PHILADELPHIA • Hours before Lance Lynn took the mound for his fourth start of the season, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny offered a list of things his burly righty had to do for a good start, things that had only been there in hints and teases so far this month.
Lynn responded by doing more than asked.
Instead of a good start, he had one of his best – ever
Lynn kept the Philadelphia Phillies without a hit through four innings and piloted the Cardinals to a 5-0 victory Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park. On the year anniversary of his last hit, Lynn held the Phillies to one hit through his seven scoreless innings. He struck out eight and did not allow a Phillies batter to reach third base.
The Cardinals backed Lynn with an unlikely four-run inning against Philadelphia lefty Cliff Lee. Carlos Beltran hit his third home run in as many days against the Phillies and Yadier Molina, back in the lineup after his first day off of the season, had three hits.
Lynn (3-0) entered the game with the same 2-0 record as Lee but a telling ERA that was nearly four runs worse, 5.40 to Lee’s 1.52. The Cardinals’ righty had benefited from ample run support as he struggled to find consistency through his first three starts. He had allowed 24 bases runs in his first 15 innings of the season and not been as assertive with his pitches, not like he was on his way to 18 wins last season. He appeared at time as if he was trying to place pitches, not fire them.
“He needs to trust his stuff and pound the zone,” Matheny said before the game. “He’s guilty of picking. I want to see him come out there with that heavy hard sinker he uses. And then be smart as he gets into deeper counts. Better rhythm. I think we’ve seen him a coupletimes where it looks like he has a better feel for it.”
That was clear in the first inning. Lynn struck out two batters in the first inning around a walk to No. 3 hitter Chase Utley. He setup and put down Freddy Galvis with a curveball that bent abruptly out of the zone for the second out of the inning. Lynn then elevated his fastball with a 92-mph bolt that cleanup hitter Michael Young couldn’t catch for the final out of the inning. The two-out walk to Utley had been the trigger for the Phillies in the first inning against Jaime Garcia on Friday night. Lynn made sure they couldn’t repeat the rally Saturday.
Lynn was not as economical as Matheny described and by the time the righty threw his 27th pitch of the game he had only tossed 14 strikes. He had made 57 pitches by the end of the third inning. But he got more efficient later and was able to pitch a season-high seven innings while allowing a career-low one hit. Lynn needed seven pitches to get through the middle of the Phillies order in his perfect fourth inning, and that included Young taking a 94-mph fastball on the edge for a called third strike.
The Cardinals late-game tandem of Trevor Rosenthal and Mitchell Boggs – the relievers who opened the year as setup and closer, respectively – pitched back-to-back scoreless innings to preserve the shutout.
The Cardinals’ decisive rally in the third inning started with the unlikeliest of sparks.
Lee issued a walk.
And not just one walk, but an unusual three.
The Phillies lefty, famous for being stingy with the free passes, walked three batters in only two games last season. One of them came at Busch Stadium against the Cardinals. Lee’s three walks in one inning Saturday and abbreviated five-inning appearance was so uncharacteristic that it brought to an end a major-league record. Lee (2-1) had pitched at least six innings without allowing more than one walk in 20 consecutive starts. The previous record was 14, set by Christy Mathewson in 1908 and matched by Greg Maddux in 1997.
Cards turn rare walks into lead against Lee
Looking for an offensive spark to get some rumblings of an offense against Phillies lefty Cliff Lee, the Cardinals got it in the most unexpected way.
The surehanded and accurate Lee gave them bases with walks.
Lee walked three batters in the third inning to start the Cardinals on the way to taking a 4-0 lead at Citizens Bank Park. In his previous 23 2/3 innings pitched this season, Lee, famous for his control, had walked a grand total of ... wait for it ... one batter. One.
Shortstop Pete Kozma because Lee's second of the season with his leadoff walk in the third inning. A walk to leadoff hitter Shane Robinson followed, and then Lee walked Matt Holliday with two outs to load the bases.
Allen Craig cracked the scoreboard with his third hit of the road trip. Craig entered the game in a 2-for-10 valley and hit into a double play in his first at-bat. This second look at Lee went better. With the bases loaded, last year's leader in batting average with runners in scoring position connected for a two-run single.
RBI base hits from Yadier Molina and David Freese followed.
Through three innings, starter Lance Lynn has yet to allow a hit and he's struck out five Phillies. Freddy Galvis has twice been turned back by missing Lynn's curveball.
How Matheny convinced Molina to take a day off
It's not unusual for Cardinals manager Mike Matheny to give a regular a heads up -- sometimes several days ahead of time -- that he's going to get a game off.
He had been talking to Yadier Molina, for example, for a week before giving him the night off Friday night.
But when it came time to finalize it, Matheny needed an approach.
He went to Molina on Thursday night and grabbed the catcher's oversized, black-rimmed glasses and put them on.
"You wouldn't hit a guy with glasses," the manager said.
Then he told Molina about his day off.
Matheny said his approach with players in often based on what he preferred as a player. Whether he was a bench player or the everyday starter, Matheny wanted to know ahead of time if he was going to play that day or get the time off. If he was going to play, the heads up allowed him to get ready, get prepared to play before coming to the ballpark. If he was getting a day off, it allowed him that night to "ease off" mentally, which can be beneficial on its own.
That's the approach he's taken with his regulars. He texted Matt Holliday a note about getting a day off during the team's visit to San Francisco. He's given other players calls. He talks to them during BP on the eve of the planned day off. And so on.
Told that with one day off so far in the season, Molina is now on pace for one day off every month this season.
"I don't think he'll keep that pace," Matheny said.
Robinson cashes in rain check on first start
Although the box scores won't remember the first one, Shane Robinson is set to make his second start of the season tonight against the Philadelphia Phillies and lefty Cliff Lee.
The first one was earlier this week in Pittsburgh.
But the rain washed that from the books, leaving Robinson the last of the Cardinals' position players on the current 25-man roster to get a start in an official game. Pending tonight's weather, that is*.
* I kid. I kid. It's lovely day here in Philly and the game is expected to go on without a hitch or threat of the inclement weather that ended Friday night's ballgame in the seventh inning.
Robinson becomes the third Cardinals leadoff hitter in the span of four games. He'll move into center field as a righthanded complement to Jon Jay -- a platoon of shorts to face the lefthanded Lee. Here is the lineup for the third game of this four-game set at Citizens Bank Park:
1. Robinson, CF
2. Beltran, RF
3. Holliday, LF
4. Craig, 1B
5. Molina, C
6. Freese, 3B
7. Descalso, 2B
8. Kozma, SS
9. Lynn, P
More news and notes will appear here at C-Beat throughout the evening and game.