On Opening Day, I went to church…

12 Comments

I’ve lived in St. Louis since 1996 and have spent 20 or so days and nights at Cardinals games each season since I moved here. But I had never been to the Cardinals’ home opener until yesterday.

I don’t love the new Busch Stadium. There are too many gaudy ads and the decision to switch from a manual to electronic out-of-town scoreboard in the move from the old place still bothers me. A development the Cardinals termed “Ballpark Village” was supposed to be built just after the construction of the new stadium in 2006 but remains in planning mode five years later. There’s a rarely used softball field out in the lot where that project was meant to take shape. We, the residents of St. Louis and loyal followers of all things red, were promised a large residential space and all sorts of bars and restaurants. It hasn’t happened yet and things don’t look promising with the economy landing blow after blow on most Midwest cities.

Nobody in St. Louis really talks about the problems with Busch or that joke of a softball field. Maybe because it’s a bit embarrassing, or maybe it’s because … well … the game just started. And Carp is pitching.

I’ve never been to Opening Day in other towns. I’ve seen Camden Yards, Fenway Park, the old Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field and Great American Ballpark, but all during mid-season games. I can’t speak to the way the start of the baseball season is celebrated in other cities, so I won’t. I’m sure Boston is nuts, and I can hear the kegs being tapped and untapped in Wrigleyville as I type this 300 or so miles away.

In St. Louis, the Redbirds have a college football-like following. And me? I like a good tailgate.

My four buddies drove down to my house just south of Busch around 10:00am. Through some act of the supernatural, we had acquired tickets in an all-you-can-consume luxury box for the 3:15pm game. We hung out for a bit, then joked about ESPN’s Steve Berthiaume picking the Astros to win the Central as we headed out the door around noon and entered the sun-drenched sea of red.

My friend Kevin had a cousin with a nice tailgate spot, so we stopped there for a short while and then moved on to the patio outside Kilroy’s — a busy place about two blocks from the ballpark. Kevin had a buddy doing promotional stuff for Budweiser, so we sucked down some of the local stuff (ha!) as a girl not far from us flashed her Cardinals panties to strangers in the bathroom line. What a peach.

Around 2:00pm we headed toward the gate and waited in a mass of fans who held the same desire to catch all of the pre-game festivities. People always say the Yankees “know how to throw a party.” I think the Cardinals are the same way. Hall of Famers and all sorts of other favorites are introduced and take big looping laps around the stadium in the back of Ford trucks. Brock, Schoendienst, Whitey, Gibson.

Then comes Stan Musial, trailing the pack in a golf cart. Former MLB commissioner Ford Frick called him “baseball’s perfect knight” and he’s waving to his kingdom as the public address announcer offers his career stats. “1,815 hits at home. 1,815 hits on the road. 20 consecutive All-Star teams.” He’s The Man, and he’s ours.

The announcer wraps up the intro noting that Stan was a “recent recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the greatest honor this country can bestow on a civilian,” and it puts a charge into the crowd. Musial won that medal through the hard work of a lot of local people who organized a successful petitioning movement called Stand for Stan. Musial breaks down, he can’t make it out of the cart because the emotion is overwhelming. You can tell how much this all means to him. And the moment rewards us with the confirmation that baseball is far from trivial.

We get a first pitch from Jim Edmonds and a flyover of two big military cargo planes. The weather is great, the fans are into every pitch, and a first-inning RBI single from Holliday brings optimism for a season thrown into an odd spiral by the failed Albert Pujols contract talks and Adam Wainwright’s spring Tommy John surgery.

Then we start seeing the holes. The middle infield defense proves its shoddiness, Ryan Franklin serves up beach balls in the ninth inning, Albert Pujols grounds into three double plays for the first time in his career and flies out to the warning track. Baseball is back, and it brings heartache right alongside joy.

We leave the stadium after the 11-inning loss to San Diego and stop in around a few bars to see friends. It’s a long season and the world’s biggest brewery is down the street. There’s no sense in letting a hanging curve and a Cameron Maybin fist pump ruin an otherwise beautiful day. Concerns about a baseball team are best served in a cold frosty mug. 161-1 is still well within reach.

Blue Jays clinch 1st playoff spot since 2016, beat Yanks 4-1

Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
Leave a comment

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Barred from playing in their own ballpark this year because of COVID-19, the vagabond Toronto Blue Jays have found a home in the playoffs.

The slumping New York Yankees, meanwhile, look likely to play on the road in the postseason, where they’ve struggled all year.

Hyun Jin Ryu pitched seven shutout innings and the Blue Jays clinched their first postseason spot since 2016, beating the Yankees 4-1 Thursday night and further damaging New York’s chances of hosting a first-round series.

