(KMOV.com) — Tuesday night devolved for the St. Louis Cardinals into the last thing one might expect of a Jack Flaherty start.
A blowout loss to forget.
And we're not talking about your run-of-the-mill blowout loss. This was flat out, wave-the-white-flag caliber brutality, as the Milwaukee Brewers defeated the Cardinals 18-3 at Miller Park.
Even early on in his outing, Flaherty didn't seem like himself, surrendering back-to-back home runs to Christian Yelich and Ryan Braun in the first inning. Ultimately, Flaherty permitted a career-worst nine runs in just three-plus innings of work, a wildly uncharacteristic appearance for the Cardinals ace pitcher.
"Just kind of the snowball effect," Flaherty said. "At some point, you've got to stop the bleeding. I wasn't able to do that."
The most noteworthy events from Tuesday's game occurred long after the outcome had already been decided—though it was still only the fifth inning when it all went down. With the Brewers leading 12-2 and threatening for additional damage with the bases loaded, Ryan Braun's swing at a 2-2 pitch struck the baseball and Molina's wrist nearly simultaneously, as Yadi's mitt collided with Braun's lumber on the hack. Molina was immediately called for catcher's interference with Braun being awarded first base, but the larger concern was Molina's health.
The St. Louis backstop was in visible pain, walking away from behind the plate and crouching down as he checked out his wrist. Before a determination on Molina's status could be made, things got even more interesting down on the field.
Both benches cleared as a non-socially distant gathering between both teams took place in foul territory in front of the Brewers dugout on the first-base side of the field. As Molina attempted to shake off his ailing wrist, he and Cardinals manager Mike Shildt engaged in responding to some chirping from the Milwaukee dugout. Former Cardinal Jedd Gyorko looked to have been the first Brewer to emerge from the dugout, though his actions appeared to have been in a peace-keeping capacity between his current and former teammates.
No punches were thrown, it wasn't a street brawl. But tempers certainly flared as the Cardinals took exception to some of the words emanating from that side of the field.
"I don't know where the insult came from," Mike Shildt said. "I feel like it was more directed at me, quite honestly. Did I do anything to warrant it? Perhaps. I mean, I was staring in the dugout. I will accept that. It was, you know, with the mask on it's hard to really appreciate what people are really intending. I can hear great, though. My hearing doesn't suffer at all with the mask on.
"But I did, I stared at the dugout. I mean, I can't be happy with the fact that, you know, look—Braun's been in the league a long time. He's a good player, a really good player. He's had a nice year, he's against us. And I want to make sure this is clear: There is no allegation against Ryan Braun, necessarily. It just didn't look good. It's the second catcher's interference of a guy that's caught since June 5, I think, of 2004, when he made his debut. It just didn't look good when a little bit of conversation took place prior to it. And if you pay attention to it, there was a conversation prior to it. And I'm sure you have. It just didn't look good. And at that point, you think I'm going to accept that? No! But you take the high road. There was a look in the dugout, there was something said, and at that point, all bets are off."
As for Shildt's reference to the conversation prior to the swing for which Molina was called for catcher's interference, the television broadcast caught Braun arguing against a strike call earlier in the at-bat. During his spiel, Braun made a remark about Molina that may have rankled the Cardinals catcher.
In a 2-1 count, Rob Kaminsky threw a 91 mph pitch that home plate umpire John Bacon believed caught the bottom of the strike zone. Braun disagreed, and made his own beliefs known.
"No, no, no, no. That's not a strike, man. That's not a strike," Braun said to Bacon, as overheard clearly on the television broadcast. He then pointed directly at Molina behind the plate, and added, "Just because he gets mad at you, you can't call that a strike, man."
It's unknown the extent to which those words may have provided a spark for the flames that followed, as the Cardinals who spoke to the media via Zoom were tight-lipped on details following the game. But in a 2020 MLB season devoid of fans in the stands, we've seen numerous examples of previously private dialogue—often unnoticed with the typical audible distractions present in a big-league ballpark—making its way into the living rooms of the fans at home this season.
That fifth-inning incident was merely one example of the strangeness that embodied this game. The lopsided score, of course, was another. But in the bottom of the sixth, Molina—who for some unknown reason remained in the game for another inning of the blowout despite his potentially compromised wrist—got involved in a shouting match with umpires as he helped get reliever Nabil Crismatt warmed up for his appearance on the mound. A review of the broadcast appears to indicate Molina's belief that the home plate umpire tried to short-change Crismatt on his allotted number of warm-up pitches.
Surely, that was it, right? No more craziness thereafter? On a night where the Cardinals budding star Flaherty was knocked around the yard worse than he's ever been in a big-league uniform, there might have been another controversy brewing beneath the surface.
Was he befuddled by the result? Perhaps, but Flaherty stopped well short of an implication that anything nefarious took place.
"I don't know," Flaherty said when asked whether he thought the Brewers might have known what pitches were coming before he threw them Tuesday night. "I think that I didn't execute pitches. Everything else doesn't matter. There were a couple pitches I didn't execute. But they were on a lot of the pitches that I threw, so.
"At the end of the day it comes down to executing. Especially in situations like that where it just sort of snowballs like that and you've got to execute. I bet if you look, a lot of those pitches were over the middle of the plate or weren't some of the best pitches."
As for Molina's status, the Cardinals were still in the process of projecting his availability late Tuesday night.
"He's had x-rays," Shildt said. "We're still processing what that looks like. There's some discomfort there, for sure. We're hopeful it's not something that's going to prevent him from going forward, but if Yadier Molina is in discomfort, something's wrong."
Shildt said the team is at a "crossroads" with regard to impending decisions on not only Molina's status and a potential trip to the injured list, but also that of second baseman and leadoff hitter Kolten Wong, who was scratched late from Tuesday's starting lineup due to an issue with his side. Shildt didn't elaborate with specifics, but a potential injury related to the oblique area could spell trouble for Wong's near-future availability, given the customary timeline for such ailments.
Expect some degree of roster moves by the Cardinals preceding the team's doubleheader Wednesday against the Brewers. Milwaukee (and Cincinnati, for that matter) is closing fast on the Cardinals for second place in the NL Central and the guaranteed postseason spot that accompanies that standing. With seven games remaining between the two sides before the season concludes later this month, don't be surprised to see more fireworks coloring this season's sprint to the finish.
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