Cardinals eke out a win in Whitey's way

April 17th, 2024

OAKLAND -- The Cardinals lost a franchise icon on Tuesday, as Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog passed away at age 92. The team found a way to honor the legendary skipper's memory in the best way they knew how -- by securing a win with echoes of his signature style of play.

On a night that began with a moment of silence for Herzog and ended in a 3-2 St. Louis victory at the Coliseum, the Cardinals found ways to produce despite not scorching the ball or hitting for extra bases. Instead, they used small ball to their advantage as they locked down a series win and put themselves in position to sweep on Wednesday.

There were moments reminiscent of "Whiteyball," the dynamic style of play characteristic of Herzog's Cardinals as they won a World Series championship in 1982 and National League pennants in '85 and '87.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about it," manager Oliver Marmol said.

Herzog, who managed in St. Louis from 1980-90, built his teams around excellent speed, defense and pitching. His 1982 squad notably hit just 67 homers in the regular season and instead played to those strengths to bring home the ninth World Series title in franchise history.

The 2024 Cardinals, on the other hand, should have plenty of pop in the lineup but have yet to find their power stroke. Their .358 slugging percentage ranks 13th in the National League, and they've combined to hit 13 home runs through 18 games.

While a power surge would be an encouraging sign for the Cardinals, it's far from the only way to put pressure on opponents. That's where small ball comes in.

"Just knowing our game and knowing our role, I mean -- we've got guys that are going to hit homers, we've got guys that are going to hit doubles," shortstop Masyn Winn said. "So [for] me to just get on first base, maybe steal second, that turns into a double in itself."

The Cardinals were outhit, 5-4, on Tuesday, but they drew six walks and made the most of productive outs to get the job done. In fact, the team's first run came courtesy of a sequence that did not involve a base hit.

Winn began the third inning by drawing a walk against A's starter JP Sears, then swiped his third bag of the season. Jordan Walker followed with another free pass, and both young Cardinals moved up a base on Michael Siani's perfectly placed sacrifice bunt. Brendan Donovan brought Winn home when he grounded out to third base, collecting his team-leading 10th RBI to tie the game.

St. Louis then took the lead in the sixth on a pair of sacrifice flies. After Nolan Arenado led off the inning with a base hit, A's reliever Dany Jiménez issued back-to-back walks to load the bases.

The first run of the frame scored on Winn's fly ball to left-center that was caught by A's center fielder JJ Bleday. But when Bleday's throw into the infield was not cut off, both runners moved up, putting the eventual go-ahead run in Iván Herrera in position to score when Walker lifted a sac fly to right field in the next at-bat.

Factor in the performances from starter Lance Lynn (two runs, one earned, in seven innings), JoJo Romero (1-2-3 eighth) and Ryan Helsley (shutdown ninth and his MLB-leading seventh save), and the Cardinals did just enough to come out on top.

"The little things like defense, bunting and getting the runner over," Winn said, "little things like that, I think, is what creates a winning baseball team throughout the season."

St. Louis has been held to three runs or fewer in nine of its past 10 games, going 5-5 in that span. It's not ideal to live on the margins. But when that's the reality, it's even more imperative to do those little things the right way.

Successful teams, like the Cardinals aspire to be following a 91-loss season, find creative ways to win -- and even if they do so in pedestrian ways at first, the eye-popping statistics and big moments will come with time. It's all about setting a foundation to win by playing the right way.

That ideal, to Marmol, is all but synonymous with Herzog's legacy in the game.

"In the conversations that I've had with him, it was always about setting the tone," Marmol said prior to the game. "And when you think about that era of baseball, he did exactly that."