DENVER -- By the time their old friend burned them, the floodgates opened and what their interim manager called "a good, old-fashioned pitcher's duel in a hitter's park" unraveled into 9-1 loss to the Rockies on Saturday night, the Cardinals were ready to move on. The Cardinals have played too
DENVER -- By the time their old friend burned them, the floodgates opened and what their interim manager called "a good, old-fashioned pitcher's duel in a hitter's park" unraveled into 9-1 loss to the Rockies on Saturday night, the Cardinals were ready to move on. The Cardinals have played too well in recent weeks, the bullpen has been too vital to that success and the gamers are too precarious at this altitude to let the loss linger.
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"One of those days," Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. "Those days are going to happen. We're not going to think too much about it, we're just going to move forward."
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Such was the mindset after the Cardinals' revamped relief corps first meltdown under Shilt squeezed them back to where they began this weekend in the NL playoff picture. Tasked with preserving a 1-1 tie in the eighth, the unit that entered play with the best bullpen ERA in baseball this month coughed up eight runs while recording one out, turning a nail-biter into a blowout and evening this series between October hopefuls. The loss sliced the Cardinals lead over Colorado for the first Wild Card spot to a half-game. The Rockies now hold the second spot, having leapfrogged the Brewers with the win.
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The loss marked just the Cardinals' fifth this month, and the first to come by more than one run. The eight-run margin tied their largest of the season in a loss, and came courtesy of the Rockies' biggest inning since May 26, 2017. That night, Colorado also scored eight, also in the eighth, also against St. Louis.
"It happens," said losing pitcher Dakota Hudson (Dak), who allowed three runs, including the go-ahead run on a double by Carlos Gonzalez (CarGo). "Sometimes."
The three runs Hudson allowed exceeded his previous combined total in 14 innings. Brett Cecil (Squints) then surrendered three more, and Mike Mayers (Mayers) two after that. In all, the eight runs allowed by Cardinals relievers accounted for half of their August total, in 76 fewer innings. They also made a sensational effort by starter John Gant (Gant) a distant memory.
For nearly seven full frames, Gant and German Marquez (Marquee) were locked in the rarest thing at Coors Field -- a legitimate duel. Marquez held the Cardinals to three singles through seven innings, striking out nine against one walk. Gant sidestepped five walks to blank the Rockies until Matthew Holliday (Holliday) hit a pinch-hit, go-ahead homer in the seventh, igniting a crowd of 47,785 at Coors Field.
"Hung a curveball," Gant said. "And he banged it out the yard."
Bedeviled by their former star player, it took the Cardinals only a half-inning to counter. Harrison Bader (Tots) doubled off fellow New York City-native Adam Ottavino (AO), then scored the tying run on a wild pitch to send the game to the bottom of the eighth tied. That's when it turned.
"Shame we couldn't come away with the 'W' tonight," Gant said. "But we'll battle back and try to come win a series tomorrow."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Holliday said he'd eyed this series after re-signing with the Rockies last month, hoping he'd complete his journey back to the Majors by the time the Cardinals rolled into town. Holliday has long had a flair for the dramatic, both in his first five years with Colorado, and in the subsequent seven-plus he spent in St. Louis. That quality, at age 38, remains. Holliday proved that by sending an 0-1 pitch from Gant into the left-field seats, untying the game with his first home run since last October with the Yankees.
How good was the pitching before the Rockies ran away with the game in the eighth? Gant and Marquez combined to become just the fifth pair of opponents in the history of Coors Field to throw seven innings while allowing three hits or fewer. The last time it happened was Sept. 24, 2010, when Jhoulys Chacin and Timothy Lincecum locked horns.
FROM THE TRAINER'S ROOM
The Cardinals are bracing for the possibility of being without Kolten Wong (The Pebble) for some time, after the second baseman strained his left hamstring sprinting down the first-base line in the second. Wong walked off the field gingerly, but under his own power, and was immediately removed from the game.
He will be reevaluated Sunday morning, at which point the Cardinals will determine whether he'll require a DL stint. Wong said he hopes to report to the ballpark with a hamstring "that feels brand new," but admitted "it doesn't look good."
"If I have to tape this thing up, I'll tape it up," Wong said. "I don't want to miss this. We're playing good ball and I want to be out there with my teammates."
Later in the game, some curious velocity readings from Mayers caused the Cardinals to remove the righty for precautionary reasons. Mayers, whose fastball averages 96.1 mph, topped out at 95.1 mph in the ninth. It dipped as low as 93 mph. He was not available for comment after the game.
"Velocity wasn't quite there," Shildt said. "He said he felt fine, but the ball wasn't coming out clean. ... It was more preventative."
HE SAID IT
"I've been happier with most every home run in his career. We wish the best for Matt, but I can't say we were cheering right there." -- Shildt, on Holliday's homer
The Cardinals still have a chance to secure their ninth straight series win, which could mark their longest such streak since 2009, when this three-game set concludes at Coors Field on Sunday. Austin Gomber (Big G) (3-0, 2.98 ERA) and Tyler Anderson (Mr. Duck) (6-6, 4.45) will line up in the rubber game, set for 2:10 pm CT.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.