By Rob Rains, STLSportsPage.com
The highlights will show Chris Taylor celebrating after hitting a walk-off homer with two outs in the ninth inning off Alex Reyes on Wednesday night that gave the Dodgers a 3-1 win in the wild-card game at Dodger Stadium.
They won’t show what really cost the Cardinals the game.
Those plays happened in the first, the second, the fifth, the seventh, and the ninth innings – when the Cardinals were a combined 0-of-11 with runners in scoring position. They left a total of five runners stranded at either second or third inning.
The result was a crushing end to a Cardinals season that many thought was over months earlier, only to be revived by a record 17-game winning streak in September that vaulted them into this one-game showdown with the 106-win Dodgers.
And they played even with the Dodgers for the first eight and 2/3 innings, before T.J. McFarland, after getting two fly ball outs, walked Cody Bellinger on a 3-2 pitch. Manager Mike Shildt made the walk to the mound as he called Reyes in from the bullpen to face Taylor, who had come into the game in a double switch in the seventh inning.
After Bellinger stole second, Taylor connected on a 2-1 slider and hit it into the left-field bleachers to send the Dodgers into a classic Division Series matchup against the Giants, who won 107 games this season, and send the Cardinals home for the winter.
“Taylor’s really good against lefties, not a guy who is on the ground a lot,” Shildt said. “We’ve got a guy with swing and miss stuff (Reyes), little higher strikeouts against righties. First couple of sliders were really good and then he got one he could put a swing on and that was the game.”
It was the fifth time a winner-take-all postseason game ended with a walkoff homer, the first since Edwin Encarnacion won the AL wild-card game with a home run 2016.
“We’ve got a clubhouse full of guys that are hurting, Alex included,” Shildt said. “This team didn’t come here just to play; they came here to win. It hurts. Alex is hurting. What I talked to him about and gave him a big hug was we’re not here without Alex Reyes. We’re not. He had some bumps and made some adjustments the second half and got some huge outs for us.
“I just told him, ‘You walk out with your head up. You’ve got a lot to be pleased about with this year.’ It was more of the message to the club; you’ve got a lot to be pleased about with this year and you’ve got a reason to hurt too. I’m not going to take away the hurt because that is what motivates you to move forward.”
What the Cardinals will lament as they reflect on the game was all of their missed chances that could have provided a different result.
“We had our chances,” Shildt said. “We just couldn’t get that proverbial big hit.”
The game was billed as a pitching matchup between Adam Wainwright and Max Scherzer, and it played out that way for the early innings. The Cardinals chased Scherzer in the fifth inning, Wainwright came out of the game in the sixth as they turned the game over to the bullpens.
Here is how the game broke down:
At the plate: The Cardinals only run came in the first. Tommy Edman led off with a single, stole second and later scored on a wild pitch. But the Cardinals also left a runner on third as they missed a chance to add another run against Scherzer … That was the first of Edman’s three hits in the game as he and Paul Goldschmidt combined to reach base six times in their 10 plate appearances … They both reached base leading off the fifth but after Scherzer came out, Joe Kelly got a groundout and strikeout to get out of the inning … Edman also singled with two outs in the ninth and stole second but was stranded there as Goldschmidt and Tyler O’Neill struck out.
On the mound: The only Dodgers run off Wainwright came on a home run by Justin Turner leading off the fourth. Wainwright pitched into the sixth, allowing only three hits … Luis Garcia pitched 1 2/3 innings, pitching around a walk and a single, before Giovanny Gallegos worked the eighth. He developed a nail issue that kept him from pitching the ninth but he went out as he was going to pitch, forcing the Dodgers to burn a pinch-hitter. When McFarland relieved, Albert Pujols came up to bat and flied out to center. Another fly out came before the walk to Bellinger and the start to the end of the Cardinals’ season.
Key stat: Reyes also allowed two walk-off homers during the regular season. Beginning on Aug. 29, Reyes allowed five home runs in 14 2/3 innings during his final 15 games of the regular season.
Worth noting: The Cardinals added Juan Yepez to the roster for the game, purchasing his contract from Memphis. Yepez, 23, hit a combined 27 home runs between Springfield and Memphis this season. He would have needed to be added to the 40-man roster this winter to avoid being exposed to the Rule 5 draft. To make room for Yepez on the roster, pitcher Seth Elledge was designated for assignment … Pitchers Jon Lester, J.A. Happ and Jake Woodford were left off the roster for this game. Both Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson were on the roster but did not get into the game.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports