Depleted 'pen unable to stop relentless Dodgers

With Helsley unavailable, four relievers allow seven runs over three innings

July 14th, 2022

ST. LOUIS -- A night after reveling in one of their most stirring and significant victories of the season, the Cardinals were forced to agonize through one of their most galling defeats on Wednesday.

A commanding six-run lead, one built by throttling normally dominant Dodgers starter Tony Gonsolin, all came crashing down for the Cardinals when their usually reliable bullpen came apart at the seams with All-Star closer Ryan Helsley unavailable to pitch. The result -- a 7-6 defeat after the bullpen surrendered all seven runs over the final three innings -- left the Cardinals feeling hollow just 24 hours after winning by that same score.

“We were pretty thin going into that game in terms of who we had available and for how long,” said Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol, stressing that Helsley was off limits. “That would have been five out of seven [appearances for Helsley] this week -- with one of those being 2 2/3 [innings], so he was down. But he definitely would have been in that game if he was available.

“We’re not here without [Helsley] being healthy,” Marmol added. “So, if a player says he is down for the day, you respect it.”

Helsley, who was named to his first MLB All-Star Game after surrendering three earned runs over the first 90 games of the season, threw 13 pitches and recorded two strikeouts in Tuesday’s victory. Helsley got Monday off after pitching on Saturday [one inning, 14 pitches] and Sunday [one inning, 10 pitches] against the Phillies, but he was a no-go on Wednesday.

After warming up early in the day on Wednesday, Helsley didn’t feel the same sort of responsiveness in his right arm -- and said as much to Marmol -- and was shut down for the night. Helsely has attributed much of his success to improved health following knee surgery last fall, and he admitted that he probably would have made himself available in this situation in years past.

“I just think it was the right move,” Helsley said of his decision to not pitch. “You’ve got to listen to your body -- that’s one thing I’ve learned this year as opposed to last year. I’m really trying to be honest about how my body is feeling. I want to be available every day, but sadly our bodies can’t do that.”

With Jordan Hicks, Johan Oviedo and Helsley unavailable, Marmol attempted to patch together a serviceable relief corps behind starter Adam Wainwright, who lasted 5 1/3 innings after his pitch count climbed to 114 pitches. Wainwright was coming off the 28th complete game of his career -- most among active players -- but he was unable to go deep into the game because of the fight put up by the Dodgers’ pesky lineup. Even though he didn’t allow a run, Wainwright walked Max Muncy three times -- just the third time in his career that he walked a player three times in a game, according to MLB Stats and Research. Ryan Howard in 2007 and Yonder Alonso in 2012 were the others.

Even though he surrendered just four hits and left the game with a 6-0 lead, Wainwright said the loss was as much his fault as it was the floundering bullpen.

“They work you, and that’s a championship ball team over there,” said Wainwright, who thinks the result would have been different had he gone deeper into the game. “It goes back to what [former Cardinals pitcher] Woody Williams told me way back in the day: ‘If you want wins, you’ve got to go seven.’ That just makes everything simple. I could have done my job a little bit better tonight and gone deeper and we probably would have won that game.”

The Dodgers started their rally off Drew VerHagen, who was activated on Wednesday following a long stay on the IL with shoulder stiffness and hand numbness. VerHagen, who was signed after two seasons of pitching professionally in Japan, opened the inning with strikeouts of Mookie Betts (on an 83.2 mph slider) and Trea Turner (on an 82.4 mph slider). However, when Freddie Freeman singled and Will Smith homered off two fastballs, Marmol questioned the pitch selection.

“The first two hitters, Betts and Turner, he spins them, and they miss it by a foot,” said Marmol, whose bullpen had been a strength over the past month. “So, I think the pitch selection was not the play. You spin both of those guys and make them look silly and then go three or four fastballs to Freeman and go fastball to Smith. The [slider] was working, so stick with it.”

From there, the Dodgers pulled off their 26th come-from-behind win of the season by rallying for three hits and two runs in the ninth off Giovanny Gallegos, who was working a night after throwing 23 pitches on Tuesday.

“A lot of these guys are on fumes,” said Marmol, whose team was playing on its 13th straight day. “[On Tuesday], I think [Gallegos] threw [23 pitches]. He was definitely available and willing to go.”