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Carlos Martinez’s awful performance almost cost the St. Louis Cardinals a crucial win

It probably cost me a year off my life because of stress, but I was glad to see the St. Louis Cardinals finally broke through Thursday night at Wrigley Field, dealing the Chicago Cubs a big blow after nearly fumbling away one an incredible effort by starting pitcher Jack Flaherty.

I’m glad for the team win. But Flaherty deserved a decision after allowing one run on three hits scattered across eight innings. It was a playoff atmosphere and the young starter rose to the occasion. It’s too bad veteran hurler Carlos Martinez couldn’t do the same. The later, who has served as closer this season, came into a 4-1 game in the ninth inning and promptly walked the lead-off batter then gave up a sharp single to the second hitter to put the tying run on base with no one out.

Martinez had to be relieved and St. Louis was barely able to get out of the ninth with a tie game. Matt Carpenter hit a solo homer in the top of the 10th and the Cardinals made it stand up, pushing the Cubs to four games out with nine left to play and leaving Chicago on the brink of missing the postseason. With a win by the Milwaukee Brewers, who have one of the easiest schedules in baseball over the last week-and-a-half of the season winning Thursday, the Cubs fell to third place and out of the wild card picture — at least for the moment.

I sure hope Martinez at least buys Flaherty dinner as an apology. It’s one thing to give up an honest hit. But to walk the lead-off batter with a three run lead is inexcusable. It’s so demoralizing to see the team work hard for eight innings to build a solid lead — only to have one person fumble it away with carelessness.

Still, it was huge for St. Louis to come back and win the game.

If the Cardinals can win one of the three remaining games at Wrigley Field, they’ll put the Cubs into a situation where they can’t afford to lose another game if they hope to win the division. While I said earlier this week that I was torn about the idea of wrapping things up too early, potentially cooling the Cardinals off, I don’t think they can afford to fool around. They need to put things away early and take the pressure off themselves so they can at least set up their starting rotation for the postseason.

While it sure appears that Flaherty deserves to be the Game one starter of the National League Division Series — or the wild card game — no matter where it’s played, St. Louis needs to set things up so that Adam Wainwright is starting at home. The St. Louis veteran is 9-3 with a 2.08 earned run average at Busch Stadium in 2019. He’s 4-3 with a 6.04 ERA on the road.

Finally, I sure hope the Cardinals’ hottest hand, second baseman Kolten Wong isn’t out for long after he left the Thursday game with a hamstring injury. Tommy Edman did a great job subbing up the middle and Carpenter hit the deciding home run in the 10th after being pressed into service. But St. Louis needs Wong to get on base at the top of the order. Their hit-and-miss offense can’t afford any subtractions.