In a lineup with Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina, it’s Allen Craig who has been chosen to hit cleanup of late. He showed why yet again Thursday, singling home the go-ahead run in the seventh as the Cardinals took the opener of a four-game series against the Dodgers 2-1.
Both the Cardinals and Dodgers had lost three straight entering the night, leaving St. Louis with the one-game edge as they battle for what will likely be one wild card spot. The Cardinals jumped further ahead in the competition thanks in part to a strong effort from All-Star Lance Lynn, who was filling in for the injured Jake Westbrook and making his first start since being bounced from the rotation last month.
Lynn allowed one run in six innings and struck out seven on the night. He and Josh Beckett pitched to a draw after Beckett allowed one run in 5 1/3 innings.
Beckett’s night will be better remembered for the single that wasn’t, as he was thrown out at first by Carlos Beltran on his hard shot into right field in the third inning.
The Dodgers got their only run on an Adrian Gonzalez single in the first. The Cards came right back and tied it in the top of the second on a Skip Schumaker single.
The Cardinals, who racked up 10 hits and five walks (two intentional), wasted several opportunities after that. They had 16 at-bats with runners in scoring position, yet only twice converted (though they had four hits; two of them didn’t score runs). Before Craig’s single in the seventh, the Cards got leadoff hitter Shane Robinson on via a walk from Paco Rodriguez in his third major league appearance. Instead of remaining patient, Jon Jay decided to sacrifice him along, only to pop up the bunt. Fortunately, Matt Carpenter singled afterwards and Craig delivered his hit with two outs.
For Craig, it was his 77th RBI in 102 games this season. He’s driven 37 runs in 47 games as a cleanup hitter. Obviously, that’s less than one-third of a season worth of action. However, it’s a better rate of driving in runs than Albert Pujols maintained in either of his last two seasons with St. Louis.
The Phillies’ bullpen, which has not been good as of late, gift-wrapped Monday’s game for the Cardinals. Starter Nick Pivetta was brilliant, fanning 13 while allowing two runs in 7 1/3 innings. But things unraveled after he left the game. Victor Arano took over for Edubray Ramos to start the ninth inning with the Phillies leading 4-2, but he allowed a one-out single and a double. After striking out Harrison Bader, Arano appeared to strike out Yairo Munoz for the final out of the game, but the ball trickled through the legs of catcher Andrew Knapp, allowing a run to score and the tying run to move to third base. Lefty Adam Morgan came in to face pinch-hitter Kolten Wong. Wong tied the game up, sneaking a single into center field.
In the 10th inning, Jake Thompson gave up the go-ahead run on a leadoff home run to Tommy Pham. It seemed like it was just going to be another one of those losses that have become increasingly common for the Phillies lately. But the Phillies’ offense didn’t go down quietly, even though it hadn’t put a runner on second base since the start of the second inning when J.P. Crawford doubled. In the bottom half of the 10th, Hoskins blooped a single into shallow left-center to start the inning. Hoskins moved to second base on a ground out from Odubel Herrera. Matt Bowman intentionally walked Carlos Santana, then struck out Jesmuel Valentin. That brought up Aaron Altherr, who replaced Nick Williams after Williams took a baseball to the face off of the right field fence. Bowman fell behind 2-1, then threw a 90 MPH fastball that Altherr lined into left field. Rather than keep the ball in front of him, Marcell Ozuna decided to dive for the ball to make the final out, but he missed. The ball trickled past him, allowing the tying and the game-winning runs to score, giving the Phillies a come-from-behind win.
On the list of people happy to see Ozuna miss that ball are Altherr (of course), Arano, Morgan, and Thompson. But perhaps no one was happier than manager Gape Kapler. The win might help take the heat off of him somewhat after another poor performance from the bullpen. When a team struggles, everyone wants a scapegoat and Kapler is an easy target. He has been all year, undeservingly.
Phillies radio broadcaster and former major league reliever Larry Anderson said after the bullpen meltown, “Not everybody can pitch in the ninth inning. And I know Gabe Kapler thinks they can, but they can’t.” Aside from Ramos and Seranthony Dominguez (who was unavailable after throwing 52 pitches between Saturday and Sunday in Milwaukee), no one in that bullpen has been reliable. The closer, Hector Neris, just got optioned to Triple-A. You work with what you have, and right now, Kapler doesn’t have a whole lot. Thankfully for him, he wasn’t punished with another loss thanks to Ozuna.