By Aiden Rogatz, from Cardsblog.com
Despite a disappointing end to the season, there were still many things to get excited about this year for the Cardinals. Here’s your top five moments of the 2016 Cardinals season:
#5: Cards set Single-Season Record for Pinch-Hit Home Runs
You may or may not have known it, but the Cardinals did indeed make their way into the history books this season. On September 6th, late in a game against the Pirates, Matt Carpenter blasted the Cards’ 15th pinch hit home run to tie the game at six, on the way to an eventual 9-7 win in Pittsburgh. The record was previously held by both the 2001 Giants, as well as the Diamondbacks of the same year. The main contributor to breaking this record for the Cardinals was rookie outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker, who slugged a whopping five pinch hit homer in his first season with the big club.
As Carpenter broke one record with his heroic, late-season bomb, Molina, earlier in the game, tied another, matching the NL mark, and two shy of the Major League record, set by the Texas Rangers in 2002. Although it seems like the Cards may have been a tad power dependent at times in 2016, or at least more so than were used to, it was certainly fun watching them set these records, and mash the ball over the fence. After all, everybody loves the long ball.
#4: Red Birds get Late Inning Win against the Mets in Heat of a Pennant Race
In late July, things were getting tight in the NL Wild Card Race. With the Giants holding the first spot, and the Mets just a half game up on the Cardinals for the second position, our guys rolled in to Queens for a three game series with New York. After splitting the first two, the Cards faced an important, if not crucial, game three. It was the veteran Adam Wainwright vs. the young stand-in Logan Verrett.
After holding a lead for most of the game behind the solid pitching of Waino, the Cards let up a 2-run blast in the 7th to none other than- yup, you guessed it- Yoenis Cespedes. The Mets now led 4-3, going into the top of the 8th, with Reed and Familia looming in the pen.
Look, I have nothing against Madison Bumgarner. He's a top fifteen pitcher in the majors and is coming off of an incredible season. I will also add that what he did in the 2014 postseason and in the 2016 Wild Card game was phenomenal. My problem is with the story being written, because it's dead wrong.
However, the prowess of the Mets’ bullpen didn’t seem to phase the Red Birds. Up against his league-leading, and historically great 52 consecutive converted save opportunities, Molina and Wong both smacked RBI doubles off of Jeurys Familia to take a 5-4 lead in the top of the ninth. As Seung-hwan Oh came in to successfully lock down his chance, the Cards leapfrogged atop New York in the Wild Card standings, and so started a three game winning streak as they brought their momentum into Miami.
#3: Alex Reyes Bursts onto the Scene
Despite the Cardinals pitching not being up to par in the 2016 season, they absolutely found a diamond in the ruff in rookie right-hander Alex Reyes. Despite a rocky outing in his first MLB start, covering just 4 2/3 innings in an eventual 3-2 loss to Oakland, Reyes showed promise from the very beginning.
Featuring a blistering fastball that got up to 100 mph, and a nasty changeup to boot, there was never a doubt Reyes had the stuff to be an effective, if not dominant, major league pitcher. In his first start, he was just “jumpy,” as Mike Matheny put it; struggling with his command a tad. Nothing he couldn’t iron out.
And iron it out he did. Reyes proceeded to win his next four starts in dominating fashion. He ended the season with a 4-1 record in 12 games pitched, and a minuscule 1.57 ERA in 46.0 innings. In those 46 innings, he only gave up one home run, while racking up a whopping 52 strikeouts. If there’s one thing Reyes could work on, it’s getting his walk rate down, walking 1 batter every two innings he pitched.
But all and all, Alex Reyes burst onto the scene as an electric young pitcher for the Cardinals in a year when their pitching had as a staff had some issues. I, along with I think most of the Red Bird faithful, are extremely excited to see what this young man has in store for us in the future.
#2: Diaz’s Emotional Homer
On September 25th, we lost one of the great young players, as well as one of the strongest role models, in today’s game: Marlins pitcher, Jose Fernandez.
Just two days ago, Dee Gordon created one of the greatest moments in all of Baseball. In a fashion exactly like one you would find in a scripted Hollywood movie, Gordon broke down in tears after hitting his first home-run of the season in his first at-bat only a day after the passing of one of his best friends, Jose Fernandez.
Two days later, something truly amazing happened. Cardinals shortstop, 26 year old Cuban defect Aledmys Diaz, hit the first grand slam of his career in a 12-5 over Cincinnati Reds. But this was no normal shot. As I’m sure most of you already know, Diaz was life-long friends with Fernandez, growing up on the same street in Cuba, even playing on the same little league team as the late star.
After Fernandez’s death, Diaz took a game off from the club to go down to Miami and meet with Fernandez’s grieving family, whom he had always seen as his own. In his next game back, he touched the baseball world with a blast of pure emotion sent over the left-center field fence into the second row of the Busch Stadium crowd.
As he came out of the dugout for his curtain call, another first of his career, he raised his helmet to the sky, to Jose, as his teammates and the whole stadium were, quite tangibly, holding him up on the top step of the Cardinals dugout. This was truly one of the most poignant, most amazing moments in baseball, and even all of sports, that I can remember, and exemplifies the unifying power of sports, a force that little other things hold in this world.
#1: Matt Holliday’s Magical Shot
On September 30th, the Cardinals activated Matt Holliday off the disabled list for what would most likely be his final at bat with the team. Holliday had been out for over a month with a broken thumb, and as he stepped up to the plate in the seventh inning of a lop-sided affair against the Pirates, not much was expected from the veteran outfielder.
The Cardinals’ front-office had released several statements over the preceding weeks indicating that they would most likely not pick up Holliday’s contract for next season, thereby ending his 8-year career with the team. Holliday had thanked the fans of St. Louis multiple times on various social media sites as his tenure with the team came to a close, and was reciprocated with a huge “Thank You” on the left field scoreboard, as he took his place in the right-hand batters box for what would most likely be his final at-bat as a Cardinal.
After two pitches, there were two strikes on Holliday, and any slim hopes of something amazing slipped away. But then. Bang. A shot, high and deep to right, it..it..it’s gone! Landing in the bullpen is a Matt Holliday home run, in what could be his last at bat as a Cardinal. Again, the magic of baseball was put on display.
With tears in his eyes, Holliday trotted around the bases, and back to the dugout, where he was embraced by his long time teammate, and friend, Yadier Molina. Alas, for what could be one last time, he was called back out of the dugout, for a final curtain call on his great career with the Cards.
In 2013, a young Cardinals team, in large part due to its ridiculous batting average with runners in scoring position, advanced all the way to the World Series. And with Kolten Wong poised for his first full season the next year, the future was bright.