Bullpen falters in series-opening loss to Yanks
ST. LOUIS -- It had been nine years since these two storied franchises last met, and the lead-up to Monday's Interleague showdown between the Cardinals and Yankees was heightened with one pregame ceremony to honor a future Hall of Famer, Derek Jeter, and another to recognize the achievements of a championship club.
As for the actual game, rain (at least the threat of it) stalled the start. Walks then soured the end.
In front of a sellout crowd at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals dropped the series opener, 6-4, by generously assisting a Yankees offense that had trouble mustering much momentum on its own. Five of New York's six runs, including all three in the decisive 12th inning, were scored by baserunners the Cardinals had put on, first by Michael Wacha, then by Randy Choate.
"I'm more disappointed, because I feel like I let the team down," Choate said. "You fight so hard, you're in the 12th inning, you come into a spot that I relish being in. ... To walk one [batter] and hit the other is pretty disappointing."
Jacoby Ellsbury drew the leadoff walk, ending a string of 10 baserunners retired by the Cardinals' bullpen. In fact, only one of the previous 21 had reached safely -- and that exception, Brett Gardner, was erased trying to steal.
Ellsbury, though, was successful in swiping second, a theft that was unsuccessfully challenged by the Cardinals.
"It's such a big run," manager Mike Matheny said. "We have to take a shot, and maybe [the umpires] do see something."
Once Ellsbury was confirmed safe, Choate plunked Brian McCann with a two-strike slider. A sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk loaded the bases for switch-hitter Brian Roberts. Matheny preferred to have Roberts swing from the right side, which led him to leave in Choate instead of turn to Jason Motte, who was warm in the bullpen.
Roberts poked a run-scoring single through the drawn-in infield on a two-seam fastball that Choate wanted away but yanked inside.
"That was all location," Choate said. "I don't know if it was moving too much as it was I just didn't have good stuff."
Motte allowed another two inherited runs to score. The Cardinals briefly rallied in the ninth, twice bringing up the potential run, only to see the opportunities wasted.
That had also been the case in the 10th, when Jon Jay was erased on a double play. In the 11th, Gardner robbed Molina of a potential game-winning hit with a leaping catch at the top of the left-field wall with one on.
"I thought it had a really good shot," Allen Craig said of Molina's deep fly. "It had some trajectory, and it was close."
"That would have been nice," added Matheny.
It also would have been the team's first walk-off hit of the season. Instead the Cardinals were unable to take advantage of a Brewers loss to pull within a half-game of first place in the National League Central and reel in a 10th win in 12 games.
The Cardinals' bullpen had been impenetrable until the 12th. Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal and Pat Neshek each had scoreless appearances. It was with the middle of the Yankees' left-handed-heavy lineup due up that Matheny turned to his lefty specialist.
"Randy is our lefty, and even with their switch-hitters, the matchup looked favorable to give Randy a shot at it," Matheny said. "He's our guy. He's the one that has to get us through that point."
Wacha got the Cardinals through the first seven innings, once again pitted against unfavorable weather conditions. A sunny 61-minute delay pushed back the first pitch, only for the skies to open up as Wacha was finishing his warmup. The umpires chose to have the game begin despite the rain.
"It really didn't bother me too much," Wacha said. "I just really didn't understand why we started the game when it was pouring-down raining. It didn't affect me out there. I was just a little confused."
It was just more of the same for Wacha, who has now had four starts delayed or interrupted by rain, and another postponed because of it. His season rain-delay counter now sits at four hours, 52 minutes.
Both of the runs Wacha allowed in seven innings were the result of leadoff walks. He opened the game by walking Gardner, who then scored after two straight singles. It was a leadoff walk to Ichiro Suzuki in the fifth that sparked the Yankees' tie-breaking two-run frame. Once again, a pair of singles trailed the walk and led to a run. Gardner's sacrifice fly pushed home another.
"I was pretty efficient out there, but I got in trouble with the two leadoff walks there," Wacha said. "They ended up scoring like they [do] most of the time. I was pretty upset about that."
The Cardinals erased that two-run lead by the time Wacha departed, and the right-hander closed his 84-pitch outing by retiring the last nine batters he faced. He had set down 11 in a row in between the first- and fourth-inning scoring.
Wacha, now 11 starts into his sophomore season, has yet to allow more than three runs in any start.
"He found a real good rhythm, and I thought he threw extremely well today," Matheny said. "[It was] just having a couple of those innings add up on him."
St. Louis pounced on rookie starter Chase Whitley early and then again when the right-hander tired late. The Cardinals matched the Yankees' first-inning run when Matt Carpenter tripled and scored on Kolten Wong's double to right. Whitley was knocked from the game in the sixth after three straight batters reached.
Productive outs by Craig and Jhonny Peralta plated two to even the score at 3-3. From there, though, all opportunities were missed.
"We did leave some guys out there," Craig said. "I thought we hit the ball good. In this game, we just couldn't get the big hit to push us through."