BALTIMORE • Now that they’ve weathered what they hope is the worst of it and salvaged what they could from one excessively wretched evening at Camden Yards, the Cardinals begin what could be a defining stretch for their new pitcher and the reliability they need him to rediscover.
Justin Masterson, one of two starters added at July’s trade deadline, feels he’s “a tick” in his mechanics away from being the pitcher he was, the pitcher the Cardinals traded for him to be, and the pitcher he just wasn’t Friday night.
The Baltimore Orioles overwhelmed Masterson for five runs in two innings and continued thundering away at the Cardinals for a 12-2 rout. The highlights of the evening for the 43,743 at Camden Yards were supposed to be the arrival of Cal Ripken Jr., Brooks Robinson and a flock of Hall of Famers to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the club leaving St. Louis and shedding the Browns nickname to become the Baltimore Orioles. A laser-light show and highlights cast on the famous warehouse came after the game but only inspired cheers that echoed the earlier roars. The Cardinals, the club the Browns and the American League surrendered St. Louis to after the 1953 season, we compliant guests, allowing six homers and the hosts a 12-0 lead before the end of the sixth inning.
“One of them days,” manager Mike Matheny said.
The Orioles entered the game with nine home runs in seven games this month. No other team in the majors had more, and long after Masterson (1-1) had left the game the Orioles had nearly doubled their total. They matched in six innings how many the Cardinals have this month. J.J. Hardy had homers in back-to-back at-bats, and five different starters provided at least one homer for the first-place Orioles.
Lefty Nick Greenwood, fresh from Class AAA Memphis on Friday to take Jason Motte’s spot on the roster, may have helped the Cardinals avoid another pitching move today by shouldering three innings, but he wasn’t unscathed. The first three pitchers the Cardinals used in the game allowed two homers apiece.
“That’s what the Orioles do,” said catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who provided both of the Cardinals’ runs with his first homer since joining the team. “They try to hit homers. When they do they win. And when they don’t, you can beat them. You have to keep them in the park. Bottom line, we didn’t. And we paid for it.”
No one more so than the pitcher the Cardinals spent to get.
When the Cardinals acquired Masterson from Cleveland in exchange for Class AA outfielder James Ramsey, they did so knowing that the righty was coming back from a knee injury and wrestling with a disappointing season. His command betrayed him. Masterson won 14 games and had a 3.45 ERA a year ago for Cleveland, but he tore a muscle in his side late in the year and may still be trying to clean bad habits in his mechanics. Masterson was on the disabled list when the Cardinals traded for him, and he said during that rehab he was able to do “a good job of breaking some of those habits.”
Cardinals officials said they believed jagged mechanics were behind his inconsistency, and that he could flourish with a new team, a new start, and assert himself as the quality-start machine they need to remain in contention.
He was closer in his first start for the Cardinals than his second.
“Felt better the last outing,” Masterson said. “It came down to a lack of location. The sinker started floating out a little bigger than I would have liked it. It’s not the best thing when you come to a new team. You want to pitch the best you ever have.”
In two starts for the Cardinals, Masterson has allowed 10 runs on 14 hits and six walks through eight hits. In his previous four starts against the power-packed Orioles, Masterson had allowed 17 runs and five homers in 15 innings.
The first three batters of the game reached base against him with two ground-ball singles sandwiched around a hit batter. Masterson found an escape hatch with two strikeouts and left the bases loaded. The Orioles wouldn’t let him free again. Twelve of the 18 batters he faced reached base, and nine of them got into scoring position against him. He threw a “floating sinker” that hit Manny Machado in the first inning and left another one over the plate in the second inning that Machado hammered for a three-run homer. At times it appeared as if Masterson was letting a pitch go with hope, not certainty.
“It was more at the end of trying to turn (the sinker) into a screwball,” Masterson said. “Which was not a good idea. I probably should not do that the next time.”
As the final interleague series of the season approached, Matheny spoke about this weekend and access to the designated hitter as a chance to rest regulars and knock the dust off a few bench players. What he hoped to do voluntarily was forced upon him Friday. By the seventh inning, regulars Matt Carpenter, Jhonny Peralta and Matt Adams had been replaced. Jon Jay followed that inning. Off the bench and out to third base, Tony Cruz started the Cardinals’ lone rally with a walk.
Pierzynski homered to the walkway beyond right field a batter later.
“I do see that we got some things accomplished,” Matheny said. “Not a real good list of accomplishments. But still. We’ll make the most of it.”
Masterson insisted he felt closer to right than the results indicated. To get out of the first inning mess he found the feel for his diving, sinister sinker. But in the third he felt that familiar straying of his mechanics.
The feel he wants for his pitch feels just off his fingertips.
“It’s just a touch; it’s one of those where it’s right there,” Masterson said. “Wait for that right thing. Wait for that one thing to click and then – bam – off we go on a streak. That’s where I am. I’m waiting for that last thing to click. Should be there and — whew! — I’m excited about my next outing already.”