TOP OF THE FOURTH: CARDINALS 4 – (2) 6 ROCKIES
It’s an odd combination of color at Busch Stadium, with the deep purple of Colorado at the plate and the bright red of St. Louis on the mound—on the cap, the glove, the shoes, the belt, the two small birds stitched into the chest of every jersey.
Both teams are in third place in their divisions. It’s the third game of the series, the rubber game. Last time they’ll meet until September. The Cardinals up 4-2.
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) May 19, 2016
Michael Wacha walks Nolan Arenado to lead off the inning, and Gerardo Parra comes up–challenging Wacha with a bunt, the ball rolling ahead on the grass just shy of the mound dirt. Yadier Molina takes off his mask and runs out to it, hesitating, thinking Wacha’s got it, then picks it up himself and whips to first. Just late. The umpire spread his arms like an emphatic, splashing breast-stroke. Safe.
So it’s with men on first and second, no outs, that ex-Cardinal Mark Reynolds comes to the plate.
“He’s gonna give it the ol’ college try,” says one of the St. Louis TV guys, Rockies’ manager Walt Weiss sticking with Reynolds instead of a lefty pinch-hitter.
Wacha delivers, a fastball left up over the middle, and Reynolds drives a base-hit the other way. He’s standing on first-base, pulling off each finger of his batting gloves, watching another former Cardinal stride up to the plate, with the bases loaded.
Daniel Descalso, ’11 World Series Champ with St. Louis, comes up to a slight applause from the crowd, steps in, and lines a single over the shortstop on the first pitch he sees, sent in the air over the very infield dirt he used to patrol. Tie game. 4-4.
— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) May 20, 2016
He steps out of the box, talks to the third-base coach. Squeeze, the coach says, squeeze like you’ve never squeezed before…
Gray lines up for a bunt. Molina steps out on a pitch-out. Then a big whiff on the next pitch. Reynolds takes off his helmet, standing on third-base, scratches his head, extends his lead.
Gray draws two strikes and ditches the bunt, swings away—slapping a ground-ball the other way through the shifted-in defensive infield, just out of the reach of Kolten Wong. 5-4, Rockies.
Charlie Blackmon comes up now, with the thick brown beard of a lumberjack, eye-black rivaling Bryce Harper’s. Which leads me to Vin Scully, and the greatest ever on-air history-of-beards analysis—from Leviticus to Deuteronomy, Greek dramatists to Abraham Lincoln—a must-listen for fans of a sport watching the career-end of best broadcaster it’s ever had. “Ah, yes, the beards…”
Blackmon hits a ground-ball to Wong, who snags it, spins, and throws to second. But Descalso sprints home to score. 6-4 now, the Rockies ahead.
And to send them to the bottom half of the fourth, Carlos Gonzalez grounds out to Matt Adams.
“Big inning for the Rockies,” says the Cardinals’ TV play-by-player. “With five hits and four runs, and now they have their first lead.”
The so-called “devil magic” in St. Louis is said these days to have worn off. Has it?
BOTTOM OF THE FOURTH: CARDINALS 10 (4) – 6 ROCKIES
Yadier Molina comes up first against Jon Gray, their first meeting, a smoking fastball coming in for a strike at 96 mph. It’s the 15th career start for Gray (…15 Starts of Gray?)
Molina walks on a low outside fastball, and up comes 28-year-old rookie Jeremy Hazelbaker, filling the German, semi-rhyming shoes of ex-Cardinal Skip Schumaker.
And just like the top of the inning, we get a bunt. Up in the air, toward a charging Arenado at third, dropping just in front of him for a base hit. No throw. A bold, bold move, to the best-fielding third-baseman in the league.
Hazelbaker provides the “Kyle Lohse bunt” circa October 2011.
— Steven Lee Holden (@sleeholden22) May 20, 2016
The crowd sounds calm, or doesn’t sound much at all, with the occasional chatter of a big inning not yet clearly on the horizon.
Kolten Wong comes up, strikes out on a 2-2 slider trailing inside. He shouts a quick damn! and tosses his bat into his other hand, stepping back to the dugout.
Then it’s Brandon Moss, in for Michael Wacha, the big inning on his mind, who walks on a full-count fastball just off the plate. Jon Gray shakes his head, his goatee shaking along with it, as he walks back to the mound with Matt Carpenter strolling up to the batter’s box.
Gray chew-chew-chews on pink bubble gum and bends down, looking toward home for the sign from Tony Wolters.
He lets one fly, a fastball speeding toward the plate. The corner of the TV screen flashes a flame graphic, like a small explosion spreading above the purple and red of COL and STL on the score box, 96 MPH printed in yellow. Carpenter leans back, then leans in, and swings away.
There’s a long fly ball lined to left center. Hit on a line out to the wall. The outfielders run back and give up on it. The runners all hold up, ten feet off each base, knees bent, ready to tag, run, or trot home as the four-way scorers of a grand slam in the making. And some 390 feet from home, the ball lands at the base of the wall—Blackmon tracks it down, and two Cardinals dash home to score.
“This game is tied! Matt Carpenter delivers, with the bases loaded…”
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) May 20, 2016
Busch Stadium gets louder, cheers bursting out, but nothing matching the wooden knock of Carpenter’s bat. And then Aledmys Diaz, adding to the all-Cardinals orchestra, hits a line-drive ripped between first and second, past a diving Descalso.
It’s 7-6 Cardinals, with Jon Gray making his way to the dugout, Christian Bergman in from the bullpen, rocking a long mane and goatee of his own—and a moment later it’s 8-6, Stephen Piscotty into second with a double to left, fair by just an inch, and excitement from the St. Louis TV guys:
“We’re in St. Louis—but it feels like we’re in Coors Field!”
Matt Adams plates two more with a single to right. “Four RBIs for the big man…”
It’s 10-6 now, the script flipped all the way back for the Cardinals, as Molina flies out to end the inning. The redbirds grab their gloves, jogging back out to the field, as Jon Gray sulks in the dugout, still chewing his gum, alone in the black and purple shadows of a team hoodie and a start gone awry.
It’s business, as usual. No panicking in St. Louis, middle Missouri, southern Illinois, or any other pockets of Cardinals nation. The Cubs are good. The Pirates are good. But the Cardinals, they’re the usual. The good, the very good. The always expected.