By Rob Rains
The Cardinals didn’t lose the wild-card series to the Phillies because manager Oli Marmol pulled Jose Quintana too early, or because of Ryan Helsley’s sore finger, or because of the long home run Bryce Harper hit off Miles Mikolas.
There was a simple reason why the Cardinals lost, a truth that even they acknowledged.
When the two games were on the line, they didn’t hit. When their best players had a chance to deliver a game, or series, changing hit, they didn’t come through.
After going hitless in three at-bats on Friday, Paul Goldschmidt went 0-of-4 on Saturday, three of those at-bats ending in strikeouts.
Nolan Arenado had a chance to pick up Goldschmidt, but he also was 0-of-4 on Saturday and struck out twice as the Cardinals saw their season end with a 2-0 loss at Busch Stadium.
In the two games, the Cardinals scored three runs, all driven in on two swings by rookie pinch-hitters Juan Yepez and Nolan Gorman. The Cardinals had a combined 12 hits, 11 of them singles, all except Yepez’s two-run homer.
“It’s not the way we wanted it to end,” Goldschmidt said. “It stinks. We wanted to give ourselves a chance and at least win today to give us a chance tomorrow and it didn’t happen. The goal was to win it all and we came up way, way too short.
“Myself, I didn’t play well at all. That’s what I look at. If I could have played better maybe we could have won at least one of them if not both of them. It’s disappointing. We had a few chances, we just weren’t able to score.
“I didn’t play good all September and now October. It really stinks. It’s 100 percent on me. I didn’t do my job. I can’t change it, and I hate that. You have to go forward and try to do better next time.”
Goldschmidt’s struggles on Saturday night began in the first inning when he struck out with a runner on second. In the sixth, with the Cardinals down 2-0, he struck out again with a runner on first.
His biggest opportunity to come through came in the eighth. After Lars Nootbaar drew a one-out walk, Albert Pujols – in what turned out to be the final at-bat of his career – lined a single inside third base, bringing Goldschmidt to the plate with runners on first and second.
After working the count to 3-2, he swung and missed, striking out for the third time. When Arenado also struck out, the inning and the threat was over.
Arenado was a combined 1-of-8 in the two games.
“Those guys carried us the entire year,” said Marmol. “They did a phenomenal job of not taking any at-bats off. At the end of the day baseball is tough. They had a tough stretch there at the end. It’s part of the game. The timing of it is not ideal.
“It wasn’t a lack of preparation or compete, I will tell you that. Those are ultra-competitors and gave everything they had.”
The Cardinals had one last hope in the ninth. Down to their final out, Corey Dickerson singled and went to third on a single by Yadier Molina, in his final at-bat.
Tommy Edman, however, fouled out to third, ending a Cardinals season that was filled with numerous magical and history-making moments, just none in their final two games.
In about a month, Goldschmidt has a good chance of being named the NL MVP. Maybe by then some of the disappointment about how the season ended will have faded away.
“I think we’re going to need some time to heal from this,” Goldschmidt said. “I don’t know how long that is … The memory from this year will be of those guys (Pujols and Molina). We wanted to make a run in the playoffs and try to win it all and get them another championship and get it for ourselves. We came up short.”
The loss continued a disturbing trend for the Cardinals, who have now lost nine of their last 10 postseason games dating back to 2011. In six of those nine games they were shut out or scored one run.
“That’s a hard way to win,” said Adam Wainwright.
Against the two Phillies starters in this series, Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola, they had a total of six singles in 44 at-bats.
“Those guys are fantastic starting pitchers,” said Wainwright. “If you’ve got a dog on the mound on the other side and he’s having a day, that’s going to be a tough one.
“It’s not an easy task to beat pitchers like that when they’ve got the ball rolling like that. Those guys can beat anybody.”
Wainwright has pitched long enough to know a few things about hitting – which he witnessed again the last two days.
“Hitting is hard,” he said. “Winning is hard. Once you get in the postseason these are all the best teams. It’s almost impossible to win. Everything has to go right. You have to get timely hits. We had a couple of chances, we didn’t have many, and we didn’t do it because they pitched well.”
The Cardinals, who have lost their last five postseason games, have not won a playoff series since beating the Braves in the 2019 Division Series. The Cardinals have reached the postseason in each of the last four years, but have gone 4-11 in the games since the start of that series.
None of those years ended the way the Cardinals wanted, but this year has the added realization that it is more than the end of a season, it marks the end of two iconic careers.
“Anything short of the World Series was going to be a disappointment,” Marmol said. “The Phillies beat us. We didn’t beat ourselves. That clubhouse is disappointed.
“When you know it’s Yadi’s last year and Albert’s last year there’s extra motivation to deliver for them. You wanted the story to end with a championship. It’s disappointing, but it’s where we are.”
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports