The preferred answer, the one he’d give as a player and the one Cardinals manager Mike Matheny would want his players to give, was that Monday’s home-opening loss was quickly forgotten. The uglier it got the easier it became to move on.
But that would not be the true answer.
The loss to Cincinnati followed him home. It clung to him the next day. It curdled in his memory. The way his team had a lead in the eighth inning for the raucous home-opener crowd only to have the bullpen rupture for nine runs in the ninth inning was difficult to shake. Matheny told his wife he “forgot how hard these losses are.” After a day of replaying it in his mind, it didn’t take long before Matheny got to replay it on the field.
Rookie slugger Matt Adams crushed a pinch-hit, two-run homer to flip a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead at Busch Stadium and set the stage for a bullpen do-over Tuesday. A day after setup man Trevor Rosenthal and closer Mitchell Boggs mishandled a lead, Matheny used the same relievers in the same innings – and they rewarded him with different results in a 5-1 victory against Cincinnati.
“We say that every day is the same day because that’s the right thing to say,” Matheny said. “But that was a tough loss. … I think anybody who has been in that situation before can’t wait to get back out there.”
Adams’ home run was the heaviest blow of a four-run rally against Reds righty Bronson Arroyo that came an inning after he had retired the first 15 Cardinals of the game. Two runs followed, and with a 4-1 lead Matheny went to his bullpen and the formula he’s settled on at the start of this season. Edward Mujica pitched the seventh, just as he did last year. Rookie Rosenthal has moved into the eighth because Boggs, last year’s setup man, has taken over for injured closer Jason Motte in the ninth. It was Boggs who allowed seven of the nine runs in the ninth inning Monday and who afterward did not duck the results, calling it the worst outing of his career.
Matheny found him before Tuesday’s game with a simple message.
The ninth was still his.
After Mujica and Rosenthal faced the minimum Tuesday in their innings, the ninth was indeed Boggs’. The Cardinals added a run in the eighth inning to take away the save opportunity, but the righty still felt like he saved something with a flawless ninth.
“It would have been easy for him to say, ‘Let’s give him a few days. Let’s throw him in there in a spot that doesn’t matter,’” Boggs said. “That would have been an easy thing for him to do. Nobody wants to feel like they’re the guy who has to go sit in a corner for a while. To get the ball in a tough spot meant a lot to me. It could have been 2-1. It could have been 100-1. That was big for me.”
It took Adams and the Cardinals’ sixth to make it possible.
Both Arroyo (1-1) and Cardinals starter Lance Lynn (1-0) were perfect through three innings. Eighteen hitters came to the plate, and eighteen turned back. The end results were the same. How each starter got them differed, greatly.
Lynn struck out six of the first nine batters he faced. He had eight strikeouts by the end of the fourth inning on his way to 10 in six innings of work. In the first inning, Lynn overmatched Reds first baseman and former MVP Joey Votto with a pinpoint 95 mph fastball that Votto couldn’t catch. Matheny said the righty “looked like Lance.” Lynn lost his perfect run through the Reds’ lineup in the fourth inning when shortstop Zack Cozart zipped a single to left field. When Cozart took off for second on a full-count pitch, Votto placed a grounder where Daniel Descalso had been standing. Cozart reached third and then scored on a sacrifice fly that could have been worse.
A sliding catch by Matt Holliday in deep left-center field kept the Reds from taking more than a 1-0 lead.
It appeared as if one run would be all Arroyo would need. The finesse righty, making his 32nd career start against the Cardinals, was perfect through five innings. His wily assortment of off-speed and less-speed lulled the Cardinals into outs. Through five innings, Arroyo had thrown 43 strikes, only three of which brought a swing and a miss.
Descalso broke Arroyo’s hex with a leadoff double to start the sixth inning. A groundball got him over to third, and that brought Adams up to hit for Lynn. Adams, 24, had three previous pinch-hit at-bats in the majors. With the tying run at third he wanted, at worst, to elevate a pitch for the sacrifice fly. The lefthanded-hitting slugger spent this past winter with a pitching machine that mimicked sliders from lefties and curves from righties. Arroyo, a righty, flipped him a curve. Adams launched it 403 feet to take the lead.
“I was sitting fastball and had off-speed in the back of my mind,” Adams said. “He left it up in the zone and I was able to get the barrel on it.”
Three batters later, Arroyo intentionally walked Holliday to test Allen Craig. The Cardinals would score two more runs, and then add a fifth in the eighth.
Eager to reset after Monday’s mess, Boggs came to the ballpark and sought a reason for his struggles. He saw an erosion in his mechanics over the past couple of weeks that kept him from being more direct with his fastball. It was straying on him. It took him 12 pitches, 10 of them sinkers, to retire the middle of the Reds’ lineup in order.
It made Monday much easier to forget.
“As much as we hear the sky is falling, just go play the game,” Matheny said. “Don’t let yourself get into the traps of hanging on to them for too long, like I did. These guys know better than that.”