By Rob Rains
For the second night in a row Friday night, the Cardinals were on the wrong side of history.
After becoming the first team in postseason history to hit five home runs from the sixth inning on Thursday night, slugging their way to a win that forced a decisive game three in the wild-card series, the Padres turned to the pitching section in the record book to make their latest entry.
They became the first team ever – in the postseason or regular season – to use eight or more pitchers and throw a shutout in a nine-inning game, a 4-0 win that sent the Cardinals home for the winter.
Their actual total was nine pitchers, none of whom recorded more than five outs, and they blanked the Cardinals on four hits, the fourth time in their postseason history the Cardinals have been shut out in a sudden-death game, the last coming in game seven of the 2012 NLCS against the Giants.
Of all the challenges the Cardinals faced and overcame this season, they didn’t have an answer that would have allowed them to beat the Padres in either of the final two games.
“They had a plan and they were able to execute their plan,” said manager Mike Shildt. “We had a few opportunities and weren’t able to cash in on them. It was one of those games where we were a hit or two away but just didn’t get them.
“There was no mysteries about what they were doing. To their credit they were able to execute it. They were on some fumes and they answered the bell.”
The two biggest missed chances on offense Friday night came when the Cardinals left the bases loaded in the third as Dylan Carlson struck out, and in the fifth, when they got two runners on base before Paul Goldschmidt took a called third strike to end the threat. They also left two runners on base in the sixth.
Jack Flaherty allowed just one run in six innings, when he gave up a pair of doubles in the fifth inning, and the Padres took advantage of a couple of rare defensive mistakes by the Cardinals to add two runs in the seventh before sealing the win with a home run by Jake Cronenworth in the eighth.
“I left a pitch to (Eric) Hosmer up and if it’s down it might be a different result and we’re in a 0-0 ballgame when I leave,” Flaherty said. “There were a couple of pitches I want back when I didn’t execute. It’s pretty simple.”
Former Cardinal Trevor Rosenthal, who pitched the ninth inning in all three games, struck out the side, all on called third strikes, to close out the Padres first postseason series win since 1998.
The Cardinals loss meant that all four teams from the NL Central that made it to the wild-card round all lost their series, with the other three – the Cubs, Brewers and Reds – each getting swept in their series. All three AL Central teams that made the wild-card round also lost their series.
Even though it was not the outcome he wanted, Shildt applauded the team’s effort in navigating its way through the unchartered waters of this season and everything the team had to deal with over the summer, on and off the field.
“They showed up every single day, regardless of circumstance,” Shildt said, “regardless of doubleheaders, regardless of sitting in hotel rooms, there was zero wavering with this group. You can’t appreciate it unless you lived it. This group respects this game, respects their teammates like no other team I’ve ever seen. That’s a pretty high bar. They figured out solution after solution; we just couldn’t figure out any solutions the last couple of days.
“Pretty remarkable accomplishment, quite honestly. We’re not satisfied with what just happened. We’re not satisfied with our season being over in the wild-card round, I want to make that perfectly clear. Nobody in that clubhouse is satisfied. There’s some disappointed people in that clubhouse. But from my seat there’s also a sense of satisfaction in an unusual year we had the most unusual. Remarkable is probably the first word that comes to my mind.”
The two players made available to the media after the game, Flaherty and Yadier Molina, also discussed the difficulties the team faced, and overcame, until the final two days.
“We went through a lot,” Flaherty said. “While Shildty was talking (to the team after the game) there was only one thing I could think of, a quote from a book I’ve read a couple of times that basically says, ‘I can handle mistakes but what I can’t handle is a lapse of effort.’ There was never a lapse of effort from anybody (on this team). You’re going to make mistakes.
“I wasn’t very good this year. In a game like this, winner-take-all, you’ve got to accept the fact that you may lose games like this but all you can do is go out and give the best effort you can. Today the ball didn’t bounce our way but guys gave everything they had just like they did all year. That’s what this team is all about.”
Molina, now heading to free agency, said he was not ready to talk about himself – but he did talk about this season.
“This season was tough,” Molina said. “When you have to play a lot of games, it’s tough. You don’t want to make any excuses, but you get tired. I don’t want to say we had a good year or we had a bad year. With the situation we went through it was really tough for us. But we battled.
“I’m so proud of this group, we battled hard. Every day we came ready to play, no matter who we were facing. I’m proud. Obviously we wanted to advance but we worked hard and we fought hard.”
Shildt used part of his post-game remarks to the media to express his desire for the team to keep Molina in a Cardinals’ uniform.
“He makes everybody, including me, better,” Shildt said. “I know it’s a business, I want what’s best for him and what’s best for the organization, and I can tell you honestly I hope like heck I see him in spring training at 6 a.m. coming in our complex to get his work in.
“This guy’s still got some baseball left in him. He’s dedicated himself to be able to not only play but to excel. He more than proved that this year. This is a hungry guy, I would love to have him back. I don’t know how much clearer I can make that.”
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains and read his Cardinals coverage @STLSportsPage.com
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports
To hear Mike Shildt’s Post-Game Interview CLICK HERE