After Cards get huge HR, a painful error spells walk-off loss

July 6th, 2023

MIAMI -- Jordan Hicks had just endured one of the most galling and embarrassing moments of his MLB career, and because he could hardly believe it even several minutes later, he went straight to the video replay to try to figure out exactly where things went so wrong for both him and the Cardinals on Wednesday night.

Up by a run after his team battled back from an early five-run hole and two other deficits, Hicks saw what could have been a glimmer of hope for the struggling Cardinals go dim when he sailed a simple throw to first base several feet over the head of Paul Goldschmidt. Hicks, one of only three MLB pitchers this season to have multiple strikeouts with 102-plus-mph pitches, double-clutched and then airmailed a throw that allowed two runs to come around and score in the bottom of the ninth for a head-scratching 10-9 loss to the Marlins at loanDepot park.

“I knew [the two Miami runners] were going, because I heard the [infielders yelling]. It’s one of those situations where I think if I make a good throw, it’s another ballgame,” Hicks said. “The team battles back, and it was one of those come-from-behind wins you want to be closing out. So whenever you don't even get beat with the bat, that's what really stinks.”

What stunk the most for the Cardinals was being saddled with another loss on a night in which they showed incredible resolve and grit, getting superstar performances from Nolan Arenado, Willson Contreras and Jordan Walker. Arenado had three doubles for the fourth time in his career, Contreras continued his torrid hitting with three hits and two RBIs, while the 21-year-old Walker crushed a two-strike, two-out go-ahead homer in the ninth that traveled a Statcast-projected 444 feet and briefly vaulted the Cards into the lead.

“This game is just really tough, man,” said Walker, whose seventh home run of the season was the most momentous of his young career. “I haven’t been having a great series, so I’ve just been telling myself to bounce back tomorrow. That’s what I’m going to do again, because this was a tough loss.”

“It seems like nothing is going our way,” added Contreras, who has seven hits in the series and is 6-for-10 with runners in scoring position since June 19. “We’re pushing, we’re trying our best and we’re not giving up, and things just get out of hand really quickly. I think this is the toughest loss of this 2023 season.”

Manager Oliver Marmol said repeatedly after the game that the effort was further proof that the Cardinals haven’t given up on the season -- even though they hit a season-worst 16 games below .500 (35-51) for a second time. However, the efforts of the offense in battling back three times was once again undone by shoddy starting pitching and a leaky relief corps. Starter Matthew Liberatore retired just one hitter and departed after allowing four runs. Hicks’ gaffe resulted in the bullpen blowing an 18th save and losing an 18th one-run game.

“The reality is, when you give up four runs in the first again and you battle back and you score nine runs, the guys are into it,” Marmol said. “You just can’t give up 10. ... That’s not big-league quality at the moment.”

Much of that likely would have been forgotten had Hicks fielded the comebacker off the bat of Joey Wendle, stared back pinch-runner Garrett Hampson at third and made a solid throw to first base. When none of that happened, Hampson never broke stride, scored easily and celebrated at home when Yuli Gurriel scored from first base on Hicks’ errant throw.

“I knew Hicks wasn't paying any attention to me anyway, so I felt like I got a good read, and obviously, being in motion helps,” Hampson said. “I think I would have been walking into home regardless, but just an exciting ending.”

Hicks was on the opposite end of that emotional spectrum, upset about costing his team what would have been a crowning win.

“We’ve got to move on, and I'll be better,” Hicks added. “I’ll shuffle my feet twice next time and maybe check [the runner at third], but I'm trying to get an out there. If I made the throw, there would have been a play at the plate, but we’ll never know what the outcome would have been.

“It’s 100 percent on me. The team battled back, and it was a hell of a game, and we’ll just move on from there.”