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Cardinals dodge trouble of their own making, score win vs. Toronto for Jack Flaherty

Before they could slip away with their first win of the season, the Cardinals first had to find a way to slip by all the chances they gave Toronto.

The Cardinals sidestepped 10 walks, including seven gifted by starter Jack Flaherty, to gamely snag a 4-1 victory Saturday afternoon at Busch Stadium and their first triumph of the regular season. Despite issuing seven walks in the first four innings, Flaherty kept a steady pulse for the game, did not yield to his temperamental fastball, and helped the Cardinals hold Toronto hitless through six innings.

The Cardinals seized on one error to take a lead. Nolan Gorman’s two-out, two-run single widened the Cardinals lead and gave Flaherty the chance for a win his first start of 2023.

Ryan Helsley faced the tying run at the plate in the ninth inning and struck out Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to regain control of the inning.

He finished the ninth for a five-out save.

Two days after the teams combined for 34 hits and 19 runs, the Blue Jays managed 14 baserunners, but only three hits. Toronto went zero-for-11 with runners in scoring position.

Rookie Jordan Walker gave Helsley more to work with in the bottom of the eighth with and RBI infield single that scored Nolan Arenado to set the final score.

Toronto walks the walk, but Flaherty doesn’t run

There was a moment early in the third inning when Flaherty had allowed as many walks (six) as he had outs (six). He walked the bases loaded in the first inning. He began the second inning with a walk and hit batter, and the first two batters of the third inning also walked.

Each time, Flaherty hopscotched out of the inning without allowing a run.

Brandon Belt proved most helpful.

The former San Francisco Giant and current Toronto designated hitter, Belt entered the game one-for-eight in his career against Flaherty. With the bases loaded due to walks in the first inning, Belt struck out on a full-count fastball to end the inning. In the third inning, with two more walks on base, Belt struck out on a full-count breaking ball to end the inning. When Flaherty slipped that off-speed pitch past Belt, the right-hander had put seven runners on base, the Jays had stranded six runners, and five of them belonged to Belt.

A double play got Flaherty out of the second inning mess, and after Belt played escape hatch for a second time Flaherty pushed through five innings.

He allowed only one of the final 10 batters he faced to reach.

On a four-pitch walk.

One of the reasons for Flaherty’s inconsistent spring training was the inconsistent command of his fastball. There were times during spring that Flaherty would work on controlling the inside edge of the plate with his fastball. And when he missed, he walked batters. When he missed, his pitch count climbed. When he missed, he had to hand the inning over to another pitcher to tidy up.

“He was trying to pitch in and had trouble getting in there at times,” manager Oliver Marmol said. “We saw days where he wasn’t finishing his pitches the way he wanted to.”

Throughout the early innings Saturday, Flaherty continued to miss with his fastball, to have his drift on him. In the second inning, Flaherty missed up and in to catcher Danny Jansen, and pretty pocketed the fastball for a bit. He threw only one more in that second inning, and saw a dip in velocity until regaining a groove for the fourth and fifth innings.

After the first inning, it wasn’t until his 91st pitch of the game that Flaherty was able to right his ledger with more strikes (46) than balls (45).

And still he had not given up a hit.

In his first start since moving to the bullpen at the end of 2022, Flaherty completed five innings on 95 pitches. He struck out four, navigated around a career-high seven walks

Cardinals capitalize on Chapman error

A three-time Gold Glove Award winner and not the most-decorated fielder at the position from his high school, Matt Chapman had a chance to throw out the other golden El Toro High alum.

What happened put Chapman in the middle of the game’s first rally.

Nolan Arenado, the 10-time Gold Glove third baseman graduate of El Toro in Lake Forest, Calif., skipped a grounder to the left side of the infield. Chapman, his stance wide, made a play on the ball, but in the scurry for the play sailed the throw to first base. The ball went so far wide of first base that the Cardinals’ baserunners were escorted an extra 90 feet. That put Paul Goldschmidt and Arenado in scoring position with two outs instead of the Cardinals back on defense and Chapman in the dugout.

Brendan Donovan scored from third on the error for a 1-0 lead.

The next batter, Gorman, slipped a grounder down the third-base line and past Chapman’s dive. The Toronto third baseman’s glove came off his hand as Gorman’s two-run single bounced merrily into left field.

But wait: There’s even more walks!

Into the eighth inning with a three-run lead to secure, setup man Jordan Hicks followed a path blazed earlier in the game. Or rather, the Blue Jays did.

Toronto received three walks from Hicks and a wild pitch that produced the Blue Jays’ first run. Four batters into the inning, the Cardinals turned to closer Helsley to save more than the game. He had to save the eighth first. Giovanny Gallegos was unavailable for either assignment as he continues to deal with a sore back. The Cardinals want to have clarity on his availability by Sunday or make a roster move to reinforce the bullpen. Helsley got two quick groundouts to end the inning and set himself up for the five-out save.

Non-traditional no-hitter vanishes in seventh

Flaherty and right-hander Drew VerHagen combined to throw six innings without allowing a hit despite the carousel of walks in the first few innings. VerHagen struck out two of the three batters he faced in the sixth, and that carried the no-hitter into the seventh. A day after dousing the Cardinals with 19 hits, the Blue Jays had zero through their first 26 plate appearances Saturday. Despite all the walks from Flaherty – or perhaps because of them – the Jays put only four balls into the outfield through the first six innings.

In the fourth, Donovan had one of those signature, snazzy defensive plays seemingly required for a no-hitter. He raced into right field and caught a popup with his back to home plate and his head quickly in the shadow of 6-foot-6 rookie Jordan Walker.

Andre Pallante replaced VerHagen for the top of the seventh and toted the no-hitter one out into the inning before No. 9 hitter Kevin Kiermaier came up. The gifted center fielder scalded a grounder up the middle past a diving Donovan for Toronto’s first hit.

Derrick Goold

@dgoold on Twitter

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