Wednesday’s Game Report: Cardinals split doubleheader with Cubs
By Rob Rains
Back before this road trip started, with the Cardinals staring at eight games in a span of five days, they hadn’t played a game in more than two weeks. A third of their roster and half their staff were away from the team because of the coronavirus. The expectations for what their record would be when the trip was over were correctly fairly low.
So when it ended on Wednesday night, after a split of the day’s doubleheader against the Cub left them with a 4-4 record, it seemed like the Cardinals had won a lot more than they had lost.
“I couldn’t be more pleased and proud of these guys,” said manager Mike Shildt. “It was straight out get after it, play the game, every man on deck. It’s a really great trait individually and for a group, this is not a group that’s going to complain. Winners find solutions.
“Candidly we had a chance to have won six games. Couple of games got away from us late, but golly, you’re talking about unprecedented on a lot of levels. In “normal” times you talk about playing .500 on the road and we just did it in the most abnormal times that I hope I ever see.”
Matt Carpenter’s grand slam in the first inning started the Cardinals to a 9-3 win in game one on Wednesday before the Cubs scored two runs in the seventh to post a 4-2 win in game two. That loss did not dampen the spirit of either Shildt or the players about what they accomplished over the last five days.
“There’s a lot of heart in that clubhouse and I appreciate the way they laid it out there from top to bottom,” Shildt said. “You’re talking about a group that just played with a third of the team missing and not available, and half the staff not available. To play the kind of baseball we just played is pretty darn impressive.”
The Cardinals saw 11 players make their major-league debuts on the trip, including Johan Oviedo, who was called up from the Springfield camp and started the second game on Wednesday, allowing just two hits and two runs in five innings.
The team used 21 pitchers in the eight games and of the 11 players making their debuts on the trip, eight were pitchers.
The five innings from Oviedo matched the longest start on the trip as the team had to constantly juggle the roster on a daily basis to make sure it had enough fresh arms to cover the scheduled 60 innings as Shildt and his staff prioritized health of their pitchers over innings at this point of their resumption of play following the long layoff.
Jack Flaherty made his first start since the opening day of the season, on July 24, and worked just 1 2/3 innings in Wednesday’s opener, throwing 41 pitches.
“Contributions from a lot of people that we didn’t have much history with and in some cases no history,” Shildt said. “You don’t want to compromise anybody.”
The team’s veterans, including Carpenter and Kolten Wong, said they might be able to exhale a little bit now that the five-day marathon is over and the team is heading home to play a game at Busch Stadium on Thursday night for the first time since July 26.
Waiting for them and perhaps ready to be in the lineup will be catcher Yadier Molina, one of the 10 players who tested positive for COVID-19 that prompted the 17 day layoff. The Cardinals will begin a 12-game homestand that includes only one doubleheader.
“We all know what we’re going up against,” Wong said. “Our schedule is kind of crazy but we’ve got a good group of guys, guys who want to go out and play the game and turn the page. Everyone is just excited that we are back out. The quarantine kind of made everybody go crazy a little bit but to finally be out here doing what we love to do, it’s still fun.”
Carpenter said to come out of Chicago 4-4, it felt like the team had accomplished a lot more than that.
“Totally,” he said. “The way we swung the bats, having not done anything for 18 days or however long it was, I think that’s nothing short of a miracle to be honest. Really proud of the way we took at-bats. We were in every game.
“Based on the circumstances I think it’s a great start. I think we’re going to build from it. You play to win, but the optics of it were probably more important to see where we were at. I felt like we were right there with the Cubs who haven’t had any time off. Let’s see what it looks like at the end of the next month.”
Added Flaherty, “We’ve got a bunch of guys right now, it’s all about loving baseball, guys who are giving it everything you’ve got.”
Here is how Wednesday’s games broke down:
At the plate: Carpenter’s second career grand slam, which raised his career average to .500 with the bases loaded, gave the team some breathing room in the opener and they blew the game open with a run in the second, a run in the fourie and three in the sixth … Wong reached base four times on two hits, a hit by pitch and a walk and scored all four times … Brad Miller continued his assault on the Cubs with a two-run single … In the second game, the Cardinals came back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the game on a sacrifice fly by Andrew Knizner in the fifth and an RBI single by Miller in the sixth. Miller finished the series with eight RBIs.
On the mound: Austin Gomber inherited the bases loaded from Flaherty in the second inning and struck out Ian Happ to get out of the jam. He also got out of his own bases-loaded jam in the third … The Cubs had only one hit, a homer from Happ in the first, until there were two outs in the seventh … In the second game, the Cubs loaded the bases off Andrew Miller in the seventh and Giovanny Gallegos could not escape the jam, giving up a two-run single to David Bote on an 0-2 pitch.
Key stat: The Cardinals have played 982 games at Wrigley Field since it opened in 1916 and Carpenter became only the third Cardinal to hit a grand slam out of the cleanup spot in the top of the first inning. The others to do it were Jim Bottomley in 1923 and Ken Boyer in 1961.
Worth noting: Shildt said he would not rule it out that Molina might be activated from the injured list in time to play Thursday night … Carlos Martinez is scheduled to throw on Thursday and the team hopes to establish a time line, and a role, for his return after that … The last Cardinal cleanup hitter to hit a grand slam in the first inning on the road was Todd Zeile on July 28, 1993 at Philadelphia.
Looking ahead: Adam Wainwright will make the start on Thursday night in the first of four games against the Reds.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains