Again and again Wednesday night, the seesaw nature of the late innings at Busch Stadium allowed Cardinals manager Mike Matheny new ways to test and audition the reorganized look of his bullpen. He went to Kevin Siegrist early, he utilized Seung Hwan Oh when tied in the 10th inning, and even reassigned closer Trevor Rosenthal handled a key inning.
A game that saw starter Carlos Martinez sizzle before both sides allowed it to be determined by the bullpens would have been if not for the errors that sabotaged the Cardinals just enough to lose.
Home is where the hurt is.
The Kansas City Royals claimed a 3-2 victory in the 12th inning against the Cardinals, sending them to a sixth consecutive loss at Busch and a 15-22 record at home. Only pedestrian Arizona and woeful Atlanta have fewer home wins. The Cardinals proved gracious hosts. The Royals scored the game’s first run on a sacrifice fly, pulled ahead again in the 10th on two errors, and then won the game on a ball that landed just fair and purposefully beyond Stephen Piscotty’s reach.
Jhonny Peralta’s two-out RBI single in the ninth forced extra innings, and Piscotty’s solo homer in the 10th inning answered to prolong the game. But the misplays mounted.
“Some mistakes ended up costing us,” manager Mike Matheny said. “Saw a lot of fight. Saw a lot of positives. But the negatives seemed to cost.”
Piscotty limped into the clubhouse, his left foot tenderized by two bruises, and echoed his manager’s sentiment. There was fight. There was a comeback. And there was the ache of another home loss. Piscotty’s ninth homer of the season went to dead-center field and tied the game, 2-2, in the 10th inning, one inning after the Cardinals pulled of a rarity. Peralta’s single cost the Royals’ All-Star closer Wade Davis the save and tagged him with a blown opportunity for only the second time in 20 save chances this season.
In the 12th, Whit Merrifield struck a one-out double against Seth Maness (0-2) to put the go-ahead run in scoring position. Merrifield reached third on a wild pitch. Leadoff hitter Alcides Escobar followed with a flare down the right-field line.
Piscotty charged in on the ball, but he did so with a brief flashback to the minors. He attempted a similar player there and caught the ball. The runner easily tagged up and scored from third to cost Piscotty’s team the game. This time, Piscotty chased after the fly ball – but had no intention of catching it. He wanted it to drop. He wanted it to be foul.
“I didn’t want to catch it,” Piscotty said. “If I catch it, he tags and scores. I honestly wanted it to drop and it’s right on the line and unfortunately for me and for the team it was fair. If I’m trying to catch it I’ll dive head first. It was almost like I was diving into it like a catcher blocking.”
During his attempt to corral the ball, Piscotty kicked it into foul territory. First base umpire Mike Everitt called the ball fair, immediately. Replay showed that he was able to make the right call with all of those events crashing together. Piscotty got up and chased the ball down, some 20 yards away. But the eventual winning run had easily scored, and the Royals had another runner in scoring position. Piscotty, meanwhile, had two bruises on his left foot starting to pulsate.
The right fielder was taken for X-rays on the joint and given treatment immediately after the game to attack the swelling. The scans found no fractures, but Piscotty said he was unsure if he would be available Thursday for the series finale.
“Double-swelling going on there,” he said.
Before the late inning twists and caroms, the game already had a backward feel. One of the pitchers who has allowed the most runs in the majors faced the lineup that had scored the third-most runs in the National League. Naturally, Edinson Volquez pitched a gem. The Royals’ righthander, no stranger to Busch having pitched for both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings and held the Cardinals to five hits through six innings. Two didn’t leave the infield. The Cardinals didn’t get a single out of the infield until the third – when Martinez did.
Entering Wednesday’s game, Volquez was not only having one of the worst seasons of any starter in baseball, he was also coming off the worst start ever for a Royals pitcher.
