Rondón picks up Cards after Matz exits

May 22nd, 2022

PITTSBURGH -- On a day when the Cardinals badly needed some length out of starting pitcher Steven Matz to rest a weary bullpen, they got just the opposite as the left-hander exited with left shoulder stiffness after just four pitches. Fortunately for the Cardinals, however, that was about the only thing that went wrong because of their resourceful bats and their roster readiness.

Angel Rondón, who was called up from Triple-A Memphis on Sunday morning in a break-glass-if-necessary emergency scenario, came in to relieve Matz in the first. Rondón's first pitch was a strike to fan Pirates’ standout Ke’Bryan Hayes, and he never looked back in giving the Cardinals the innings they needed.

Rondón's readiness, combined with a 20-hit attack that included home runs No. 682 and 683 from Albert Pujols, and a comical 9th-inning pitching performance from catcher Yadier Molina helped the Cardinals thrash the Pirates 18-4 for a three-game series sweep.

Matz alerted pitching coach Mike Maddux prior to the game that he was experiencing stiffness in his shoulder, and the Cardinals medical staff went to the mound four pitches into the game when his fastball topped out at just 91 mph. Matz, whom St. Louis signed to a $44-million free-agent deal in the offseason, was to undergo an MRI later on Sunday to determine the cause of the pain and stiffness in his throwing shoulder.

“An 11:30 [a.m.] game, the bullpen has been taxed and I thought I’d just stay with myself and try to get through it and get some outs, but I just didn’t feel like myself,” said Matz. “I can’t say enough about Rondón. He picked me up and picked the team up. It was huge.”

Rondón, who got his callup to the Cardinals on Sunday morning after being with the team’s taxi squad for three days, notched his first MLB win by throwing five scoreless innings to bail out the Cardinals, Matz and the club's thin bullpen.

“I wasn’t ready at that moment, but as soon as they told me I was going into the game, I changed my mindset,” Rondón said through translator/bullpen coach Kleininger Teran. “Everything went fast, but I was ready for anything.”

St. Louis won at PNC Park for the 27th time in the past 32 games, and few of them came easier than Sunday’s morning start that was streamed exclusively on Peacock TV. Playing just 13 hours after Saturday’s win, the Cardinals scored one in the first, six in the second, four in the fourth, one in the fifth, one in the eighth and five in the ninth following an eight-minute rain delay. Despite playing in the American League much of the past 10 seasons, Pujols’ 32 home runs at PNC Park are easily the most by any visiting player.

For Pujols, who has already announced that his 22nd season will be his last one, the moment allowed him to break a host of AL/NL records. He passed Willie Mays for ninth all time in games played (2,993) and he also passed the Giants' legend for third all time in total bases (6,071).

Also, Pittsburgh’s Chase De Jong and Josh VanMeter became the 443rd and 444th different pitchers who Pujols has homered off. That’s second in AL/NL history only to the 449 who Barry Bonds homered against. He has 62 multi-home run games in his career.

“[Willie Mays and Tris Speaker] are guys who have left a great legacy for this game,” Pujols said. “As you grow up in this game, your dad or friends talk about Willie Mays, Willie Mays. To be mentioned in the same sentence is pretty special.”

As historic as Pujols’ fifth-inning clout was, the future Hall of Famer had to take a back seat on this day to Rondón, who bailed out the Cardinals in a big way.

Rondón, 2-0 with a 3.97 ERA in 11 Triple-A appearances, had little trouble with the light-hitting Pirates. He pitched around a first-inning walk and a Michael Chavis single and retired nine of 11 hitters during one particularly dominant stretch. By the time Rondón exited the game in the fifth, the Cardinals had a 12-0 lead and the crisis had been averted.

“I’m really happy that everything went the right way so that we could win the game,” Rondón said.