SAN DIEGO – A game that was not nearly as compelling as the score would imply and never had the summer blockbuster action sequences its 4-hour runtime should require ended with a bang and a brief tease.
The Cardinals walked a dozen batters and gave the San Diego Padres ample opportunity to win easy, to take advantage of all the free baserunners, and romp in their return to Petco Park. The hosts just didn’t. Like an overzealous resolution, all the walking turned into so few runs. When Nolan Arenado crushed a solo home run in the ninth inning, the Cardinals brought the tying run to the plate in a game they never led, never controlled, never really dictated, and should endeavor to never revisit.
A groundout brought the grinding game to the end as a 5-4 Padres victory.
It will be quickly forgotten as a game lost to time.
Four hours, 8 minutes, to be precise.
If it didn’t all happen while so many fans back in St. Louis were asleep, it would have eased them there. In addition to the season-high 12 walks the Cardinals issued, they hit three batters, and one proved pivotal. The teams combined to strand 22 baserunners and go two-for-22 with runners in scoring position. The Cardinals added flickers of drama to the late innings with a two-run homer from Tyler O’Neill and Arenado’s seventh home run of the season. But ultimately this was a game influenced by a pedestrian start – as Cardinals’ rookie righthander Johan Oviedo walked five total batters and could not get an out in the third inning. As enticing as Oviedo’s pitches are and potential is, the Cardinals are winless in all nine games he’s appeared.
"My plan was to keep the ball down and hit the corners as much as I could, and I was not able to execute my plan," Oviedo said. "I tried to execute those lower pitches, and that's when the walks started. Pretty much, I didn't have any control of my four pitches."
On the way to a team record for total walks, San Diego leadoff hitter Trent Grisham walked three times, and the top four batters in the Padres’ thinned lineup combined for eight walks.
The Cardinals have gone entire seasons without belching up a 10-walk game. They didn’t have a game where they permitted the opponent at least 10 walks in 2016 or 2017, or 2010, 2011, or 2013. They went the entirety of their scrunched 2020 season without a game of 10 walks or more, and not too long ago they went from September 2015 to June 2018 – a span of nearly 33 months and almost 400 games – without a single game of 10 or more walks.
They’ve now had two crammed into eight days.
The last time they had two games of 11 or more walks allowed in the same season was 2015, let alone the same month.
That was in July 1994.
The 11 walks re-gifted the New York Mets during the most recent home stand left manager Mike Shildt shaking his head and saying, “Shoot.” The walks on Friday at Petco had the added spice of a few hit batters sprinkled in. The Cardinals entered the game Friday among the league leaders in both. No team in the majors had walked more opponents than the Cardinals’ 158, and only the Cubs had hit more batters, 31 to 25. The Cardinals narrowed that gap with three hit Padres in the first seven innings.
"The frustrating part is the high majority of them were really pretty much unforced," Shildt said. "There were too many non-competitive pitches that didn't give us the chance. Somehow we figured out a way with 12 walks to have the tying run at the plate in the ninth, one swing away."
Despite all the ugliness laced throughout the box score, the score would come to hinge on a hit batter call in the seventh inning and a replay review on which the Cardinals feel they could have stolen an out. Pinch-hitter Patrick Kivlehan got hit by a pitch with two runners on — by walks, of course — though it was unclear if he may have fouled the pitch off. The umpires gathered to discuss, and came away with the decision that he was hit not that he hit the ball.
On the same play the Cardinals challenged and over-slide at second base for what would have been the second out. The call was upheld and the Padres had the bases loaded with one out.
A sacrifice fly produced the Padres' fifth run which proved to be the winning run.
"They conferred and they all agreed it was a hit batter, and we went with our challenge on the play at second," Shildt said. "That didn't go our way either. Pretty obvious it was a foul ball, but not as easy in real time. At least they conferred. I appreciate their ability to get together. They did their best to get it right."
Bogged down by all the walks, the game adopted that same pace.
Lots of unstrapping of pads and dropping of bats at the plate.
Little breaking from the box to take a wide turn at first.
The game meandered into the San Diego night, carrying on well past the deadline for the final edition of the Post-Dispatch and toward 1 a.m. St. Louis time, the same time zone the Cardinals left the day before after a peppy, snappy, assertive win in Milwaukee. Through seven innings there was only one that went three up, three down. Going into the bottom of the seventh, the Padres had not gone an inning without a walk. When Jake Cronenworth connected for a two-out single in the fourth inning it was the Padres’ third hit of the game.
He was also their 11th baserunner.
The Cardinals had walked eight by the end of the sixth inning and hit Austin Nola twice for two more freebie baserunners.
And yet despite all of the help, the Padres did so little with it.
At one point, San Diego had more runs than hits, and by the end of the sixth they had exactly as many of both with eight runners left on base. The game felt at times like the Cardinals should have been behind by acres, and yet there they were several times with the tying run on base. A full-strength Padres team wouldn’t have been so negligent with the opportunities.
Due to several positive COVID-19 tests and contact tracing, the Padres are without as man as five regulars for this weekend series. That includes their electrifying shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., utility man Jurickson Profar, and two middle-order fixtures, Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers. The only member of the $800-million infield still on the active roster for the weekend is Manny Machado, and made the most of what chances he had to dent the scoreboard.
After a leadoff single to start the bottom of the first, Machado tagged a line-drive double to left-center field for the game’s first run. In the sixth inning, after – get this – another walk, Machado singled to left field to scored Trent Grisham again. Machado added a leadoff walk in the third inning that became a run for the Padres and was part of what chased rookie Oviedo from the game.
The righthander got help from grounders to get through two innings, and he allowed only the one run on Machado’s RBI double.
But an inability to stay in the strike zone caught up with him.
Oviedo walked the first three batters of the third inning. That left rookie long reliever Jake Woodford a Houdini to pull off and keep the game 1-0. He didn’t get out of the bases-loaded, no-outs lockbox without allowing two of Oviedo’s baserunner to leak home. One scored on a sacrifice fly, and then after Woodford reloaded the bases by hitting a batter the Cardinals got a couple of groundouts to minimize the rally. That’s how so many innings played out.
Invite more trouble.
Avoid some trouble.
The Padres left at least one runner on base every inning, and a game that never should have featured closer Mark Melancon turned to him for something it lacked all night and toward the morning – brevity. He retired three of the four batters he faced on 11 pitches.