Last week against Houston, Volquez managed to get only three outs while the Astros thumped him for 12 runs (11 earned) on eight hits and three walks. Houston drilled Volquez for nine runs in the first inning, and that included a grand slam by George Springer. The 12 runs were a career high for Volquez. The runs also bloated Volquez’s ERA to 5.15. Of the 97 pitchers with enough innings this season to qualify for the ERA rankings, Volquez ranked 86th.
The Cardinals helped him lower his ERA to 4.80, and only once did they get a runner into scoring position against him. Martinez matched him zero for zero. The Cardinals starter had allowed two runs total in his previous 22 1/3 innings, and he tiptoed around eight hits Wednesday to throw six scoreless innings. Volquez helped. He was as deft at shutting down the Royals’ offense as he was the Cardinals’. To runners reached base against Martinez in the second inning, but neither scored when Martinez caught Volquez looking at an 85-mph breaking ball.
In the fourth inning, the same two hitters, Christian Colon and Jarrod Dyson, reached base against Martinez, and this time scooted all the way to scoring position. Volquez again complied and grounded out to end the inning.
Through six innings, the Royals left 11 runners on base.
Volquez was responsible for five.
Martinez was lifted in the seventh inning after throwing his 89th pitch. Matheny explained that Martinez had to be removed because of recent workloads, which included three consecutive starts of at least 101 pitches. He’s two starts removed from 122. The Cardinals saw anything close to that as redlining the young righthander.
“And he got us into the part of the game where we could hand it over,” Matheny said.
The game reached the bullpens for similar reasons in the seventh inning. As the Royals would in the bottom of the inning, the Cardinals went to a reliever the moment a batter reached base against the starter. For the second time in four games, Matheny went to Siegrist early. It’s a use that is brought on by the reordering of the bullpen around Oh as closer. Oh would have handled the lefty-heavy run of batters coming up, but with Rosenthal on the mend and Oh closing there’s another reliever needed.
While a lefty, Siegrist has been better against righthanders. In his attempt to prove a new late-inning formula, Matheny went to Siegrist.
“I think we’re just going to look at it (every) night,” Matheny said. “We’re not going to shy away from him facing the lefties. I think he’s starting to sway those splits. I think the breaking ball is making a big difference. It’s getting around. They’re aware of it. It’s a good pitch. It’s going to be even more effective against the lefties as we move forward.”
Siegrist allowed a walk but finished the seventh for Martinez. Jonathan Broxton, the new eight-inning arm, got into trouble when he sandwiched a walk between two one-out hits. That loaded the bases for leadoff hitter Escobar. He floated a fly ball to Piscotty, and that it was deep enough for Colon to score. With Siegrist already used and Broxton tipped, Matheny had to go to Tyler Lyons to face lefthanded-hitting Alex Gordon. That meant Lyons was not available for his usual role, long relief. Maness handled that.
The reshuffling continues.
As the de facto closer, Oh entered the game with the score tied, 1-1, in the 10th. He walked the first batter he faced, and that runner got to third on a misfired pickoff throw. That was the first of two errors in the inning. The second, a fielding error on Matt Carpenter, allowed the runner to score for the 2-1 lead. It was the second time in as many appearances since getting a crack at closing that Oh encountered turbulence. It was Rosenthal that steadied the game with two strikeouts and a scoreless 11th before Maness entered.
“We’ll trust our 7th, 8th, 9th guys against lefties or righties, doesn’t matter,” Matheny said.
Once, that is, it’s settled who will be those guys.
All six of their consecutive losses at home have come to American League teams. The Texas tandem did a two-step sweep of the Cardinals in the most recent home stand, and the defending World Series champions have a chance to win a four-game series Thursday with a win. The Cardinals have scored a total of 12 runs in those six games. The Cardinals are the only team with a winning record who have a losing record at home.
“If we didn’t have that statistic, I don’t think we would notice,” Matheny said. “So much has been made of it that it’s hard to deny it and not realize it right now.”