Cards gain WC ground behind Lester's gem

Adjustments pay off for veteran lefty, who allows just one hit over 6 1/3 innings

August 31st, 2021

CINCINNATI -- Jon Lester is no stranger to pitching in big games when his team needs it.

The Cardinals turned to the veteran left-hander with three World Series rings in the opener of a pivotal three-game series at Great American Ball Park on Monday night with the hopes of drawing closer to the Cincinnati Reds in the race for the second National League Wild Card spot.

Lester delivered exactly the type of performance the Cardinals envisioned when they acquired him from Washington at the Trade Deadline, yielding just one hit over 6 1/3 innings in a 3-1 win over the Reds. The efficient Lester retired 16 straight at one point, and he pitched with great pace before coming out after recording one out in the seventh.

“No question, he gave it to us,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said of Lester’s up-tempo delivery throughout. “He had strong intensity that he brought to the game and had them off balance.”

“It was a long time coming,” Lester said. “I felt good in the ‘pen [pregame]. I can’t do what I used to do. I had to come to realization with that.”

Staked to an early lead after Paul Goldschmidt connected for a two-run homer in the first, the Cardinals (67-63) held on to close the gap to 2 1/2 games behind the Reds (71-62) for the second Wild Card spot.

“Obviously, we all know what’s in front of us,” Lester said of the playoff push. “It’s about playing for your own destiny.” 

Another key aspect to the win was the performance by the bullpen. One day after Alex Reyes surrendered a walk-off three-run homer in Pittsburgh, the trio of T.J. McFarland, Luis Garcia and Giovanny Gallegos closed out the final 2 2/3 innings, with Gallegos pitching the ninth for his third save.

“I do feel like we ultimately are in a really strong mental mindset,” Shildt said before the game. “We ultimately just play ourselves. We're going to prepare for our opponent. We're going to respect our opponent. Ultimately, it's about our execution. We execute good at-bats and play [good] defense, I feel good about our chances.”

Fresh off his National League Player of the Week honors, Tommy Edman recovered from an 0-2 hole to work a leadoff walk against Luis Castillo.  

Before the game, Edman spoke of how much fun he’s been having hitting in front of Goldschmidt. It didn’t take long to see why.  

Goldschmidt rocketed a 98-mph sinker, which sailed to right field and landed four rows deep before bouncing back on the outfield grass. His 22nd homer of the season put the Cardinals up, 2-0, before Lester had even thrown a pitch. 

“It's been fun to hit in front of Goldy, and honestly, that's probably a big part of why I got the award this past week ... guys don't want to face Goldy with me on base,” Edman said Monday pregame. “Getting on base and giving the guys behind us a chance to drive us in. So we're just trying to keep that going. Keep that rolling into this series and the rest of the year.” 

Lester yielded just one run, when Kyle Farmer drilled an 82-mph belt-high cutter on a line to the seats in left field. The solo shot snapped a streak of 24 1/3 innings without a home run allowed, dating back to his St. Louis debut on Aug. 3.

"I think he just mixed his pitches up really well,” Farmer said of Lester. “I was fortunate enough to hit one of his only, or few, mistakes of the night. I was lucky to get that pitch. He’s good and he was on tonight, so credit to him." 

Lester was pulled after walking Joey Votto with one out in the seventh. He threw just 86 pitches, allowing only Farmer’s home run and walks to Nick Castellanos and Votto while striking out five. Shildt said Monday was, in part, the result of his staff listening to Lester and letting him set his own course on the mound. 

“Credit to Jon Lester. You’ve got to be able to make adjustments in life,” Shildt said. “It doesn’t work to cram your stuff in their grill.”