Flaherty’s one-hit, eight-inning effort gave the Cardinals a 1-0 win over the Giants on Tuesday night at Busch Stadium, continuing both Flaherty’s success and the success for the Cardinals, who have won 20 of their last 25 games.
The dominance for Flaherty dates back to July 7, when he faced the Giants in San Francisco. He took a no-hitter into the seventh inning, when he gave up a solo home run. The Cardinals were held scoreless, and Flaherty was dealt the loss.
Not on Tuesday.
Mike Yastrzemski got the first hit off of Flaherty, a single to right field with two outs in the sixth. But Flaherty completely fooled the Giants otherwise, allowing only one walk and striking out eight while setting a career high in innings pitched. And this time, Marcell Ozuna gave Flaherty the run support needed with a solo bomb to Big Mac Land.
Flaherty’s mastery since that day in San Francisco has helped ascend the Cardinals into first place in the National League Central standings and set their sights on October. In nine starts after the All-Star break, he ranks first among Major League pitchers with a 0.85 ERA.
Flaherty made 15 starts this season pitching six innings or more while holding his opposition to four hits or fewer -- the most in the National League and third in the Majors behind Cy Young candidates Justin Verlander (18) and Gerrit Cole (16).
That’s a Cy Young Award-caliber second half for Flaherty, and it’s coming at the right time for the Cardinals. The 23-year-old has blossomed into the anchor of the rotation as the Cardinals try to find their way back to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
“It’s fun to be on this team,” Flaherty said. “Any time you can get on a team like this, making a push -- we know where we’re at. It’s just not trying to do too much, trying to stay right there. I feel like everyone in here sees where we’re at and wants to contribute in any way they can.”
Flaherty is doing everything the Cardinals need him to do. He’s allowed three earned runs in his last 46 innings, and his nine scoreless starts this year are the most by a Cardinal since Adam Wainwright in 2014, when he fueled the Cardinals to a division title and into the playoffs.
“I think Jack is in control of what he’s doing,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “Just about staying present, staying in the moment. It’s a concept that’s easier said than done, but it’s important. It allows you to stay in the moment, let your body work, be able to think a little clearer. Jack’s been able to do that. Impressive.”
Flaherty’s success, beyond his command and mechanics, stems from him not trying to do too much when he’s on the mound. That’s a different mentality than what he had last September, when he went winless and had a 5.60 ERA as the Cardinals wilted from playoff contention right after they had spent August rising back into relevance.
This year is different.
“More confident,” Flaherty said of his mindset now. “Last year I felt good, went in and tried to do the same stuff, but I think I tried to do a little bit too much last year. Seeing where we were at, knowing how the team was playing. We were playing really well, and I tried to do a little bit too much. When you try to do a little bit too much when you’re pitching well, it can go the opposite direction instead of trying to stay right there.”
His confidence on Tuesday showed through his ability to overpower hitters with his fastball -- which reached 97 mph on his 100th pitch of the night -- and outsmart hitters with his slider. He threw 113 pitches and 84 strikes (that’s 29 balls to 26 batters) and got behind in the count eight times.
It’s that kind of command that wins important games, the kind that the Cardinals will play all month as they look to October.
“He just had dominant stuff,” center fielder Harrison Bader said. “He did an incredible job all of August. He's done an incredible job all year, but specifically August. He got his reward for pitcher of the month. He carried it over into September. I have no doubt he's going to continue to roll. It's awesome to play behind.”