October 11, 2015

Wong opens door to Cubs crooked second, then wows as Cards give away NLDS game 2

ST. LOUIS--BUSCH STADIUM--St. Louis Cardinals' second baseman, Kolten Wong made the tough plays in yesterday's NLDS 6-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs, but a failure to handle ball transfer on what appeared to be a routine double play opened the door for more miscues and five-run second inning that obliterated an early 1-0 Cardinals' lead.

It seemed as if the Cardinals were picking up where they'd left off the previous night when leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter lined a home run onto the grass incline past the center field wall, going solo to start the Cardinals' at-bats. The 1-0 lead didn't last another half-inning.

After a Starlin Castro single to center field in the Cubs' half of the second inning, Austin Jackson grounded hard to Cards' shortstop, Jhonnny Peralta, who started what seemed to be a tailor-made double play. But Wong had trouble transferring the ball from glove to hand as executed the pivot behind the second base bag, consequently throwing without a good grip on the baseball, which sailed wide to the home plate side, getting by catcher Yadier Molina and into the Cardinals' dugout. Castro was forced out at second base, but the errant throw allowed Jackson advancement to second base. This failure at a twin-killing started what would become a very crooked number for the Cubs.

Jackson caught Cardinal's starting pitcher, Jaime Garcia (0-1), napping, getting a tremendous jump on a successful steal of third base. Molina had no chance to gun down Jackson.

Things got worse for Garcia, who seemed to lose focus and composure, walking Miguel Montera to put Cubs' base runners on the corners with one out. Still with one out, Garcia and the St. Louis infielder could have a shot at an inning-ending double play, or at least a chance for an out with Cubs' pitcher, Kyle Hendricks (no decision) at the plate.

Hendricks bunted toward the right side, a sacrifice that served as a safety squeeze, Jackson racing for home plate while Garcia, who hesitated once to throw to first base, then to home, couldn't seem to decide what base runner to go after. It is uncertain whether Molina was calling out a target, which is a catcher's duty on such plays in order to help the fielding player of a bunt. In any case, Garcia then decided after a couple "double-clutchings," to fire to first base without stepping in the direction of the throw, a difficult play, his throw wild toward the middle infield side of first base. Jackson scored the tying run while Montero scampered to third base and Hendricks to second base.

At that point, the Cubs may have figured that if the Cardinals were willing to hand out free runs, why not take all they could get. There were more to take.

Cubs' manager, Joe Maddon, said to favor squeeze bunts, put on another sacrifice bunt that again served as a suicide squeeze with base runners on second and third. Addison Russell placed the bunt to right side again, forcing Garcia to field it on the move and take the only available out at first base. Meanwhile, Montero scored to give the Cubs a 2-1 lead and Hendricks took third base on the play.

With two out, Dexter Fowler chopping an infield single that high-hopped a vertical leap by Garcia and fell to shallow behind the struggling Cards' pitcher to allow Peralta a shot at an inning-ending force out at first base. Hendricks scored, making it 3-1.

Still with two out and a chance to minimize the damage, Garcia made one more mistake, this time on a pitch to Jorge Soler, would pounded a two-run homer just to the right of the grassy incline beyond the center field wall, giving the Cubs a 5-1 lead.

The rest of the game marked a succession of five relief pitchers for St. Louis as manager Mike Matheny attempted to keep the Cards in the game and his bullpen with some semblance of upcoming availability. On Matheny's side was the knowledge that the next day would be an off day before the NLDS would continue in Chicago.

Lance Lynn took over for Garcia in the third, promptly giving up a walk and a single. Lynn was in on three straight outs afterwards, a strikeout, coverage of first base on a ground ball, and another strikeout, but on the grounder, the Cub (Anthony Rizzo) that Lynn had walked to start off the inning scored, stretching Chicago's lead to 6-1.

Matheny used Carlos Villanueza next, who tossed a couple scoreless innings, then Seth Maness, Adam Wainwright, and finally, Jonathan Broxton. Although the game was pretty much out of hand for the Cardinals, a closer look at how the bullpen performed showed a bright side for St. Louis.

In seven full innings of relief pitching, the aforementioned five gave up only two hits, one run, and three walks while striking out seven.

The Cardinals made some noise in the fifth inning when Wong and pinch-hitter, Randal Grichuk, went yard back to back, their solo blasts off of Hendricks pulling the Cardinals back within three at 6-3.

Hendricks was pulled by Maddon without securing the third out to complete five innings which would have given him the win. Maddon went with Travis Wood (1-0), who went 2.1 innings, giving up only one hit and striking out two.

After Hendricks came Trevor Cahill (H-1), a pitcher who found his way back from washed up to success with Chicago. Cahill threw a hitless, scoreless eighth while striking out a couple Cards in his role as an eighth inning setup man.

Cubs' closer, Hector Rondon (S-1) gave up one hit, but that was it as he closed out game two of the NLDS, making it one win apiece with two games coming up at Wrigley Field on Monday and Tuesday, respectively.

St. Louis will have to go up against Cubs' ace, Jake Arrieta, Monday night at Wrigley Field, and may need to manufacture runs in more ways than three solo shots that totaled only half of what the Cubs boarded in Saturday night's loss at Busch Stadium.

Matheny will send Michael Wacha to the mound Monday to challenge the Cubs' best hurler.