Thursday’s Game Report: Cardinals 5, Rays 2

Thursday’s Game Report: Cardinals 5, Rays 2

By Rob Rains

Matthew Liberatore picked the perfect time to turn in the best start of his young major-league career.

Pitching for the first time against the team that made him a first-round draft pick in 2018 then traded him to the Cardinals in 2020, Liberatore worked eight shutout innings, allowing only two hits, in defeating the Rays on Thursday night in St. Petersburg, Fla.

It was the longest outing of Liberatore’s 17 major-league starts, was the first time he didn’t walk a batter and he also recorded a career-high seven strikeouts.

Liberatore gave up a two-out single in the first inning to one of the players he was traded for, Randy Arozarena, but then allowed only one hit over his next seven innings, to Wander Franco in the fourth, and he ended up picking him off second, retiring 21 of the last 22 hitters he faced.

Here is how Thursday night’s game broke down:

At the plate: Andrew Knizner staked Liberatore to a 2-0 lead in the fourth with a two-out, two-run homer, his ninth of the season … The Cardinals also got an RBI single by Alec Burleson in the sixth, with Nolan Arenado scoring from first on the play … Their last two runs came on a throwing error in the seventh and a two-out home run by Tommy Edman in the ninth … After being scratched from the lineup the previous two nights because of a sore knee, Tyler O’Neill was in the lineup but was hitless in four at-bats.

On the mound: Liberatore threw a career-high 101 pitches, recording 15 swings and misses … After giving up the single to Arozarena in the first, he saw Arozarena steal second and third before Liberatore got out of the inning with comebacker to the mound … Liberatore had only three three-ball counts to the 25 hitters he faced … Liberatore was pulled after the eighth inning; JoJo Romero relieved and retired the first two batters he faced but then gave up the Rays two runs on a single, triple and wild pitch.

Key stat: Liberatore was the 12th lefthander to start a game against the Rays this season at Tropicana Field. In the previous 11 games, the Rays were 9-2 and scored 48 runs in 51 innings while the starter was in the game.

Worth noting: The Cardinals have only had three shutouts in the last five years, by Jordan Montgomery last August, by Adam Wainwright in 2021 and by Miles Mikolas in 2019 … Cardinals pitchers combined issued only three walks in 26 innings in the three games against the Rays … Liberatore did not pitch more than seven innings in any of his 11 starts this season at Memphis … Making rehab appearances at Double A Springfield on Thursday night, Ryan Helsley and Jake Woodford each pitched one inning and allowed a home run. Helsley allowed three hits and two runs while Woodford allowed one hit and a walk and two runs.

Looking ahead: Adam Wainwright will try again for his 199th career win on Friday night as the Cardinals open a two-game series against the Royals in Kansas City.

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains

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For the latest news and features in St. Louis Sports check out Rob Rains, Editor.