New York lost for the fourth time in five games following a 10-game winning stretch and remained two games behind the slumping White Sox for the fourth seed. Chicago lost 5-4 at Cleveland, its fifth straight defeat.

“We’ve got to get it rolling again, obviously, if we’re going to get to where we want to go,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “I’m confident we can do it.

New York went 21-7 at home this season but was 11-18 on the road. Boone said he’s not concerned about that split even as a potential road playoff series looms next week.

“We’ve got to get ourselves in order and start playing really good baseball if we’re going to give ourselves a chance,” Boone said.

Toronto secured at least an AL wild-card spot and ensured its eighth trip overall to the postseason. The Blue Jays had endured three losing campaigns since their previous playoff trip, going 67-95 last season.

“I’m just so proud of my club and everything we’ve gone through all year,” second-year manager Charlie Montoyo said.

Canada’s federal government refused to allow games at Toronto’s Rogers Centre this season, citing the closed Canada-U.S. border and the travel risk associated with the pandemic. Stuck on the road to start the season, the Blue Jays eventually ended up at their Triple-A ballpark, Sahlen Field in Buffalo, but didn’t gripe about their fate.

“They never complained,” Montoyo said. “They had their mind set on getting to this moment right now.”

Blue Jays players embraced after Rafael Dolis struck out Aaron Hicks to end it, donning blue T-shirts that said “Respect Toronto.”

“This is something we want to make an every year thing,” infielder Cavan Biggio said. “For us, we’re happy, we’re excited we’re able to put ourselves in this position, but this is only the start of hopefully something special for a long time.”

The Blue Jays trail the Yankees by two games for second place in the AL East. Both teams have three games remaining. Toronto hosts Baltimore in Buffalo this weekend while the Yankees host the Marlins.

New York failed to hit a homer for the fourth straight game, matching its longest streak since June 2016. It’s the first time the Yankees have failed to homer in a four-game series since doing so at Texas in July 2013.

“I’m concerned with the way we’ve played recently,” outfielder Brett Gardner said. “Any time you’re not playing your best baseball and the postseason is right around the corner, something needs to be corrected rather quickly.”

New York loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth, but pinch-hitter Gary Sanchez flied out to deep center, where Randal Grichuk made a leaping catch at the wall.

“It’s good to see him get a really good swing off in a big spot,” Boone said of Sanchez. “Just unfortunately, that short.”

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. homered for Toronto, his eighth.

Ryu (5-2) scattered five hits, walked two and struck out four. Luke Voit and Hicks hit back-to-back singles to begin the sixth but Ryu struck out Giancarlo Stanton, got Gleyber Torres to fly out, and retired Gio Urshela on a groundball.

“He’s an ace and he did what an ace does,” Montoyo said.

The left-hander lowered his ERA from 3.00 to 2.69.

Dolis got four outs for his fifth save in six chances.

Guerrero opened the scoring with a solo homer off left-hander Jordan Montgomery (2-3) in the second.

The Blue Jays extended their lead when Biggio and Bo Bichette hit back-to-back, two-out doubles in the third.

Toronto made it 4-0 in the sixth. Grichuk chased Montgomery with a single and Guerrero singled off Adam Ottavino before rookie Alejandro Kirk hit a two-out, two-run double.

Montgomery lost for the first time in four starts. He allowed three runs and six hits in 5 1/3 innings.

The Blue Jays finished 5-5 in their 10-game regular season series against the Yankees.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Blue Jays: RHP Nate Pearson (elbow) was activated off the injured list and RHP Wilmer Font was designated for assignment. . RHP Jordan Romano (strained right middle finger) will throw a second bullpen session Friday.

Yankees: Aaron Judge came on as a pinch-hitter but is expected to start all three remaining regular season games, Boone said.

SHARED DUTY

Boone said he expects to use both Sanchez and Kyle Higashioka at catcher in the postseason. Higashioka has hit well while working with ace Gerrit Cole, while Sanchez has struggled with both offense and his defense down the stretch.

SEVEN UP

Ryu became the first Blue Jays starting pitcher since Aug. 22, 2019, to pitch into the seventh. It had been an MLB-record 88 games since RHP Jacob Waguespack pitched into the seventh at Dodger Stadium last year.

UP NEXT

Yankees: LHP J.A. Happ (2-2, 3.25) starts Friday as New York returns home to begin a three-game series against Miami. RHP Sandy Alcantara (3-2, 3.12) starts for the Marlins.

Blue Jays: RHP Taijuan Walker (4-3, 2.86) starts Friday in the opener of a three-game series against Baltimore. The Orioles have not named a starter.