ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals have longed for these circumstances, to get a deeper outing from one of their additions to the rotation, to take a lead late into the game and to hand it right to the back-end arms.
Dreams can be dashed quickly, painfully and idly.
Giovanny Gallegos was nicked for the second straight night and Alex Reyes lacked any semblance of control as the Cardinals saw their late lead turn into an 8-4 defeat against the Braves at Busch Stadium on Thursday night. A solid evening for Wade LeBlanc and Andrew Knizner’s big performance on both sides of the ball were washed away, as St. Louis walked its way into a six-run top of the eighth inning and a sweep.
“Both those guys have been the reason we've been as competitive as we are -- it’s because of Giovanny Gallegos and Alex Reyes,” said manager Mike Shildt. “It always hurts at the end when you have a lead and you don't bring it home, but we haven't had that happen very often this year at all, and it happened tonight. Those guys are hurting, but I can tell you this, I’d put them in that situation any day of the week and take my chances. It just wasn’t their night.”
Nights like Thursday, specifically, have been few for the Cardinals. They are among the best in the Majors with just 12 blown saves on the year (only two teams have fewer). But the ingredients of how the evening’s meltdown came to be were far too familiar.
St. Louis leads the Majors with 26 bases-loaded walks this season. After his first walk loaded the bases, Reyes added three bases-loaded walks to that ledger, while his replacement, Justin Miller, added a fourth. In relief of Gallegos, who’d given up a two-run homer and two-out double, the All-Star closer threw 21 pitches with only four going for strikes. None recorded an out.
The Braves swung at just a single pitch. It was his first one, which Adam Duvall fouled off.
“[Reyes] is a really, really good pitcher. He has a tendency to throw the ball out of the zone at times,” said Braves catcher Steve Vogt. “We showed great patience and made him come over the plate.”
Since the start of the Expansion Era in 1961, the record for most bases-loaded walks in a season is owned by the 1999 Mariners, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Seattle had 28; the Cardinals are currently two shy of tying that mark.
“It's been by far the most frustrating thing with this club,” Shildt said, “because it's the one thing that we haven't done very well but more or less you can somewhat control -- no pun intended.”
This season, the next-closest team is the 39-70 Rangers with 13. The Cardinals have also plunked six batters with the bases loaded.
“We got a group of guys that want to get the job done so bad, and sometimes, I don't want to speak for anybody, but even speaking for myself, guys put too much pressure on themselves and try to make make stuff happen instead of just going out there and just relaxing, trusting themselves and playing the game," said Knizner, who blasted his first home run of the season in the second inning.
“I think that's a good quality to have as a team, guys that want to do good every single time out and put pressure on themselves to be good. But sometimes, I think like tonight, maybe it was a little counterproductive. But you know, innings like that happen.”
Reyes has struggled with control all season, with the second-highest walk rate among qualified relievers (19.7 percent) and free passes allowed in over half of his 49 appearances on the year. Gallegos, rock-steady as he’s been, was bitten for multiple runs in consecutive outings for just the first time this season, after he threw 28 pitches in Wednesday’s loss -- another one riddled with bullpen leakage.
Reyes on Thursday became the first Cardinals pitcher to walk three batters with the bases loaded in the same game since right-hander Danny Jackson in September 1996. It had been over 60 years since the last time the Cardinals issued four bases-loaded walks in the same game.
Countless times this season, the Cardinals have felt extremely confident handing Gallegos and Reyes the ball. A pair of outings on Thursday will not change that, Shildt affirmed, but the sweep did little to foster hope as the Cardinals try and claw back into contention amid a month with every series but two against teams under .500.
For 7 2/3 innings, though, it appeared destined to represent the opposite.
“The first part of the game, we took a lot,” Shildt said. “And then we gave it at the end.”