MIAMI • What had several chances to be a straightforward come-from-behind victory for the Cardinals instead had to take numerous dramatic turns and puzzling twists to get there.
Rookie pitcher Joe Kelly, an unlikely offensive contributor thrust into pinch-hit duty by a lineup glitch, outran an infield single to push home the winning run in the Cardinals’ 8-7 victory Monday against the Miami Marlins.
The Cardinals scored six of their runs in the ninth and 10th innings, including a two-out, two-run homer by Yadier Molina to tie the score in the ninth. By the time Jason Motte converted the save in the 10th, the win had already featured a beer dumped on Matt Holliday in the third inning, a base hit with the bases loaded that didn’t score a run in the top of the seventh, walks galore in the bottom of the seventh, and the lineup problem in the ninth that cost the Cardinals two of their best hitters.
And it may just have won the game for them.
The Cardinals outlasted all of the confusion to win for the first time this season when trailing after eight innings. They were 0-26.
"The main thing is we got the win," Molina said. "This is baseball. All kinds of things are going to happen. We got a huge win because we came back."
Welcoming the Cardinals back to brand new Marlins Park for the first time since its opening night in April, the host Marlins took a four-run lead into the ninth. Molina’s two-run homer off Heath Bell punctuated the rally that erased the lead and forced extra innings. In the 10th, Rafael Furcal doubled home Tyler Greene to break a 6-6 tie. Kelly followed with an infield single that scored Furcal and proved to be the difference in the Cardinals’ fourth consecutive win.
Kelly was only in the game because Ozzie Guillen complained.
The comeback was laced with curious decisions and, through a lengthy delay in the ninth, controversy. Manager Mike Matheny notified home plate umpire Bob Davidson that he was going to make a double switch to get pitcher Victor Marte in the game.
Click here to read the account of what occurred next as the lineup changes were miscommunicated, leading to Guillen's complaint. Bottom line: In one change with a tie game in the ninth, Matheny had to remove David Freese and Allen Craig, two of his top run-producers. When Craig’s spot in the lineup came up in the 10th, instead of the .311 hitter with 34 RBIs, Matheny had Kelly, a pitcher who was in Class A about a year ago.
It was accidental genius.
Almost as soon as Cruz entered the game, Marte coaxed an inning-ending double play that wouldn’t have happened without Cruz’s slick scoop catch to keep the score tied. At the start of the 10th, Matheny warned Kelly that he might have to hit. A former outfielder in college, Kelly isn’t lost at the plate. He isn’t exactly known either. When he asked Daniel Descalso to hand him a helmet, the infielder said: "Left or right?" Kelly didn’t have his helmet so he had to use one a couple of sizes too big.
The Cardinals led 7-6, and the Marlins walked Carlos Beltran to face Kelly with the bases loaded and two outs. Kelly chopped a grounder to shortstop.
"I know I’m pretty fast," Kelly said, recalling his thoughts as the ball hopped toward Jose Reyes. "I can beat this ball. I started sprinting as fast as I could. Just sprint."
It worked — for his first major-league hit and the winner.
Kelly’s involvement was the last of a series of plot twists that strained the box score. The Cardinals rallied for four runs in the ninth against Bell, the closer who had not allowed a run all month.
The Marlins pulled away for a five-run lead in the seventh by sending nine batters to the plate. The Cardinals gave them four walks for their trouble. Eduardo Sanchez, who struggled a week ago with an intentional walk, was brought in to intentionally walk the first batter he faced, and then promptly walked two more with the bases loaded.
Reyes delivered the Marlins’ first two runs with RBI hits. The Marlins delivered the Cardinals’ first two runs with a passed ball and an error. Both starters pitched well, but neither was around for the late-game festitivies.
Holliday raised his average to .300 for the first time all season with a single in the first inning. In the third, he went into the left-field corner to fish out Reyes’ extra-base hit and threw out the speedy infielder at third base. He emerged from the corner soaked by "a whole beer" that had been spilled on him, he said. In the seventh, Holliday sharply hit a bases-loaded groundball that clipped off Shane Robinson for an out that squelched a rally.
Holliday got credit for a bases-loaded hit.
It did not produce a run.
That statistical quirk was quaint compared to the lineup confusion in the ninth. It took more than 5 minutes for the umps to unknot Guillen’s complaint and both sides’ confusion. Matheny said it was "a shame" that exchange has to be linked to the comeback.
It was the comeback.
"You see our team battling, winning," Kelly said. "It is probably one of the most fun games of baseball I’ve ever been involved in."