The Cardinals had plenty of reasons to lose to the Marlins on Tuesday evening at loanDepot park. Their starter was outdueled. They were outhit, both in the box score and in terms of any semblance of hard contact in the early goings. And their fielding was worse, with a pair of errors leading to an early Miami run.
But they won, 4-2, with an inning as gritty as they come, to lock up a “blue-collar style” first series victory of 2021.
“It's the sign of good, hard-nose, tough baseball,” said manager Mike Shildt. “Guys are dedicated to what they're doing, regardless of circumstances.”
Circumstances were born from a tough start for John Gant, who allowed a leadoff single before Tyler O’Neill saw a hard-hit ball kick off his glove, and his wonky relay throw to the infield allowed the first Marlin to score and ultimately set up a 2-0 Cards deficit. In the scorebook: a pair of errors for the 2020 Gold Glove Award-winning left fielder.
That set the stage for the sixth inning, which began with back-to-back singles from Tommy Edman and Paul Goldschmidt, only one of which left the infield -- by mere feet. Former Cardinal Sandy Alcantara was cruising to that point, becoming just the third Marlin to ever strike out 10 Cards in a start.
Nolan Arenado walked to load the bases, and then the fundamentals on which the Cardinals pride themselves kicked into high gear:
• Edman quickly seeing an opportunity and scampering home on a wild pitch
• Goldschmidt brilliantly reading a groundout to first to score
• Yadier Molina bringing Arenado home on a sac fly two batters later
It was a come-from-behind victory without an extra-base hit until Dylan Carlson sent insurance 380 feet into left field in the ninth.
“That sixth inning, we were able to battle there and find a way,” Arenado said, “and that's what good teams do. They find ways to win. To win a series like that is a pretty good feeling.”
Quickly and unceremoniously on brand, an agonizing 2-0 deficit became a 3-2 lead. The bullpen -- worked hard to this juncture of the season -- never looked back.
Part of that is because Gant had to work for his four innings, only throwing fewer than 20 pitches in a frame once. He allowed three walks, and his night brought an end to the first turn through the Cardinals' rotation. Not one starter threw a pitch in the sixth; only Daniel Ponce de Leon earned a win.
“Got to do a better job of getting deeper into that game and saving some bullets from those guys,” Gant said. “They used a lot tonight, but sometimes it's going to happen, and brush it off and move on. We got the team win, that’s all that matters.”
The short starts are no surprise for the Cardinals and all across the league, as starting-pitcher workload is under an intense microscope after the shortened 2020 season. The Cards preach confidence in their bullpen, which has held strong on the backs of Giovanny Gallegos and Alex Reyes pitching back-to-back nights in Miami.
St. Louis’ dependence on its ’pen has created difficult maneuvering for Shildt. Jordan Hicks was unavailable Tuesday after he pitched the day prior, his workload off Tommy John surgery being closely followed. Tyler Webb pitched in a spot Hicks likely would have been used, giving the lefty four outings in the first five games.
“It's a team within a team,” Shildt said, “and our bullpen has done a nice job, was really good tonight.”
The bullpen performed when it probably shouldn’t have on Tuesday -- taxed hard, with key arms out and others pitching for the second night in a row. Their efforts helped the Cardinals earn their first series win in the process.