Jeremy Hazelbaker: The unlikely Cardinals hero

ST. LOUIS - Imagine something for me, St. Louis Cardinals fans. What if you woke up this morning and found out the Cardinals were no hit. Throw a lamp shade over that misery by revealing that the Chicago Cubs dealt the Cards that awful blow.

This almost happened Monday night at Busch Stadium. Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs best pitcher, nearly no hit the Cardinals. 

The opening game of the series was the toughest matchup for the Cardinals going in. Mike Leake, coming off a rough start in Pittsburgh and battling shingles, taking on the underrated Hendricks, owner of an ERA barely creeping over 2.00. You can call it David versus Goliath. I'll call it a bad day. 

The Cubs got up early on a Ben Zobrist home run, and Dexter Fowler added a blast later on. Leake produced all one can expect from the projected 5th starter. Six innings, three earned runs, and nothing spectacular. That is Leake's appeal in a nutshell. He needs great defense and some luck because he finds a lot of bats with his offerings. 

Still, it could have been a really bad night. The Cubs are the best team in baseball. Hendricks is a quiet contender for the Cy Young award. It was a game the Cards were most likely going to lose. 

They struck out eight times and couldn't scratch out a single hit for eight innings.

Enter Jeremy Hazelbaker, the journeyman who has barely played the past couple weeks. He was zero for his 11 and nine for his last 43. However, the man has slugged all year. I wouldn't expect much in the 9th inning against Hendricks. Think again because it's baseball. 

Hazelbaker cranks an 0-2 pitch to right field that breaks the no hitter and the shutout in one single swing. How sweet it is to be a Cardinals fan? The war was lost, but a small battle was won there. 

In 100 games and 188 at bats, Hazelbaker has 12 home runs and 21 total extra base hits. That's not too bad for a guy who suddenly started bashing AAA Memphis pitching last summer. 

He made the team and got out to a hot start before fizzling and return to Memphis in June. Since his return, the average hasn't been there but the slug is well over .500 in that span. Good for him, and good for the Cardinals. 

Remember what I said earlier: Imagine waking up in a world where a Cubs pitcher threw a no hitter against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium in a frustrating 2016 season. That's sad stuff. 

Thank Hazelbaker for erasing a potential nightmare. That's baseball. 

Good news. The Mets lost so they remain just a half game ahead of the Birds for the second wildcard spot. Stay seated, my friends. There's 19 games left. 


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