Though his pitching was insulted Thursday night, Shelby Miller powered through pinches, scratches and what could have turned into a horrific collision at first base and emerged having avoided injury.
Miller labored at times during the 4-1 loss to Philadelphia, and twice forced manager Mike Matheny and a trainer to assess his health. But after 6 2/3 innings, 93 pitches and his sixth loss of the year, there is good news for Cardinals fans.
The only things bruised involving Shelby Miller are some of the baseballs that left his hand.
“He seems to be alright,” Matheny said.
That goes for Miller’s ankle and foot, which he drove into the first-base bag while sliding to beat Reid Brignac in the fifth.
And that goes for Miller’s hip flexor, which “pinched up” on him during his last batter in the seventh, the result of mechanics gone awry with fatigue.
Yadier Molina noticed Miller’s mechanics failing right away. Almost as soon as Miller — ever so slightly — fell off to the left side of the mound after throwing an 0-1 pitch to Carlos Ruiz, Molina motioned to the dugout. His two-finger wave played more subtly than the full-arm variety sweeping through Busch Stadium at the time, but it had the strength to summon Matheny and a trainer out of the dugout.
“Cramp is probably the wrong word,” Matheny said. “He was falling all over the place. He does that late in the game. It’s not necessarily something he wants to do or we want him doing. His follow-through really falls apart. There was probably something awkward in there that pinched, more so than dehydration or cramping.”
Miller threw one practice pitch and said the pain disappeared. He followed the short hiccup with four straight balls to Ruiz and was replaced by Randy Choate.
“It was like a stinger,” Miller said afterwards. “My mechanics just went to a mess.”
The ball Brignac sent down the first-base line in the fifth almost turned into a literal — and potentially bloody — mess at the bag. Thinking the ball foul, Miller was late to cover first after Matt Adams snared the one-hopper using a full dive.
He flipped to Miller, who by that point realized the only way to avoid a collision with Brignac was to slide. Miller went airborne with his right leg out, thinking it the safer route. What he didn’t realize was that Brignac would mimic him.
“He started to slide and I slid too for whatever reason,” Brignac said. “Trying to get to the bag before he did. Unfortunately my ankle got caught on the bag as my body flew over.”
Miller’s ankle shot right into first base; had it missed high or low he may have emerged hobbling like Brignac.
But first Brignac remained on the ground for a few minutes, his face drowned in agony. He finally walked off with the help of a trainer and was removed from the game with an upper-ankle sprain.
“My whole foot and ankle were numb,” he said. “I’ve never broken a bone, but imagine that’s the feeling. There’s no break, no fracture.”
Miller suffered scratches on his arm — tiny, short-lasting reminders of a play that could have turned into a much longer-term problem.
“It shook us both up a little bit,” Miller said. “Other than that I don’t think it affected me mechanically or anything.”
Miller walked off under his own power — like Brignac, no breaks. But Matheny was angry that his pitcher didn’t break. From the mound, that is.
“I’d rather see Shelby over there on time,” Matheny said. “That’s the issue. You can’t let a fantastic play by your first baseman surprise you. We’re seeing a couple of lapses getting over to first base. Their defense is that it’s a ball they don’t think is going to be fielded but that’s not a good enough defense. We’ve got to be better than that.”
Miller will get the chance to be better. Despite a few close calls Thursday, Miller is expected to make his next scheduled start. But neither he nor Matheny will soon forget the near calamity caused by two feet-first slides into first, and the relief that settled in when the dust cleared.
“That looked pretty nasty,” Matheny said. “It’s always good to see him walk off.”