Locked in a 2-2 tie with the Rangers in the bottom of the sixth inning Wednesday night at Busch Stadium, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa stuck by the script he’s been authoring since his club snuck into the playoffs on the final day of the regular season.
Game 1 starter Chris Carpenter was cruising, fresh of a clean top of the sixth. His pitch count was at a meager 87 and Alexi Ogando, who had been nearly unhittable this October, trotted to the mound with two outs in relief of Rangers starter C.J. Wilson.
But the Cardinals had David Freese on third base, via a one-out double then a wild pitch, and Nick Punto at first base courtesy of a pitch-around-him walk. Hoping to capitalize, La Russa opted to pull Carpenter from the game for pinch-hitter Allen Craig.
Once again, TLR’s quick hook worked.
Craig laced a ball down the right-field line, just beyond the glove of a sliding Nelson Cruz, scoring Freese from third and lifting the Cardinals to a 3-2 lead. Thanks to another fine performance by the St. Louis bullpen, that 3-2 score would hold. Fernando Salas, Marc Rzepczynski, Octavio Dotel and Arthur Rhodes combined to throw two scoreless innings before beared saves man Jason Motte closed it out with a perfect ninth.
The Cardinals will take a 1-0 series lead into Thursday night’s Game 2. The staggering storyline rolls on.
For the past few weeks we’ve been previewing the 2017 season. Here, in handy one-stop-shopping form, is our package of previews from the American League East
Boston may have the most talent and, in Mookie Betts, the best player. The Yankees have the best farm system. Baltimore has all the dingers and the best closer. Toronto may have the best collection of heels, at least in the view of fans of the other AL East teams. The Rays have the best . . . hmm. I’ll get back to you on that.
Anyway, here are our previews for the American League East:
Boston Red Sox
Toronto Blue Jays
New York Yankees
Tampa Bay Rays
Mets manager Terry Collins said on Wednesday, “It’s unlikely that [Steven Matz] will start the season with us.” The final spot in the Mets’ starting rotation will go to either Zack Wheeler or Seth Lugo, Newsday’s Marc Carig reports.
On Wheeler’s innings limit, assistant GM John Ricco said, “There’s going to be some number but we don’t exactly know what that is.” Wheeler missed the last two seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Neither Wheeler nor Lugo have had terrific springs as each carries a 5.11 and 5.56 Grapefruit League ERA, respectively. However, Carig notes that Wheeler has impressed simply by appearing healthy and brandishing a fastball that once again sits in the mid- to high-90’s. Lugo, meanwhile, proved crucial to the Mets last year, posting a 2.67 ERA across eight starts and nine relief appearances.