the next. On a Pallante curveball that spun over the heart of the plate, Arizona’s Pavin Smith delivered the knockout blow for the Cardinals’ comeback hopes, dealing St. Louis a 6-3 loss.

Both Pallante and Oli Marmol were clear post-game about the reliever’s physical readiness to perform on back-to-back days despite dealing with some fatigue over the past week. Given the right-hander’s reverse splits over the course of his career, the Cardinals turned to Pallante in the seventh to navigate a lefty-heavy portion of the Arizona lineup.

Standout rookie Corbin Carroll entered the plate appearance without a walk all season, but Pallante couldn’t find the strike zone in that key spot against the left-handed swinging outfielder.

“When you come in, the first batter you get, you’re supposed to face him head-on,” Pallante said. “Walking him on four pitches is unacceptable.”

Things escalated during the next at-bat, as Smith uncorked on a 2-2 hanging curve that Pallante said he intended to spin below the strike zone⁠—but simply didn’t execute the way he wanted.

“I’d like that pitch for a chase, especially in that situation,” Pallante said. “Big count, I’ve got one ball to work with—trying to get that underneath the zone is part of it. Commanding your curveball is not just throwing it for strikes.”

With Flaherty’s pitch count sitting below 80 heading into the seventh, it seemed like St. Louis was finally going to get a deep, efficient outing from one of its starters. The timing was favorable, too, as the Cardinals used a bunt hit, a balk, and a Willson Contreras double to tie the game at 1-1 in the bottom of the sixth.

But in the seventh, Flaherty elevated a slider that Ketel Marte refused to miss, homering the opposite way to re-establish an Arizona lead. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. then beat Flaherty for a double just beyond the reach of Tyler O’Neill in left field. A walk to Christian Walker ended Flaherty’s day at 90 pitches⁠.

Based on his reaction upon leaving the mound mid-inning, it was evident that Flaherty didn’t want to.

“There’s never a point where you ever want to come out of a game,” Flaherty said. “If you do, you probably shouldn’t be playing this game.”

Although the bookends of his outing⁠—the two hits to lead off the game and trouble in the seventh⁠—weren’t what Flaherty wanted, he cruised for the majority of the start. Flaherty recorded 18 straight outs without allowing a hit, with a couple of walks as the only marks against him during that stretch.

“I was able to command,” Flaherty said. “I was able to get ahead and use the curveball a lot. They just kept taking it, so we just kept throwing it. I was able to execute, really, after the first two hitters of the game.”

If the game provided any positive signs beyond Flaherty’s success, it’s Willson Contreras’ continued emergence in recent days. He went 2-for-4 with an RBI at the plate while stealing a base and throwing out an opposing runner on a stolen base attempt.

“This is a guy that likes to perform,” Marmol said of Contreras, who has collected five hits in his last 13 at-bats. “He likes the crowd, he likes the energy. He likes the overall emotional side of the game. So being able to throw out a runner early against a team that does a really nice job on the bases was important for him. If you watch his at-bats, they’re just continuing to get better and better.”

Alec Burleson teed off for a late two-run home run to add some respectability to the final tally, but the Cardinals could not overcome the Smith grand slam Monday.