Once Jack Flaherty, who had looked out of synch for the most part in his first two starts, both abbreviated, had to come out of his third one after two innings Sunday because of either right shoulder tightness or a “dead” arm, as he told the staff, the game landed in the hands of an erratic group of middle relievers and Memphis call-ups.
Flaherty was gone after 49 pitches, a few of them unnecessary because of a throwing error he made in the second inning, trying to catch a runner off second base although manager Oliver Marmol thought Flaherty was athletic enough to make that play, rather than taking the out at first.
With co-closers Giovanny Gallegos and Ryan Helsley having been employed for 32 and 36 pitches, respectively, by Marmol on Saturday, neither was available on Sunday and left-hander Genesis Cabrera is on the injured list but not injured.
“It’s not ideal,” Marmol said. “Getting two out of your starter wasn’t ideal but we tried to patch it together as best as possible.”
It shouldn’t really have mattered once Brendan Donovan, Paul Goldschmidt and Juan Yepez all homered off the Cubs’ Alec Mills in the third inning. The Cardinals hadn’t hit three homers in an inning since July 21 of last year in Chicago. The score at this point was 5-0.
Then it became a case of the good, the bad and the ugly for the Cardinals’ bullpen as, first, the Cubs rallied for five runs in the fourth inning and then scored one more in the 10th for a 6-5 win that gave them the series, two games to one, in front of a third consecutive sellout crowd of 44,824 at Busch Stadium.
Willson Contreras, who tied the game with a two-run single in the fourth, won it with a single in the 10th off Zack Thompson.
The good: Nick Wittgren, relieving in the third, threw a perfect inning at the heart of the Cubs’ lineup.
The bad—and ugly: Wittgren, who threw 16 strikes out of 18 pitches overall, allowed an infield hit and three reasonably soft singles in the fourth. One run scored after the third hit and two more scored on a double by Rafael Ortega off Johan Oviedo and two subsequent runs came home against Oviedo on Contreras’ first of two singles.
Wittgren’s line looked terrible. One official inning pitched, four runs scored. He nearly was beside himself.
“(Nico) Hoerner. Weak contact. (Yan) Gomes. Weak contact. (Alfonso) Rivas. Ground ball, like I needed. And then (David) Bote. Ground ball like I needed for a double play,” he muttered.
All this happened in seven pitches, as Marmol determined it. “Not ideal there,” Marmol said.
“It (stinks),” said Wittgren.
“That’s baseball for you. You can throw a pitch right down the middle and it will get hit right to someone. Or you can throw a pitch that’s technically a ball and they end up getting a hit on it.
“When someone gets you and hits a home run. . . they beat you and you tip your hat. But it really (stinks) when baseballs find holes and find the Bermuda Triangle of certain spots on the field.”
The good: Oviedo, left-hander Packy Naughton, right-hander Junior Fernandez and left-hander Thompson didn’t allow a run over four innings from the fifth through the ninth.
The bad: Thompson, working his second inning, allowed Contreras’ second single, the game-winner, and a double by Patrick Wisdom in the 10th.
The good: Jake Woodford, whose picture might as well have on milk cartons this season, was rushed in to get out of a bases-loaded jam in the 10th. And he did by inducing a double play grounder.
“You just try to stay within yourself and trust yourself,” said Woodford, who rejoined the club over the weekend. “You try to be as prepared as you can for any situation. It’s not always easy, but that’s my job right now.”
Surveying his bullpen as a whole Sunday, Marmol said, “There were some good spots and some bad spots. But, overall, the guys all gave us their best shot.”
On the other side, Cubs relievers tossed 7 1/3 innings of two-hit, no-run ball as they evened the season series with the Cardinals at 4-4. The Cardinals went nothing for seven with runners in scoring position after the first inning. The Cubs were five for seven with men in scoring position after the third inning.
“We play these guys really tough,” said Cubs manager David Ross. “Our pitching showed up.
“Our guys fought really hard. I’m super proud of them.”
As noted earlier in this piece, the picture was far less rosy down the hall. Good clubs don’t usually blow five-run leads.
“Can’t happen,” Marmol said. “It’s unfortunate our starter went two innings and you’ve got to patch it all the way through extra innings.
“You’ve got a five-run lead. You’re hoping to keep it.”
Surely, reinforcement for the bullpen will be needed by Monday’s game with Miami and, ultimately, a starter will be needed to take Flaherty’s next turn in Philadelphia on Saturday.
Doctors’ findings Sunday night and Monday will shed some light on how long Flaherty will be out. But he will be out. Again. Because of oblique and shoulder issues, he hasn’t won a game for the Cardinals in more than 10 months.
In the meantime, veteran Adam Wainwright will be starting Monday against Mami. It is likely he will be out there a while.
“Yes, he will,” said Marmol.
@cmshhummel on Twitter