Last night’s 14-inning marathon between division rivals was everything you hope for in baseball … and everything you hope you never see again. It was messy. It was complicated. There were more “What in the world?” moments than “That was awesome!” moments. There were misses, followed by extra chances.
Also, there was a final inning lineup that included Sam Freeman, Adron Chambers, Pete Kozma, Rob Johnson, and Daniel Descalso. So, yeah …
Cardinals beat writer Jenifer Langosch condensed it nicely:
The ace pitcher the Cardinals had pushed back to set the tone in a key division matchup sunk his club into a hole early. A routine catch not made gave St. Louis an extra breath late. The Pirates stalled rallies by moving an infielder to the outfield and later adding an outfielder to the infield. And a Cardinals middle reliever would twice find himself batting with the winning run 90 feet from home.
In all, the Cardinals used 20 of their 25 players, threw 227 pitches, stranded 17 on base and finished 4-for-14 with runners in scoring position.
Roughly eight hours later, and the baseball world is still trying to make sense of it all.
One thing everyone can agree on — this win was big. Dare I say, huge. The Cardinals played with more heart, with more “never say die” intensity than we’ve seen this year. Dubbed the “Comeback Cardinals” the last two seasons, they seemed to have lost that edge. I guess winning so many games in the first half with relative ease buried the killer instinct a little deeper than anyone realized. But, if there was a time for it to return, it was last night.
Baseball doesn’t always give second chances, much less third, fourth, fifth chances. Sometimes it takes a squirrel to change the outcome. Sometimes, it takes a dropped fly ball. If there was ever question about this team’s heart, though, they were answered last night.
The Cardinals could have let the energy sapped from the stadium after Andrew McCutchen’s two-run shot drain their energy, too. They could have been defeated win David Freese, batting with the bases loaded and no outs, grounded into a double play. Yes, a run scored. But one run with the bases loaded and no one out is kind of a let down. They could have dropped their heads when the tying run was 90 feet away and Matt Adams lined one right into the glove of the perfectly realigned second baseman Neil Walker, playing in shallow right field, or when Seth Maness picked up a bat, or again when he grounded into an inning-ending double play with the winning run at third base. Thanks, five-man infield.
They could have played scared or looked defeated like they have the last week or two. Instead, they battled. Wainwright battled through seven innings after throwing 50 pitches in the first two. They didn’t quit hitting just because they couldn’t find a hole in the Pittsburgh defense. Allen Craig didn’t panic — or bunt — in the ninth inning. He just did his thing. So did Maness who pitched 2.1 innings and batted twice, doubling his AB total on the year.
And then there’s Jon Jay. Four-for-six on the night with a stolen base and the game winning run? That’s almost enough to make everyone forget about that time the red-hot Jay bunted runners to second and third with no outs and Kozma/Descalso hitting behind him.
There was nothing pretty about a lineup that left no protection for Beltran and Craig and little help for Jon Jay.
But, they battled. Something had to give eventually.
And what do you know, it worked, thanks to Adron Chambers and Jon Jay’s stolen base.
For the first time in 2013, the Cardinals celebrated a walk-off hit.
Take the ups with the downs, the oddities with the expected, and the intensity from the rivalry, and there’s no way around it. That was one of the most exciting wins of the year.
Perhaps it’s the kind of win that starts a streak. Sure, a 14-inning game could have a negative impact on availability of players the next day. (But the same is true for both teams.) Still, one would think this kind of excitement could be just what the doctor ordered.
Tara is a St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball and a contributor to Around the Horn. Follow her on Twitter @tarawellman.