ST. LOUIS -- For the first time in Cardinals history, a runner started the eighth inning on second base in Game 1 of a seven-inning doubleheader.
In their 4-3 loss to the Pirates Thursday afternoon at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals got their first experience with MLB’s new extra-innings rule for the 2020 season, in which a baserunner is automatically placed at second base to start every half-inning. It just so happened that their first taste of the new rule came in Game 1 of a doubleheader -- which are seven innings each this year, another unique twist for 2020. The Cardinals are already well-versed in the seven-inning doubleheaders, having played three before Thursday and with seven more scheduled this season.
But the Cardinals had yet to get to extras this season, and their first time didn’t end like they wanted it. A bloop single from Cole Tucker off reliever John Gant scored automatic runner Jarrod Dyson, but the Pirates broke the game open with Brad Miller’s second fielding error of the game on a Jacob Stallings grounder that bounced over Miller’s head and into left field, plating the third run of the eighth. The Cardinals scored two of their own in the bottom of the inning, but strikeouts of Miller and pinch-hitter Max Schrock -- pinch-hitting for Tyler O'Neill -- stranded two runners to end the game.
“We stole some runs in the first game, we gave a few up, but we had opportunities in the first game and the second game with people on and we weren’t able to capitalize,” manager Mike Shildt said. “We’re not going to play clean all the time, but we haven't played as clean as we’d like to. Game 1 was a little indicative of that. We’re going to make our mistakes, but we need to continue to play clean, fundamental baseball and we’ll be just fine.”
It was a tale of two defenses for the Cardinals, with three rare infield errors -- two on Miller and one on Gold Glove second baseman Kolten Wong in the sixth inning when he misplayed Tucker’s grounder. Only three of the four Pirates runs were earned; Kwang Hyun Kim's only run allowed was unearned after Miller overthrew first base on another Tucker grounder in the fourth. Kim allowed just three hits and threw 80 pitches across six innings, working out of a few jams to limit the damage.
“Overall my command was not as good compared to last time,” Kim said through interpreter Craig Choi. “After the first error, I had in my mind that I shouldn’t allow the runner or a run. I had that in mind. But that increased my pitch count, so I wasn’t really efficient today.”
But the outfield defense, on the other hand, was stellar, starting with Tyler O’Neill’s five-star catch right after Miller’s error in the fourth inning. On Kevin Newman’s deep fly ball, the Cardinals’ left fielder had to cover 101 feet in 5.1 seconds, according to Statcast, for a grab that had a 5 percent catch probability, factoring in the wall.
“It was a great play,” Kim said of O’Neill’s catch. “Those plays, even though we’re on defense -- it’s like hitting a home run for me.”
The Cardinals have committed 16 errors in 21 games this season, tying them for ninth in the National League with the Marlins, Brewers and Mets, who have played 26, 28 and 29 games, respectively. Eight of those errors have come in the past four games. St. Louis fielded the best defense in the league last season and returned all of its infielders while adding Miller, who rotates between third base and designated hitter.
And while it’s not possible for every defender to be perfect, the three errors were the difference in Game 1 on Thursday. As the Cardinals continue their daunting stretch of games -- after Thursday, they are scheduled to play 36 games in 31 days to finish the schedule -- clean baseball will be a necessary not only to win, but also to avoid making pitchers throw more than they need to.
“I know our position players are always helping me, and that should be the same case for me,” Kim said. “I tried to not make that run score so that the position players don’t feel sorry about it. The position player and pitcher always have to cooperate and help each other out.”