Flaherty an agent of chaos in Cardinals' win

Right-hander walks 7 but maintains his cool and pitches 5 no-hit innings

April 2nd, 2023

ST. LOUIS -- In the hours before Saturday’s chilly, windswept game against a potent Blue Jays lineup, Cardinals pitcher tweeted out a video mashup that featured both himself and his all-time favorite villain, The Joker -- ignoring the doubters, operating among the chaos and ultimately finding their own forms of success in downright bizarre manners.

Little did the 6-foot-4 right-hander know it at the time, but the Flaherty/Joker video released on Twitter -- one that ended with the phrase, #dontthink -- served as a perfect preview of the flawed madness that would ensue a few hours later at Busch Stadium.

Making the first start of what he hopes to be a huge bounce-back season, Flaherty threw five no-hit innings against the Blue Jays, but he constantly had to pitch around repeated traffic jams of his own creation when he walked seven batters and plunked another with a slider. Quite possibly channeling the late Heath Ledger’s version of The Joker, Flaherty stayed calm throughout the chaos swirling around him and pitched the Cardinals to a 4-1 victory.

Frustration over an uneven, baffling performance, Flaherty said, was not an option because of everything that’s on the line for both him and the Cardinals this season. That’s something that has taken years for the often-temperamental 27-year-old Flaherty to learn, but he showed growth on Saturday amidst the 22 mph winds whipping through the stadium.

“Getting frustrated is not going to do anything for anybody, and that's something that I've had to learn and figure out -- getting frustrated and showing emotion is not going do anything for me or the team, but it's going do something for the hitter,” said Flaherty, who set a career high with the seven walks in his 99th start. “It’s about finding some peace and being able to execute.”

Two RBIs by , a second RBI by rookie  and the work of four relievers made Flaherty’s start hold up as the Cardinals won for the first time. Two days after grinding its way to 19 hits and 10 runs in the opener, Toronto had just three hits and left 12 runners on base against St. Louis pitching.

Most impressive to Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol was Flaherty finding a way to adapt on a day when he needed 29 pitches to get out of the first and 95 to survive five rather rocky innings.

“I'm actually proud of him,” Marmol said of the right-hander the Cardinals feel could be a major X-factor for their title hopes this season. “When you look at his ability to keep his composure, I think we took a big step in the right direction today as far as just keeping his cool and figuring out a way to make an adjustment rather than allowing it to snowball. That game could’ve got real ugly in a heartbeat, and he didn't allow it to.”

Flaherty -- as healthy as he has been since the beginning of the 2021 season, when he started 8-1 and looked to be one of the game’s best young pitchers -- didn’t surrender a hit over five innings. Sticking around beyond the fifth inning to pursue the first no-hitter thrown in St. Louis since 1983 was not even an option for Flaherty, who talked pitching coach Dusty Blake out of visiting the mound in the first inning and hit the 80-pitch mark by the fourth.

Flaherty retired the game’s first two hitters and threw strikes on five of his first six pitches, but then he walked three straight hitters. In the second and third innings, he put the first two batters on with more wildness, but he worked out of trouble both times by locating pitches even without his best stuff. For example, Flaherty threw 11 pitches in the second inning but cracked 90 mph just once. He used an inning-ending double play to wiggle out of trouble in the second, and he fanned Brandon Belt a second time to again avoid damage in the third.

In the end, Flaherty became just the 16th pitcher since 1901 to walk at least seven without yielding a hit or a run, per MLB Stats and Research. However, he balked at the notion that he did some of his best pitching by continually working out of jams. He knows that to have the kind of success he wants this season, he’ll need to be much sharper with his stuff.

“I don’t know if that’s [good] pitching; seven walks isn’t pitching,” he said. “That’s not something that’s going to work over the long run. But I was able to get away with it today by making pitches when I needed them. I made pitches in decent spots, but [seven walks] isn’t ideal.”