CHICAGO — Before things completely tilted toward Wrigley Weird — trademark pending — the Cardinals got just enough from two pitchers in their first starts of the season to make it possible, when they had a lead, to deploy the bullpen exactly as designed.
And when that didn’t even work, there was always Brendan Donovan.
Despite their top right-handed relievers lined up for use, as scripted, the Cardinals lost a lead and missed offensively on two bases-loaded chances late in the night game of a doubleheader Saturday against the Cubs. Rookie Donovan, who claimed the lead six innings earlier, delivered his second two-run double of the game to break a tie and ignite a four-run 10th inning against Cubs reliever Michael Rucker. Donovan pushed the Cardinals ahead to split the doubleheader with a Game 2 win, 7-4.
“Those are the type of players you win with,” manager Oliver Marmol said of Donovan 24 hours before the rookie’s game-winning double.
“I was just trying to get something up, stay off the ground, and try to advance the runners over,” Donovan said. “I was just trying to help us win.”
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The Cubs cinched a 6-1 win in Game 1 with 18 baserunners and one pitch that piqued the Cardinals.
A suitably wild, sometimes wacky, and at least once angry day at Wrigley refused to be content with a mother 18 innings of baseball and demanded a 19th between the region’s oldest rivals. The first 18 included Albert Pujols’ 3,000th game and Marmol’s first career ejection, a colorful display that will find immortality on social media. And then, at the end, the most unexpected feat of all.
A funny thing happened on Edmundo Sosa’s way to scoring the go-ahead run in the ninth inning.
He did not touch third base.
Instead of sprinting home to break a late-game tie on Nolan Gorman’s two-out single, Sosa missed the base as he attempted to protect a sore left ankle. He had missed first base earlier in the inning for the same reason. Instead of racing a throw home, Sosa had to retreat to third and touch the base he missed. The Cubs turned that break—that breakdown in baserunning—into an inning-ending groundout and a crack at winning the game in the bottom of the ninth.
Both teams aggressively used their leading late-game relievers to get the game to that point. Ryan Helsley appeared in three innings for the Cardinals, as did right-hander David Robertson for the Cubs. Helsley allowed an inherited runner to score and tie the game on Christopher Morel’s two-out double. Robertson twice faced Paul Goldschmidt with the bases loaded and bested him each time.
Giovanny Gallegos (1-2) pitched the final two innings of Game 2 for the Cardinals and struck out five.
The Cardinals claimed a lead in Game 2 with a burst of offense absent from the first game of the day. Cubs rookie Caleb Kilian began his major-league career by retiring the first nine Cardinals he faced. Kilian, the prized return from San Francisco in last year’s Kris Bryant trade, struck out the first two Cardinals he faced and had four by the time the lineup had his second look at the right-hander.
It was the Cardinals’ turn to make an impression.
A walk, a single, and another walk loaded the bases against Kilian. A wild pitch allowed Tommy Edman to score and tie the game, 1-1. Donovan doubled to the left-center gap to bring home the other two for a 3-0 lead. The inning could have mushroomed into more if not for the Cardinals making two outs on the bases.
In the seventh inning the Cardinals again loaded the bases, this time with three walks. That delivered the game to the hottest hitter on the team. A few hours removed from the end of his 25-game hitting streak, Goldschmidt had already started the next one with a single in the fourth-inning rally. To counter (or slow) the reigning NL Player of the Month, the Cubs turned to Robertson, their best reliever, a/k/a inevitable trade deadline gold.
Robertson struck out Goldschmidt on a 2-2 fastball to keep Game 2 knotted, 3-3.
In the same situation two innings later against the same hitter, Robertson got a groundout from Goldschmidt to send the game hurtling through a light rain and toward extra innings.
The Cardinals’ last, best, and arguably only chance to animate their offense for a rally in Game 1 ended on the pitch that inspired Marmol’s first ejection.
