For some reason, I cannot get Friday night’s St. Louis Cardinals 6-3 11-inning home loss to the Chicago Cubs out of my mind. Perhaps it is because the game appeared to be very winnable. It seems like far too often at the end of a season, one looks back to missed opportunity games like this as having made a difference.
Many have already expressed their concerns about the contest – primarily with decisions made by third-year manager Mike Matheny surrounding the use of Trevor Rosenthal. They include pitching the closer in a tie game at home, not pinch-hitting Pete Kozma for him with runners in scoring position and extending the right-hander into a second inning of work.
I can understand all of those, especially the frustration of seeing Rosenthal strike out in just his second career at-bat. The effects of heavy workload may take longer to manifest themselves, but may also be real.
However, my sticking point had already occurred, relating to a decision made earlier in the game – specifically in the use of starter Joe Kelly.
Much attention has been given to Kelly’s inability to pitch deep into games. As his 33rd career start evolved on Friday, he seemed in control. If Kelly would ever go seven-plus innings, this might finally be the time.
With the help of two double-play balls, the right-hander had faced the minimum number of Cubs hitters through the first five innings. Yet, while batting in the bottom of the frame, Kelly was struck by a 93 mph Jeff Samardzija fastball. The game was delayed as Kelly was checked out.
Though Kelly remained in the contest, he showed less dominance in the sixth, scattering two Cubs singles. Knowing the 25-year-old had only pitched seven full innings once in his career and that the Cards had a fully-rested pen after Thursday’s day off, it felt to me like it was the best time to end Kelly’s day. At that point, the Cards held a razor-thin 1-0 lead, but Kelly could only win or receive a no-decision.
Sure, it might be a self-fulfilling prophecy to call Kelly a six-inning pitcher and manage him that way. I wonder if Matheny decided this was the night to try to break the mold. At that point, Kelly had thrown just 75 pitches, though 18 of them had occurred in the sixth.
Matheny did send Kelly out for the seventh but as fate would have it, the hurler was not to secure another out. Now, it wasn’t the pitcher’s fault that Kolten Wong committed a fielding error to the first batter, but he did have an impact on the next two batters.
After a pair of singles tied the score, a pitching change was made. Kelly had thrown 12 more pitches before leaving. The fact the tying run was unearned probably made no one feel better.
Carlos Martinez did escape Kelly’s two-on, no out jam, but used valuable bullets before running into his own trouble in the eighth inning. Two Chicago runs came in after Kevin Siegrist also had to enter the game with runners on base. One run was charged to Martinez and the other to Siegrist as the visitors temporarily took a 3-1 lead.
I cannot prove that Martinez and Siegrist would have performed better starting with clean innings, but my gut tells me at least one of them could easily have. If so, the contest would have played out differently – if only Matheny had not tried to squeeze three more outs from six-inning Joe Kelly.