Cheap Seats

Mike Shildt deserves a lot of credit for getting the Cardinals back into contention

Marcell Ozuna, acquired via trade last season, will be paid $12.25 million in 2019.
Marcell Ozuna, acquired via trade last season, will be paid $12.25 million in 2019. AP

I’m sure I set a personal record for watching halves of ballgames this season, clicking off the St. Louis Cardinals broadcast during the many occasions when the contest started to go sideways.

It was tough to watch those seemingly-unavoidable innings where the team made two or three Little League errors to open the floodgates on what was, up to that point, a close game. By that point, it was all over but the crying. There was no getting up off the floor. All that was left to do was hope for better tomorrow.

But things are completely the opposite these days. The team’s recently-completed series in Los Angeles was must-see programming despite the late hour the games ended. I told myself Wednesday night before the game even started that I was satisfied with two out of three on the West Coast trip and I was going to watch three or four innings then go to bed. I was drawn in, however, by an exciting pitchers’ duel. Even when the Cardinals were losing by a run late, I knew they were going to somehow find a way to pull out a win.

That they did when Tyler O’Neill — who took a social media beating a couple of days earlier when he misplayed a pair of fly balls to lead to a run for the opposing team — bounced back with a game-tying home run on a tough pitch that was diving low and out of the strike zone.

I don’t know if it was the effect former skipper Mike Matheny had on players or just a different mental makeup of the youngsters compared to the guys they replaced. But it was encouraging to see O’Neill get back on the horse and produce.

A tip of the cap to new manager Mike Shildt who keeps the players mentally and physically prepared and engaged.

It seemed in the past that the Cardinals couldn’t fit non-starters into a role that would give them a chance to succeed. Somehow Shildt has managed to find a way to deploy Jose Martinez that maximizes his offensive abilities while limiting his defensive liability, to keep Bader and O’Neill in games and to finally get Kolten Wong clicking.

If that’s not miraculous enough, suddenly he has Brett Cecil performing effectively. If he could have done something with Greg Holland, he would have been a candidate for sainthood.

Beyond the manager, I am optimistic about the future of the pitching staff, especially the starting rotation. I can’t help but imagine that Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson and Alex Reyes are going to become the next Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine.

It’s amazing to see the 22-year-old kid like Flaherty execute like a machine in front of a very large, hostile crowd. Then Hudson came in and found himself in a bases-loaded jam that could have cost St. Louis the game — and he got a weak groundball to end the threat. It was a textbook extrication from danger.

Matt Holliday back in the majors

As the Redbirds get ready to take on the Colorado Rockies, I’m glad for longtime Cardinal Matt Holliday. He wanted to make a return to baseball at the age of 38 and he was able to get it done with an impressive audition at the Class AAA level. But I sort of hate that Holliday did it with his first team.

Holliday was a guy who was a great leader by example when he wore the Birds on the Bat and he’s the kind of guy the Redbirds need to keep in the organization after his playing days are over. I hope that this reunion with the Rockies doesn’t prevent an eventual return to St. Louis.

His institutional knowledge helps fill a void with the loss of legends like Stan Musial and Red Schoendienst, most recently. Lou Brock has had a series of serious health issues and Bob Gibson is getting to the age where he’s probably going to travel less to Busch Stadium from his out-of-state home.

Albert Pujols is tied to another club for more than a decade, Scott Rolen had an ugly divorce from the Cardinals and Jim Edmonds doesn’t seem interested in a full-time job with the franchise. The Birds need to keep some of their younger retired stars in the fold somehow.