LOS ANGELES — It was not long after the disastrous first inning Wednesday night late at Dodger Stadium that the Cardinals’ overriding goal shifted from putting an exclamation point on their lengthy road trip to mobilizing the roster to avoid any jetlag leaking into the weekend.
Los Angeles left the Cardinals with a lasting impression before they flew home, scoring a Dodger Stadium record 11 runs in the first inning on the way to a 14-3 thumping.
Carlos Martinez did not retire any of the first eight batters he faced, and the righthander could not finish the first inning, forcing an already taxed and trampled bullpen to stretch to cover 23 outs. The Dodgers, by winning the series, saved them pitches by not needing the ninth inning. Cody Bellinger tied a career high for a game with six RBIs in the first inning, and his grand slam that put LA ahead 11-1 punctuated the biggest first inning for the Dodgers since they soared west from Brooklyn.
Almost immediately after the highest-scoring inning by any team this season, the Cardinals pivoted to their overnight migration east and red-eye flight from LA to face the Reds at home Thursday night.
“It became about game management for today and tomorrow,” manager Mike Shildt said. “Nothing is ideal about that scenario. Long road trip. We’re on the back side of 17 in a row.”
The inconvenient scheduling is the product — quite literally, a product — of LA scheduling a crowd-friendly night game Wednesday on a getaway day. The Dodgers waltz into their off-day charter to Atlanta, while the Cardinals race to face the Reds less than 14 hours after their plane will land in St. Louis. Shildt said the Cardinals getting a day game would have been “a courtesy we appreciated.” That quick turnaround led to quick removals of several regulars. Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt were both lifted for backups in the third inning. Yadier Molina did not start as backup Andrew Knizner did, and later in the game, left fielder Tyler O’Neill, a revelation on this road trip, was replaced to get a few innings of rest.
All of that comes at the end of a three-city, 10-game trip that snaked from Chicago to Phoenix before finally reaching LA for the meeting with the defending World Series champs. The Cardinals finished the trip 5-5, but they’ve lost four consecutive series to teams with winning records.
Long before the ugly ending, the grueling schedule had the Cardinals’ attention.
“We kind of looked ahead before this road trip started and saw that this is going to be a little bit of a grind,” leadoff hitter Tommy Edman said. “So we kind of made sure to almost pace ourselves, not necessarily on the field but with our prep work and not trying to do too much pregame and wear ourselves out. I got my first off day that last game in Arizona. I’m feeling relatively fresh compared to other points in the season.
“We’re going to have to make some adjustments given how late we’re going to get back to St. Louis,” Edman continued. “I think our team is well-equipped to do that.”
The last time the Dodgers scored as many as 11 runs in a single inning they called Brooklyn home and Jackie Robinson was their cleanup hitter. At Ebbets Field, the Dodgers hung 13 on Cincinnati in the eighth inning of a game they’d win, 20-7. The score got so lopsided, so late that Robinson, after a single that scored three runs, was lifted for a pinch-runner.
The last time the Dodgers scored at least 11 runs in the first inning of a game was two years earlier, in May 1952. Also in Brooklyn. Also at Ebbets Field. Also against the Reds. Shortstop Pee Wee Reese came to the plate three times in that 15-run first that took Cincinnati four pitchers to complete. Reese walked twice, singled once, and scored on a homer by Duke Snider.
That same day, May 21, 1952, Mr. T was born.
Pity the Reds.
Still in the midst of a stretch of 17 games in 17 days and now without Jack Flaherty (oblique strain) for the foreseeable future, the Cardinals stuck with Martinez even as LA’s lineup turned over and No. 3 Justin Turner reached for a second time. They needed length from Martinez, from someone, or risked having Wednesday’s thud spill into a weeklong problem to cover innings. The focus on pitching and covering innings as efficiently as possible became acutely obvious in the sixth inning when, with the bases loaded, reliever Seth Elledge hit for himself so he could pitch two scoreless innings.
The Cardinals were able to use four relievers to cover 7 1/3 innings without resorting to using a position player for a single pitch. Jake Woodford carried 2 1/3 innings, leaving the game to remain available sooner this weekend. A refresh for the bullpen was already possible Thursday as veteran reliever Andrew Miller could return from injury.
Martinez allowed five walks and three hits to the first eight batters he faced. He threw more balls (20) than strikes (19). By the time Bellinger came up for a second time — this one with the bases loaded — the Cardinals had to dip into the bullpen sooner than they hoped.
The bases Martinez left loaded Bellinger emptied with a homer off Woodford.
“I took him as far as I took him,” Shildt said. “It’s a balancing act. I’m not going to leave the guy out to throw. We just lost a starter in Jack, so I’m not going to … pitch him to pitch him.”
The game had such an uplifting start for the Cardinals.
Coming off Tuesday’s win and O’Neill’s game-saving catch at the wall in the ninth inning, the Cardinals opened with a 1-0 lead before Martinez threw a pitch. Goldschmidt provided it with his seventh home run of the season. Within 30 minutes the context of that homer needed a rewrite. Instead of Goldschmidt getting the Cardinals off to a good start, it was an example of how some Cardinals hitters needed a craved a better finish to the road trip. The homer gave Goldschmidt extra-base hits in back-to-back games. Arenado had his first four-game streak without a hit as a Cardinal toward the end of the road trip, and he snapped a zero-for-15 with his RBI double in the third inning.
Rookie Dylan Carlson hit his third home run in the past week for the Cardinals’ third run. His power supply augmented O’Neill’s surge as he hit homers in four of his first five games back from the injured list, all on this road trip.
The final stop on the road was a deep, jarring pothole that the Cardinals had to focus elsewhere — on all the rest.