Despite perfect relay, Cards lose to Reds

June 4th, 2021

Dylan Carlson raced back. He gauged it perfectly.

Tommy Edman came down with it. He slinged it perfectly.

Yadier Molina reached out. He picked it perfectly.

The Cardinals displayed as crisp an 8-4-2 relay as you’ll see to nab a runner in the fifth inning of Thursday’s 4-2 loss to the Reds at Busch Stadium, providing a welcome respite and moment of encouragement on a night an injury-ravaged team was otherwise listless in the series opener.

A ball off the bat from Tyler Naquin was promptly retrieved and ultimately delivered to Molina, who tagged out Tyler Stephenson as he was trying to score from first and stretch the Reds' lead to two. Each component was executed perfectly. Had they not occurred as such, the Cardinals might not have had the chance to rally later in the game.

“I feel like we've been pretty darn good with our cutoffs and relays for the most part,” said manager Mike Shildt. “We've had a few hiccups that happened, but it was just a well-run play.”

It was the kind of defense the Cardinals have longed to see after recent mishaps. The club struggled with an uncharacteristic 16 errors on its most recent three-city road trip, including seven in one series alone.

The relay was crucial not just for its importance in the game, but especially for Adam Wainwright’s night. After he labored for 50 pitches through his first two frames, St. Louis' starter threw seven innings, limiting the Reds to three runs. The play allowed Wainwright to maintain a one-run deficit for his offense, held mum most of the night by Reds starter Vladimir Gutierrez, and then again by reliever Tejay Antone. It also allowed him to limit his pitch count in the fifth inning to 14.

“You have a play like that, it’s sometimes a momentum shift,” said Matt Carpenter, who watched the play unfold while spelling Paul Goldschmidt for a day at first. “I thought it was going to be a play that could turn the corner for us.”

Let's break down the relay, step by step:

The hit

A 90.2 mph sinker from Wainwright was whalloped 108.6 mph off the bat by Naquin (95+ mph is considered "hard-hit" by Statcast). It traveled 389 feet, bouncing off the warning track and then the wall just to the right of the batter’s eye.

Carlson, taking over the starting center-field role with Harrison Bader on the injured list, plopped himself in the grass perfectly. He collected it, fired a 76.3 mph strike to Edman and watched the magic unfold from the outfield.

A natural corner-outfielder, Carlson has impressed in his tenure in center this season, with this being Bader’s second time on the injured list. Thursday was just another display by his glove that has continued to impress in lockstep with his bat.

The relay

Edman stands at just 5-foot-10. He’s had to use every inch of that frame to turn several highlight-reel plays as he eyes his first Gold Glove. Thursday was no exception.

Stretching out to corral the throw from Carlson, Edman collected himself in just 0.80 seconds, pivoting his body towards home plate with an 84.1 mph strike to Molina while off balance.

It was also a feather in Edman’s cap, entering the day tied for the Major League lead with six outs above average at second. His strong play has come as he’s had to shuffle all around the field yet again this season.

The pick

Making his 284th career start with Wainwright -- moving into the fourth-most by a battery in Major League history -- Molina has made a pick like he did on Thursday countless times.

Truth be told, Molina didn’t have much other-worldly to do in this instance, with Edman’s throw right where it needed to be up the line. But his pick and tag were necessary to complete the super play, and it was no surprise that Molina, a historically dependable cog for excellent defensive play by the Cardinals, was involved at the end. It's something Wainwright knows especially well.

“There's moments like that as a pitcher and you feel like, ‘Alright, that play was made. I got this now,’” Wainwright said. “Those kinds of plays lock you in a little bit sometimes. That happened for me right there. I knew I was getting the next guy when they threw that guy out at home.”