PHOENIX -- For four innings on Tuesday night, Cardinals rookie Jack Flaherty outpitched a former Cy Young Award winner and tamed the National League's hottest hitter. And then came the pair of suspect sliders - one that traveled 366 feet, another that didn't travel anywhere - that unraveled it all.Flaherty ended
PHOENIX -- For four innings on Tuesday night, Cardinals rookie Jack Flaherty outpitched a former Cy Young Award winner and tamed the National League's hottest hitter. And then came the pair of suspect sliders - one that traveled 366 feet, another that didn't travel anywhere - that unraveled it all.
Flaherty ended his night fixated on the two mislocated pitches and the knockout blow subsequently delivered by Paul Goldschmidt, whose three-run homer sunk the Cardinals in a 4-2 loss to the D-backs. Like the Cardinals had one night earlier, the D-backs snapped a four-game skid with the victory.
"Got into a tough situation with a good hitter, got two strikes, and the guy got the best of that matchup," manager Mike Matheny said. "Obviously, when it doesn't work, you want it back."
Having struck out in his first two at-bats against Flaherty (including once on a slider), Goldschmidt adjusted his approach as he stepped in with the chance to erase the Cardinals' one-run lead in the fifth. He would shorten up his swing and just try to make contact, Goldschmidt explained afterward, in an effort to capitalize with two runners on base and two out.
After jumping ahead, 0-2, Flaherty went with three straight sliders. The first two bounced in the dirt. The next one settled in the seats for Goldschmidt's 12th home run in 30 games.
"I was trying to put something in play and fouled off a fastball, barely, and laid off a couple of sliders and then just really trying to put something in play -- a hit anywhere, an infield single could tie the game," said Goldschmidt, the reigning NL Player of the Month. "I was able to get enough of that one to get it out of there."
The homer, which registered a hit probability of 48 percent per Statcast™, was the 10th allowed by Flaherty in 12 season starts. But it wasn't his most regrettable pitch. That came six pitches prior when, again after getting ahead, 0-2, Flaherty extended the inning to Goldschmidt by plunking Jonathan Jay on the foot.
Jay, who has been hit more times since 2012 than anyone in baseball except the Cubs' Anthony Rizzo, handed the inning over to the one guy the Cardinals had wanted to avoid facing with runners in base.
In total, Flaherty had seven chances to retire Jay and Goldschmidt on two-strike pitches. In five of those attempts, he went with his slider.
"You go with the go-to," Flaherty said. "It just comes down to execution. There are some pitches that obviously I want back. I wasn't good enough tonight."
Indeed, the slider had been a reliable go-to pitch up until that point, which is why Flaherty never second-guessed the pitch selection. Opponents had hit .182 and slugged .403 off the pitch this season, and Flaherty induced 10 swing-and-misses and another six foul balls on the 33 sliders he threw in Tuesday's six-inning start.
The Cardinals provided Flaherty with a lead by striking quickly against D-backs starter Zack Greinke. RBIs by Yairo Munoz and Kolten Wong in the second inning countered the two-out run Arizona had scored in the opening frame. But Greinke, who benefited from a liberal strike zone early, faced little other resistance over the rest of his 6 2/3-inning start.
"Their pitcher looked very good," Greinke said. "So to score some runs and get a win against that team with him pitching that good, we'll take that."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The Cardinals' final opportunity to make things interesting came in the seventh, when, with two out, they chased Greinke with a pair of singles. Though Greinke's pitch count (95) was modest, D-backs manager Torey Lovullo chose the left-on-left matchup and brought in Jorge De La Rosa to face Matt Carpenter. Carpenter, 0-for-12 in his career against De La Rosa, drew a walk to load the bases. Reliever Yoshihisa Hirano entered next and induced an inning-ending groundout from Tommy Pham on his first pitch.
"He made a really good pitch on me -- a splitter low and in," Pham said. "My swing, I just didn't stay through it. If I stayed through it, I could have made a little bit better contact. But he made a great pitch."
With 100 strikeouts in his first 18 career starts, Flaherty has three more than Luke Weaver and current Arizona right-hander Shelby Miller had in their first 18 with the Cardinals. No one in franchise history has more.
HE SAID IT
"We've talked about his makeup a lot. While he's on the mound, he has a real trust in his stuff, especially for as young as he is. I think he's guy who is able to harness his emotions a little bit. When something does happen, he seems to be able to make good pitches after. He's still learning the league, and he's learning fast." -- Matheny, on 22-year-old Flaherty
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
A replay review shaved two Arizona runs off the scoreboard in the eighth inning after it was ruled that a fan interfered by reaching over the wall to try to glove Jake Lamb's deep fly ball to left. What was initially ruled a two-run homer was reversed to a double to benefit the Cards. Goldschmidt, who had been on first base, was required to return to third, and he was left stranded there when reliever Austin Gomber closed the inning with a double play.
The Cardinals will try for the series win behind starter Miles Mikolas, who last faced Arizona in 2012. The D-backs will see a different pitcher this time around, as Mikolas has made a push for an All-Star invite by posting a 2.61 ERA through his first 16 starts. He'll be opposed by lefty Patrick Corbin in a 9:10 p.m. CT Independence Day game at Chase Field. Assuming he draws the start in the series finale, Yadier Molina will tie former Cardinals catcher Ted Simmons for 15th on MLB's all-time list for games caught. Wednesday will be Molina's 1,771 appearance behind the plate.
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.