The Cardinals had their full complement of late-game relievers to cement a victory with a score that should not have been that close in Game 1 of a doubleheader against Pittsburgh.
How they got to there proved just as valuable.
Rookie Matthew Liberatore, up from Class AAA Memphis for a one-game engagement, pitched five superb and scoreless innings to steer the Cardinals toward a 3-1 victory Tuesday afternoon at Busch Stadium. The line echoed Liberatore’s previous top start – five scoreless innings against Milwaukee – but within it there were clear signs of improvement. The lefty struck out five, got consistent swings and misses on three different pitches, and he remained efficient. He carried the lead to the bullpen by getting 15 outs on 79 pitches.
A leadoff single in the fifth inning invited the Cardinals to consider stopping Liberatore’s outing short of qualifying for the win, but the rookie maintained his hold on the game. Promoted to the majors as the Cardinals’ 27th man for the doubleheader, Liberatore will return to Triple-A’s rotation, but be on retainer for the inevitable opening for a starter in coming weeks.
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The first-place Cardinals got two runs from Paul Goldschmidt’s homer and another run from a curious rundown in the third inning, and the opening was there for much, much. The Pirates committed four errors in the game. Edmundo Sosa reached base three times on errors. And yet there Giovanny Gallegos was in the ninth facing the tying run at the plate before getting the final out for his ninth save.
Trainer’s visit underscores Cardinals caution with Helsley
The minimal amount of pitches thrown by the Cardinals’ relievers in Monday’s victory allowed each of them to make a turnaround to hold the two-run lead less than 24 hours later in Tuesday’s Game 1. It didn’t take long for a momentary reminder of why the Cardinals have shown such hesitance to use right-hander Ryan Helsley on back-to-back days.
And then he showed why that has such appeal.
In the eighth inning, a day after pitching the ninth for his fifth save, Helsley walked the first batter he faced and didn’t get far against the second before the trainer was walking out to the mound. Something in Helsley’s delivery – possibly a sudden dip in his velocity, down to 93 mph – brought the manager and trainer to the mound to check on the right-hander. Helsley stayed in the game and – zipped off a 98-mph fastball before striking out the final two batters of the inning. As quickly as the concern came, Helsley dispatched the Pirates.
That set up Gallegos for the ninth a day after he pitched the seventh as a prelude to Helsley’s save, and within 24 hours the Cardinals had used the interchangeable late-inning assignments talked about in spring to cinch two wins in June.
Delayed balk call revives Cardinals rally
A few weeks after a hot mic at Busch Stadium caught an umpire discussing how rarely they call balks anymore, Yadier Molina called one for the crew at Tuesday’s Game 1.
As Pirates starter JT Brubaker readied to deliver a full-count pitch to Nolan Gorman, he rocked and shifted his feet as if lapsing into a windup with two runners on base. Molina pointed to the second move and started walking away from second base. Brubaker turned and threw Molina out for what was initially called a caught stealing – and the final out of the inning.
Molina, accompanied by manager Oliver Marmol, took issue and asked the umpires to caucus and reconsider. Crew chief Drew Iassogna did, near the mound, and after asking Molina to take his lobbying and step back came to the conclusion that Brubaker had balked. That meant the Pirates, already in the cool of their dugout, had to retake the field with two outs, a full count to Gorman, and now two runners in scoring position.
The crazy had just started.
Brubaker walked Gorman to load the bases and bring Goldschmidt to the plate. The Cardinals’ leading hitter skipped a grounder up the middle for the apparent groundout. Gorman assured otherwise. The Cardinals’ rookie sprinted to second ahead of the throw and rounded the bag to head for third. The Bucs didn’t get the out they expected and had to catch Edmundo Sosa in a rundown to end the inning. By then, Gorman’s gambit at second had bought time for Goldschmidt to reach first and Molina to score, increasing the leading to 3-0.
One balk and too savvy plays and the Cardinals had a run.
Goldschmidt keeps the heat on with homer
The phrase, used in the desert during this run of MVP-caliber seasons there with the Diamondbacks, was that as the weather warmed so did Paul Goldschmidt.
The temperature reached sweltering Tuesday.
Goldschmidt has been there for weeks.
After three hits, a home, and reaching base four times Monday night, Goldschmidt had two hits in his first two at-bats of Game 1 on Tuesday. Playing designated hitter for the first half of the day, Goldschmidt claimed a lead for the Cardinals with a two-run homer in the third inning. The ball traveled an estimated 418 feet to dead center for his 50th home run at Busch Stadium. Forty-six have come since a trade relocated him from Arizona to calling St. Louis’ ballpark home before the 2019 season.
Goldschmidt has a hit in 46 of the 60 games he’s played this season, and he’s reached base in 55 of them. The home run Tuesday in Game 1 was his 14th of the season.
He hit his 14th homer of the 2021 season on July 16th.
Molina sets MLB record for outs caught
Of all the measures of Molina’s career that put him among the best to ever don a catcher’s mask, there are ones that reveal his surehandedness (Gold Gloves), his tenure with one club (2,000 games started), and then there’s the all-time record he claimed Tuesday.
It’s a testament to durability.
Molina caught Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez and surpassed the Hall of Famer for career putouts with 14,865. Molina caught a popup by Pirates’ third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes in the sixth inning of Game 1 to set the record two innings after he tied it. It wasn’t long before Molina added on – a strikeout for Drew VerHagen ended the inning and gave Molina 14,866. Rodriguez, the all-time leader at the position with 13 Gold Gloves, has long been the granite symbol of sturdiness at the position. He logged the most games (1,254) and total chances as a catcher (16,233). Molina is second in each category, but it didn’t take him as long (1,209 games) or as many chances (15,992) get more than anyone in MLB history of what any catcher’s goal is.