An inning after his solo homer provided the Cardinals’ first run, Edman came to the plate with a four-run deficit and the bases loaded in the seventh. The Cubs had two outs and reliever Scott Effross got ahead, 0-2. Edman stayed choosy. He worked the count full. The sixth pitch of the at-bat, an 80-mph Frisbee of a breaking ball, started outside of the zone and stayed outside the zone except to the only pair of eyes that mattered.
Home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman called it a strike.
The words erupting from the Cardinals’ dugout were as unprintable as they were critical. Marmol checked a replay on an iPad to confirm his frustration. He then shouted again to Dreckman and tossed the iPad onto the field, as if Dreckman wanted to check it out, too.
Marmol then marched to home plate to illustrate the strike zone for the umpire. The manager framed home plate to establish his example and then took a stride to his right before drawing the path the pitch took around the strike zone. During his first career ejection, Marmol took the additional step of trying to be the first to eject an umpire. At least twice, he gave the punctuative arm gesture that Dreckman should join him.
“The pitch on Eddy was the tipping point,” Marmol said. “Bases loaded there. It changes the game. Big part of the game. We weren’t happy wit it. I expressed my thoughts on the field. Move on.”
The starters for Saturday’s doubleheader — one a reliever and the other a Class AAA starter 72 hours ago — did what was asked to put the Cardinals in that position.
Game 2 starter Andre Pallante, a rookie, has been so successful in his role bridging leads to the late-game relievers that the Cardinals mused internally about how he might look to start a game. He’s the second reliever this season the Cardinals have considered building into a starter on the go, following the path attempted by Jordan Hicks until going on the injured list.
“I like seeing him out there in that role,” Marmol said. “Don’t get me wrong. I like him pitching the the backend, too. The versatility is certainly something to think about.”
To begin Pallante’s first big-league start, the first three Cubs reached base against him. Two swings into the game and the Cardinals trailed 1-0 on Willson Contreras’ double. But Pallante got out of the first in the same way he got out of a quagmire in the fourth. He turned one pitch into two outs. Pallante lost a 96.4-mph fastball in the first that Patrick Wisdom chopped into a 6-4-3 double play to end in the inning. With the bases loaded and one out in the fourth, pitching coach Mike Maddux visited Pallante.
The next pitch — a 95.7-mph fastball-got a 6-4 double play to end the inning.
“My fastball kind of does whatever it wants,” Pallante said. “I just grip a fastball, four-seam grip, and sometimes it cuts, sometimes it sinks. That was one of those where it has a little bit of cut, and played to my favor. Definitely, that’s why it’s a high-groundball rate. Got a lot of depth to it. That’s something I know I have and the team knows I have it. That’s why they trust me to get a groundball.”
Pallante completed the four innings assigned, just as Johan Oviedo got through five innings desired in Game 1. They each had to tiptoe around sabotaging themselves. Pallante walked four, but allowed only the one run, from the first batter he faced. In Game 1, Oviedo sided with his slider when his fastball misbehaved. He walked three, hit one, and scattered eight hits for 12 baserunners, but he left trailing only 3-0 in part because of five strikeouts.
After a walk to the second batter he faced, Oviedo got caught focusing on upsetting the timing of the batter and ignoring the runner. He went into a full windup with the runner at first – and the umpire called a balk. Oviedo explained he wanted to “play with the tempo.” Sticking with the windup was more ill-advised that it was against the rules. Marmol insisted it wasn’t a balk and had a lengthy talk with the umps between innings about it. Either way, the runner advanced to second base and once again Oviedo was in the majors with an inning shocked with walks and listing.
After the walk and another walk, Maddux started to get his steps in and visited. The coach placed hands on both Oviedo’s shoulders to give him a chance to slow his pulse. The right-hander struck out the next two batters to slip free of a turbulent first without allowing a run.
“(Maddux) repeats a lot, ‘Trust my stuff,’” Oviedo said. “I’m trying to play with bike and location. If I need it, go hard. If I just want to locate and make a good, quality pitch, I try to execute it. I just want to keep executing.”