Game 28 // Ninth Inning, St. Louis // Carpenter Builds a Win

TOP OF THE NINTH: CARDINALS 4 – (3) 4 PIRATES

 

It’s the first return to Busch Stadium for David Freese, who gets a standing ovation and the first chance (of probably many) to knock his former team back a peg or two in the NL Central standings.

He’s up against Trevor Rosenthal, who comes in flame-throwing 98-mph fastballs on the outside corners, wearing the classic, off-white uniform that would make Patrick Bateman faint in swooning jealousy.

That’s “Egg-Shell,” Rosenthal says, stretching the fabric on his sleeves into the late afternoon sunlight. Then Bateman, the American Psycho, examining it for stains: “Look at that subtle off-white coloring,” he says, sweat pouring down his forehead in admiration, “…. the tasteful thickness of it….”

In the crowd, at least a dozen St. Louis die-hards have shown up with the appreciative Freese jerseys, half-rooting against him now but never forgetting his 2011 heroism.

 

 

And in the half-empty seats behind home is a rogue Dodger fan, decked in the full-blue regalia from head to toe, hoping that… if he just roots hard enough, his team will appear on the field, to take on both Cardinals and Pirates?

So as Freese steps in, down a run and looking to dust off some of the heroics that made him so beloved in St. Louis, it’s against a pitcher who wants no part of the welcome-back babying.

Freese gets a little fooled on a slider, hitting a weak ground-ball to Diaz at short—but the throw goes way low, bouncing awkwardly into the dirt before first base, and Freese is safe.

Now up is John Jaso, who looks—even more than Sean Rodriguez or Josh Harrison—like an actual pirate, with a enough dreadlocks for an entry-level position in Korn (or The Wailers), like a surf-hippie who took a wrong turn and found himself suited-up, half-awake in the batter’s box at Busch Stadium.

He gets walked, tossing his bat toward the dugout and trotting on toward first. Rosenthal licks his fingers, rubs the brim of his cap, readying for the threat of Andrew McCutchen.

He brings a long, back-and-forth at-bat into a full count, then strikes out Cutch on a high fastball trailing inside, and the arms behind home shoot upward in unison, half-ready to cheer, half-ready to head for the exits.

Then it’s Gregory Polanco, who comes up and calls time—rubbing his eyes, taking off his helmet and doing a full face wipe with each shoulder sleeve, POLANCO stitched in black into his elbow-guard.

Another double-shoulder wipe, and he settles his helmet back on.

Ground-ball to Matt Adams at first, who spins and loops his throw over the head of Sean Rodriguez pinch-running to second. One out. But Freese makes his way to third.

Now it’s Starling Marte, and the St. Louis fans are on their feet. Two strikes to go, the win a sole Pirate’s retirement away.

Clap clap clap clap clap—echoing out from around the stadium seating decks.

Full count to Marte. This is it. Polanco’s got serious speed, so a double will take the lead. A single will tie. Anything else will end it here.

Marte crushes the next pitch. Deep, on a frozen line, to left-center field, bouncing down sharply onto the warning track and into the stands, a ground-rule double. The camera zooms in on scores of fans with the hands-on-head look, as it’s now 4-4 and two guys cruise into scoring position.

Then, a break: Francisco Cervelli hits a little dribbler straight down at his feet, which Molina alertly snags and puts on the tag. On to the bottom of the 9th, Cardinals with a big chance.

 

 

 

BOTTOM OF THE NINTH: CARDINALS 6 (4) – 4 PIRATES

Aledmys Diaz up first, and he hits a chopper to short—redeeming himself with a lightning-quick dash to first, with the camera panning back across the infield, along with the throw, and he’s already got it beaten out, two steps down the line and rounding back safely for a fist-bump from the first-base coach.

 

 

Now it’s Jeremy Hazelbaker, who’s inexplicably-good youngster #2 in a long, long, frustrating (to this Cubs fan) list of Cardinals going from anonymous to dominant in the blink of a single offseason.

A.J. Schugel is on the mound, with grimy enough lamb-chop sideburns that suggest the Pirates signed him just to have yet another pirate-esque swashbuckler on the roster.

Schugel delivers, and Hazelbaker hits one. Deep to left. The fans on their feet. At the wall. Just shy of a walk-off. Marte springs back toward the wall, catching it with not another step to spare. Matheny curses to himself in the dugout, it’s now one out and looking like extras are on the way.

Then, Matt Carpenter comes up, looking to build himself a win here. He’s got the smoothest, calmest, most relaxed, opposing-team-killing sang-froid stance I’ve seen from anybody—squinting out at Schugel as the next pitch comes, between two thick parallel lines formed by his eye black and eyebrows.

The count goes to 1-1, then 1-2, on a trailing changeup.

Then, the fourth pitch is left hanging on the outside corner.

Gone. Way gone. Gone to deep right-center field. It’s Gone Ball: the (half-baked) parody sequel to Gone Girlwhere no one knows when that thing will come back, if ever, but the suspect’s no suspect at all—Matt Carpenter pleading guilty all the way to the cruelest, harshest destruction he can muster, of a baseball now in flight over the right-field grass and into the bleacher seats among a crowd now wild with celebration.

Way gone to end the game. Fireworks are off, helmet is tossed. Hero is hugged, hugged again, hugged x15, Gatorade is doused, team is happy.

 

 

6-4—final.

The Busch Stadium foot traffic splits into two camps, with half the fans moseying up toward the concourse for the giddy trot to the parking lot, and the other half standing pat near the wall, cheering on the redbirds, taking photos of a win better than they may see for a while.

The NL Central race is alive and well, the weekly battles of the neck-in-necks setting up a deep summer calendar of rivalry games.

Three teams enter, one team leaves. Bet against these Cardinals you must not.

 

 

 

Previously:

6th Inning: STL vs. ARZ

11th Inning: PIT vs. STL

3rd Inning: COL vs. ARZ

5th Inning: HOU vs. BOS

3rd Inning: WSH vs. ATL

7th Inning: BAL vs. BOS

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