CHICAGO -- When he was making his rounds during batting practice to check on the health and stamina of his relief pitchers on Sunday, Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol had lefty Génesis Cabrera whistle at him and flash four fingers, signaling he could be counted on for four innings if needed.
“So, I took him up on it,” Marmol said with a laugh about his reliever, who threw a season-high 58 pitches. “He might be more hesitant to do that in the future.”
Cabrera’s gutsy pitching over the final four innings -- two of them in extras with runners starting on second base -- combined with the clutch hitting of rookies Juan Yepez and Brendan Donovan allowed the Cardinals to outlast the Cubs, 5-3, in 11 innings. That victory helped the Cardinals escape Wrigley Field with a 3-2 series victory in the matchup of the storied rivals.
With fellow relievers Ryan Helsley and Giovanny Gallegos having thrown multiple innings in Saturday’s 7-4 win in 10 innings, Cabrera said he knew the bullpen needed him to shoulder much of the load on Sunday. Finally over a split fingernail issue that had dogged him in recent days, Cabrera threw the second most pitches of his MLB career and reminded himself of his days as a starter.
“What happened is I had a lot of days off, so that’s why when we were shagging [during batting practice] I told [Marmol] I had four in me,” said Cabrera, who made his 20th appearance of the season and his fourth of multiple innings. “I was focusing on every inning, and I wasn’t thinking about going three or four innings. I was just going inning by inning. The game was tied, and I was trying to keep it that way.”
Yepez, one of an MLB-high nine Cardinals rookies to make their MLB debuts this season, singled in fellow rookie Nolan Gorman in the top of the 11th inning for St. Louis’ first lead of the night. Then, Donovan gave the Cardinals some insurance with a two-out double that plated Harrison Bader. Donovan was the hero of Saturday’s win with a two-run double in the 10th inning.
“[Donovan] had another great game, and it’s just amazing that all of us young guys played together through the Minor Leagues and now we’re here together and helping this team win,” said Yepez, who registered his 11th RBI of the season. “It’s so exciting for us.”
Other than calling Cabrera’s performance “extremely impressive” and “unbelievable,” Marmol reserved his highest praise of the night for Bader, who had two hits and led off the top of the ninth by driving the ball off the ivy-covered wall for a triple. Pinch-hitter Lars Nootbaar then looped a ball over the infield to plate Bader, knot the score at 3 and necessitate the extra innings.
In the sixth inning, Bader was called out on a curveball that came in at the top of the strike zone -- an instance that has sent the fiery center fielder into a rage in the past, Marmol said. This time, the two of them had a conversation about the Gold Glover finding a way to impact the game, whether through his defense, basestealing or at the plate.
In the ninth inning, Bader drilled a 95.4 mph fastball from Rowan Wick 388 feet and off the wall. The ball caromed away from Christopher Morel, allowing the speedy Bader to easily get to third base.
“Today was a pretty big step for Bader in the sense that he got punched out on a pitch that he didn’t like and normally he’d come in and that would weigh on him for a couple of innings,” Marmol recalled. “He was able to immediately put that behind him. We had a conversation that he was going to find a way to win this game. He said, ‘I’m going to flush this and do something with my next at-bat.’ He did exactly that, so credit to him because that’s a big step right there.”
From there, Cabrera did the rest. Cabrera’s four innings, combined with seven from starter Adam Wainwright, allowed the Cardinals to win while using just two pitchers in an 11-inning game for the first time since May 7, 1986. That night, it was John Tudor and Todd Worrell, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“Whew,” Cabrera said when told he threw 58 pitches. “I feel really good. I feel like a starter now. If they’d give me the opportunity to start games, I’d be ready.”