Gray K's 12, but takes loss that's 'just not fair'

April 21st, 2024

ST. LOUIS -- Looking dejectedly down at the blue and silver carpet inside the Cardinals’ clubhouse at Busch Stadium, Willson Contreras shook his head and repeated the same thing over and over late Sunday afternoon.

“It’s just not fair for Sonny,” the Cardinals catcher said of , who struck out 12 over 6 1/3 innings, but lost 2-0 to the rival Brewers when the St. Louis offense fell flat yet again and offered no run support.

That didn’t sit right with Contreras on a day when Gray showed enough electric stuff to potentially lift the Cardinals out of doldrums that have dropped them six games back of the surging Brewers in the NL Central standings. Gray lost after allowing his first earned runs of the season when Brewers first baseman Owen Miller flipped a sweeper into left field to plate two runs in the seventh inning.

The two-run deficit proved far too much for the Cardinals to overcome. They not only went an eighth straight game without a home run, but also went 0-for-9 with men in scoring position and stranded 10 runners. No statistic better encapsulates the difference between the 14-6 Brewers and the 9-13 Cardinals than Milwaukee leading baseball with a .344 batting average with runners in scoring position, while the Cardinals are limping along at .201 (28th in MLB).

“When a guy like [Gray] gives you a chance to make something happen and you can’t make it happen, it just makes you think a lot,” Contreras said. “I know this team is going to be able to turn it around, and hopefully it won’t be too late. Some players just need to let loose and have fun with the game. … But this just wasn’t fair for Sonny.”

Making just his third start after a hamstring strain in Spring Training delayed his Cardinals debut, Gray was downright dominant over the game’s first 6 1/3 innings. He opened the seventh by battling back from a 3-1 count and punching out Brewers slugger Rhys Hoskins for his 12th strikeout, one shy of his career-best mark of 13 set last April.

From there, though, Blake Perkins, Brice Turang and Miller strung together consecutive singles, the last of which drove in two to break a scoreless tie and seal the Cardinals’ fate. Miller hit an 85-mph sweeper, the pitch that Gray used to strike out six Brewers hitters on Sunday. Gray’s only quibble with the pitch was that it should have been low and away instead of just low.

“I was going to live or die with my best, and that’s my best pitch, and I had gotten a lot of outs with it throughout the game,” said Gray, who didn’t walk his first batter of the season until the fifth inning on Sunday -- and he followed that up with a strikeout of Milwaukee rookie Jackson Chourio. “I’ll sit down and look at that [2-2 pitch to Miller], talk through it and learn from it. But in the moment, I executed what I was trying to do.”

Gray kept a Brewers offense that came into the day averaging 5.9 runs a game at bay by being flexible and mixing up his attack. After getting Sal Frelick, William Contreras, Perkins and Joey Ortiz with sweepers for strikeouts in the first two innings, Gray noticed the Brewers starting to lay off that pitch and he approached Contreras in the dugout about making a change. He then started attacking Milwaukee with a sinker that starts off the plate and tails back for strikes. That pitch helped him whiff Chourio, Miller and Hoskins again in the guts of the game.

“I noticed after the third inning that they had a lot of righties in the lineup, and I clicked a couple of [sweepers] and they kind of spit on them and didn’t flinch,” Gray noted. “I talked to Willie in the dugout, that when we got to 1-2 and 0-2, to go right to the back-door sinker. Next inning, sinker away and a called strike, and now you get them in between. Now, I’ve shown you that I’ll stick some fastballs away if you aren’t going to swing at [the sweepers]. Then I can get them in between, and it’s just about executing.”

Gray executed far too well to come away a loser on Sunday, Contreras said. The catcher extended his hitting streak to 14 games and his on-base streak to 26 on Sunday -- both career-best streaks -- but he was sickened by the Cards not being able to generate enough offense to support Gray’s effort.

“It’s going to happen; there’s no when or if, but it’s going to happen,” Contreras said of his team’s offense blossoming. “We’re here battling our [butts] off and it’s going to happen. Hopefully it happens soon.”