CHICAGO — Before things really swung to Wrigley Weird — pending mark — the Cardinals got just enough two pitchers in their first starts of the season to allow, when they had a lead, to deploy the bullpen exactly as expected.
And when it didn’t even work, there was always Brendan Donovan.
Despite their best right-handed relievers lined up to be used, as expected, the Cardinals lost a lead and missed offensively on two goal-laden chances late in game night of a Saturday doubleheader against the Cubs. Rookie Donovan, who had taken the lead six innings earlier, scored his second two-run double of the game to break a tie and trigger a four-run 10th inning. This prompted the Cardinals to take the lead to split the doubleheader with a Game 2 win, 7-4.
The Cubs picked up a 6-1 win in Game 1 with 18 baserunners and a pitch that stung the Cardinals. A suitably wild, sometimes wacky day at Wrigley refused to settle for just 18 baseball innings and demanded a 19th between the area’s oldest rivals. The first 18 already included a colorful ejection designed for social media immortality, a 3,000th game for the all-time great Albert Pujols, a modern bullpen tutorial, and then, at the end, the most unexpected feat of all.
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A funny thing happened on Edmundo Sosa’s way to mark the green light.
He forgot to touch third base.
Instead of sprinting home to break a late game tie on Nolan Gorman’s two-out single, Sosa had to pull back in third and hit the base he missed. The Cubs turned that break — that baserunning breakdown — into a late-inning groundout and crack to win the game in the bottom of the ninth.
Both teams aggressively used their main relievers late in the game to get the game to this point. Ryan Helsley appeared in three innings for the Cardinals, as did right-hander David Robertson for the Cubs. Helsley allowed a legacy runner to score and tie the game on a two-out double. Robertson faced Paul Goldschmidt twice with the bases loaded and beat him each time.
The Cardinals took the lead in Game 2 with an offensive burst missing from the first game of the day. Cubs rookie Caleb Kilian began his major league career by retiring the first nine Cardinals he faced. Kilian, San Francisco’s prized comeback when traded Kris Bryant last year, retired the first two Cardinals he faced and had four by the time the roster got its second look at the right-hander.
It is the turn of the cardinals to mark the spirits.
A walk, a single and another walk loaded the bases against Kilian. A wild throw allowed Tommy Edman to score and tie the game, 1-1. Donovan doubled wide from left center to bring the other two home for a 3-0 lead. The inning could have multiplied if the Cardinals hadn’t made two outs on base.
In the seventh inning, the Cardinals again charged the bases, this time with three walks. This delivered the game to the team’s best hitter. With hours to go on his 25-game hitting streak, Goldschmidt had already started the next one with a single in the fourth-inning rally. To counter (or slow down) the reigning NL Player of the Month, the Cubs turned to Robertson, their top reliever, a/k/a gold inevitable at the trade deadline.
Robertson took out Goldschmidt on a 2-2 fastball to keep Game 2 tied, 3-3.
In the same situation two innings later against the same batter, Robertson got a groundout from Goldschmidt to send the game into the rain and into extra innings.
The Cardinals’ last, best, and arguably only chance to liven up their offense for a Game 1 rally ended on the field that inspired Marmol’s first ejection.
An inning after his solo home run provided the Cardinals with the first run, Edman came home with a four-run deficit and the bases loaded in the seventh. The Cubs had two outs and reliever Scott Effross took the lead, 0-2. Edman remained selective. He worked the full count. The sixth throw from the stick, an 80 mph Frisbee from a breaking ball, started outside the zone and stayed outside the zone except for the only pair of eyes that mattered.
Plate umpire Bruce Dreckman called it a strike.
The words gushing from the cardinals’ dugout were as unprintable as they were critical. Marmol checked a replay on an iPad to confirm his frustration. He then yelled at Dreckman again and threw the iPad on the ground, as if Dreckman wanted to check it out as well.
Marmol then walked towards home plate to illustrate the strike zone for the umpire. The manager framed home plate to set his example, then took a step to his right before tracing the path the pitch took around the strike zone. In his first career ejection, Marmol went a step further by trying to be the first to eject a referee. At least twice, he gestured with his arm for Dreckman to join him.
“The throw on Eddy was the tipping point,” Marmol said. “Bases loaded there. It changes the game. A big part of the game. We weren’t happy. I expressed my thoughts on the pitch. Pass.”
Saturday’s doubleheader starters — one a reliever and the other a Class AAA starter 72 hours ago — did what was asked to put the Cardinals in that position.
Game 2 starter Andre Pallante, a rookie, has been so successful in his role as a relay to late-game relievers that the Cardinals have been thinking internally about what he might look like to start a game. He’s the second reliever this season the Cardinals have considered turning into a traveling starter, following the path taken by Jordan Hicks until he was put on the disabled list.
To start Pallante’s first start in the league, the first three Cubs reached base against him. Two jumps in the game and the Cardinals trailed 1-0 on Willson Contreras’ brace. But Pallante came out of the first the same way he came out of a quagmire in the fourth. He turned a pitch into two outs. Pallante lost a 96.4 mph fastball in the first which Patrick Wisdom cut into a 6-4-3 double play to finish in the inning. With the bases loaded and one out in the fourth, pitching coach Mike Maddux paid Pallante a visit.
The next pitch – a 95.7 mph fastball – earned a 6-4 double play to end the inning.
Pallante completed the assigned four innings, just as Johan Oviedo completed the desired five innings in Game 1. They each had to tiptoe to sabotage each other. Pallante walked four bases, but allowed only one run, from the first batter he faced. In the opener, Oviedo sided with his slider when his fastball misbehaved. He walked three, hit one and scattered eight hits for 12 runners, but he was only 3-0 behind in part because of five strikeouts.
After a walk to the second batter he faced, Oviedo got caught focusing on upsetting the batter’s timing and ignoring the runner. He went into a full sellout with the runner early on – and the ref called a disallowance. Oviedo explained that he wanted to “play with the tempo”. Sticking to liquidation was more ill-advised than it was against the rules. Marmol insisted it was not a denial and had a long discussion with the referees between sets about it. Either way, the runner qualified for second base and once again Oviedo was in the majors with an inning filled with walks and lists.
After the walk and another walk, Maddux started to take his steps and visited. The coach placed his hands on Oviedo’s shoulders to give him a chance to slow his pulse. The right-hander retired the next two batters on strikes to free himself from an eventful first without awarding a run.
“(Maddux) says a lot, ‘Trust my business,'” Oviedo said. “I try to play with the bike and the location. If I need it, go hard. If I just want to locate and make a good quality pitch, I try to execute it. I just want to keep running.