ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - It doesn't matter how well the Cardinals were playing going into Monday's Memorial Day bash with the New York Yankees. It doesn't matter the Cardinals went 7-2 on the first 9 holes of their huge May home stand before taking 2 of 3 from the Cincinnati Reds over the weekend. The past doesn't take away the sting of defeat on any given day.
Monday's game was there to be won and the Cardinals let it slip away. The beginning was fantastic. Derek Jeter took the field and was honored with the Cardinal greats. He hugged Ozzie Smith, got some cool cufflinks and the 1964 Cardinals came back to celebrate their World Series win over the Yankees. Bob Gibson got into the broadcast booth with Tim McCarver and Dan McLaughlin and gave a baseball history tutorial. There was hope and promise. Then, the late innings arrived.
Let's take a look at the good, the bad and the outright ugly of Monday's 6-4 extra innings loss.
*Michael Wacha. Again. The young right-hander isn't going through the doldrums of sophomore slumps. I expected Wacha to run into a brick wall before June and so far he's pitched well enough to have twice as many wins. He's the real deal. When Wacha does let the fans down, it comes in the form of a groundball sneaking through the infield or a rare fly ball that finds the seats. Wacha is mint, and anyone who watches him hurl 7 innings with ease at an American League lineup should know it. He pitched great but settled into bed Monday night with another no decision. He is 3-3 with a 2.67 ERA and 68 strikeouts to go with 19 walks. Opposing hitters are batting .223 off Wacha, and he's held opposing lineups to 3 earned runs or less in 60.2 innings spanning his last 10 starts. Cardinal hitters need to buy him a few steaks and start scoring runs.
*Kolten Wong. Sure the young man can make plays at second base with the ease of a violinist, but it's his spark at the plate that truly drives this team into better places. Wong collected 2 more hits Monday, including an early RBI single. He would have collected his 8th stolen base if he hadn't slid right over the bag at third base (not a good decision to begin with, but a green light is a green light). Wong has 7 stolen bases in 8 attempts and is the only legitimate threat on the team (sorry, Peter Bourjos; getting on base helps stolen base attempts). In his last 8 starts since being recalled from Memphis, Wong has a hit in every game and 2 hits in four of them. The kid is a worthy holder of a spot in the lineup. Mark Ellis understands his role and that is helping with the mentoring of Wong and sliding in for an occasional start. After a brief vacation tearing up the minor leagues, I think Kolten Wong is here to stay.
*Carlos Martinez. The inconsistent young gun fired 2 scoreless innings and didn't allow any damage. Baby Carlos struck out 2 and looked to be in full command of his fastball and slider against a hungry lineup. The Yankees may not have any severe threats in their lineup but they come from a league that prays on shaky unstable young pitching talent. I didn't see a glimpse of a changeup but Martinez looked sharp. With Siegrist out, Martinez can go for the stranglehold on a prime bullpen spot.
*Matt Adams. He collected 2 more hits and is hitting .321. Once again, save me the home run cries. On May 26, I will happily take a consistent bat in this lineup. No one on this team is hitting home runs right now. Matt Holliday and Yadi Molina displayed warning track power and that has become custom for this scrappy bunch. Adams just keeps hitting and playing great defense.
*Misfortune on the bases. There could be a better name for it but the Cards suffered from poor luck running the bases Monday. Wong was thrown out at third base and didn't score on Adams' single. Matt Holliday doesn't run seriously hard out of the box and Adams' single doesn't drive him in. There is no way to gauge the real chance that Holliday makes it into third base on the ball hit to the wall. There is also no way to tell if Wong slides differently and stays on the bag. It's just bad luck. Misfortune. The Cards suffered that today.
*Then again, why is Kolten Wong being allowed to steal third base in a tight game? Did he see Lou Brock and get excited?
*Randy Choate. The lefty has been decent this season with his whiffle ball attack and off speed assortment. He can get lefties and righties out sometimes, right? He walked leadoff batter Jacoby Ellsbury in the 12th inning, the equivalent of pouring gasoline on a steady building fire in a room with no windows. Choate can be successful against right-handed hitters all he wants, but he is on this team to get lefties out. Period. He failed to retire Ellsbury and the gate was officially open. Choate also hit a batter in the inning and was left in to deliver the pitch that broke a 3-3 tie. It wasn't all his fault, but Choate didn't pitch well enough today. The man's ERA is inflated because of a May 12th mercy outing against the Cubs (0.2 IP, 6 runs, 7 hits) but overall he's been solid. Then again, he is best when facing one or two hitters, not five.
*Situational hitting. The Cards were 2-7 with runners in scoring position while the Yankees were 4-9 and the home team left 7 men on base to the Yanks 4 men. The Cards got 2 big hits but needed more and were outdone by the Yankees. The magical clutch bat has been missing from this team all year long.
*Mike Matheny and his late inning management of the bullpen. I am fine with Martinez pitching two innings and throwing 30 pitches. Rosenthal pitched a quiet 10th inning and that worked. Pat Neshek pitched a great 11th and only threw 11 pitches. That's right. Pat threw 11 pitches and could have easily taken the mound for another inning. I am not for iffy hypothetical play, but the Cards may still get a run in the 12th and win the game. If Martinez can throw 30 pitches and hurl 2 innings, why can't Neshek throw more than 8 pitches? Choate isn't the kind of reliever that starts an inning. He comes into the middle and gets 1-2 batters out. Matheny messed up here and still doesn't know how to utilize his bullpen. Once Matheny ordered Choate to walk the bases loaded, I figured Jason Motte was coming in. NO! Choate was left in to face Brian Roberts and gave up the go ahead single. Motte came in and gave up a sac fly and an RBI single but still, Choate should have been pulled for Motte before Roberts took the plate. With 1 out and the bases loaded, you either want a strikeout (Motte) or you need a double play (Seth Maness). Matheny dropped the ball again in a late and tight situation.
One of the biggest criticisms I have with Matheny as a manager is his inability to make sound judgment late in games. It could be an idiotic double switch to get one of his guys (Daniel Descalso sighting) or it could be the type of bullpen juggling we got Monday evening. He has to understand who his hot hand is and that is Pat Neshek. If he only throws 8 pitches and gets 3 outs, the right thing to do is bring him back out to keep a 3-3 game intact. Randy Choate wasn't the answer. The Yankees tacked on a couple extra runs, which were pivotal, and that happened because Choate put them on. A game that the Cards came back twice from a deficit was within reach and the home team let it slip away.
On Tuesday night, Lance Lynn takes on David Phelps, a right-hander who has made 4 starts and isn't the second coming of Whitey Ford. Hopefully, the bats come out, romp and make the game a breeze after Monday's downer.
Dan Buffa is a sports writer for Sports Rants. He is also a contributor to KSDK.com and Arch City Sports while writing for his own website, Dose Of Buffa. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @buffa82.