I keep waiting for that key moment that causes the St. Louis Cardinals to click and come together like they did to break their two-thirds of the season-long doldrums in 2011 to make an improbable run to a World Series championship.
It sure didn’t look like Sunday was going to be the day when ace-by-default Miles Mikolas managed to spot the Pittsburgh Pirates a two-run lead three times during the game.
sBut rookie Lane Thomas, after hitting a two-strike RBI triple earlier in the game, launched a full-count grand slam down by three runs late in the game to put the Cardinals ahead for good. The clutch hitting, which has been absent so much of this season, seemed to be contagious as first baseman Paul Goldschmidt collected four hits in five trips to the plate including a homer and three runs batted in and outfielder Marcel Ozuna seemed to be getting back in his groove with a pair of hits.
The chance for Thomas to light a fire under the struggling St. Louis offense was especially sweet because it probably wouldn’t have happened at all if Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle wasn’t such a hot headed bully. It was no accident that the Pirates opted to throw a high pitch at the upper back of St. Louis utility player Yairo Munoz, whom the Pirates manager accused of breaking an unwritten rule by stealing a base when the Cardinals were ahead of Pittsburgh by seven runs the last time the teams met.
Smooth move, Hurdle. He brought the tying run to the plate, then his pitcher drove in a run when he hit the next guy, too. That set the stage for Thomas who missed a hanging, 83-mph breaking ball earlier in the at-bat before getting a second chance to land a deciding blow. He didn’t miss the do-over opportunity.
Lets not pretend the Munoz plunking was an accident, either. The Pirates catcher popped up so fast after it happened that it was obvious he knew what was coming before it happened. It was a punk move by a punk manager of a punk team. What gall for a club that is completely out of the pennant race to risk injuring a player on a team fighting for a postseason spot to show us all how baseball is supposed to be played. Has Hurdle seen the St. Louis pitching staff? Like Whitey Herzog used to say, if they want the Cardinals to stop stealing bases, they have to promise they’re not going to hit anymore home runs.
Fortunately no one was hurt in the incident. And just maybe this will be the thing that will put a chip on the shoulder of Cardinals players to inspire the team to start playing every night with more of an edge.
Back to Mikolas: I just don’t know what the Cardinals are going to do about him but he’s obviously not fooling anyone these days. While the fact that he gave up six runs, five of them earned, on seven hits in only five innings, his performance was even worst than the stat sheet indicated. He was fortunate that several hard-hit balls ended up being hit right at his defenders. Right fielder Jose Martinez had to bail him out with a very nice catch just a step in front of the wall or the whole game might have turned out differently.
I’m not sure if Mikolas has a mechanical issue or if 2018 was just a fluke. But he got the contract he wanted and then he flat out disappeared. He’s given up 99 hits in his last 83 1/3 innings of work and, while people are quick to dismiss wins and losses these days, it’s hard to ignore that he’s 3-9 over a span when the Cardinals have been playing better than .500 baseball. He’s paid to be a leader of the pitching staff, but he’s pitching like a fourth or fifth starter. Because the Cardinals didn’t bolster the pitching staff, this club is counting on him to turn things around. I don’t feel very good about the odds of that.