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Washington Nationals vs St. Louis Cardinals, Game 1 NLCS in St. Louis

Frustrated Cardinals hitters sit on the bench in the ninth inning with two outs in a contest in which they managed to get only one hit in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the Washington Nationals at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. (David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com)

Cardinals manager Mike Shildt gave a lengthy answer on the topic of intentional walks—when and why—before Friday night’s first game of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium. The crux had been his purposeful walk of veteran Atlanta catcher in Brian McCann in Game 3 of last week’s division series when Dansby Swanson foiled that strategy with a game-tying double.

Shildt said he would “do it again next year—of course McCann retired. It just didn’t work.

“So we’ll do it when it’s appropriate and know there’s always a risk either way."

Four occasions suggested the possibility of intentional walk in Washington's 2-0 win. In three of those, Shildt pulled the trigger. All proved to be on target. 

In the sixth with a man at second and two outs, Shildt passed catcher Yan Gomes intentionally to get to pitcher Anibal Sanchez, who grounded into a forceout to end the inning.

In the seventh, with a runner at third and one out, Shildt had righthander Giovanny Gallegos walk Anthony Rendon intentionally and brought in lefthanded pitcher Andrew Miller to face lefthanded-hitting Juan Soto, the cleanup hitter. 

This, too worked, as Miller struck out Soto.

In the ninth, after Soto had singled and been wild-pitched to second, Carlos Martinez walked Howie Kendrick intentionally. Martinez then fanned Kendrick.

But, in the second inning, Shildt also had a chance to walk Gomes intentionally with Kendrick at second base and two outs to get at Sanchez, who hit .115 this season and fanned 24 times in 52 at-bats.

Shildt let Gomez hit and the former Cleveland All-Star, who had two doubles in five at-bats against Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas, doubled again this time for the only run needed by Sanchez, who pitched hitless ball for 7 2/3 innings.

Shildt explained that he thought Mikolas had thrown well in retiring Ryan Zimmerman on a groundout and fanning Michael A. Taylor, so he took a shot at Gomes.

But Shildt said he had considered an intentional walk in the second, even when the count went to 1-0. “He wasn’t able to make a pitch,” Shildt said.

“Later in the game, once Gomes got a couple of hits, it was pretty clear that matchup was not favorable to Miles, so we put him on.”

After Shildt brought in Miller to face Soto in the seventh, he removed Miller, signed as a top-shelf reliever to a multi-year contract, with the righthanded-batting Kendrick coming up with men at first and third and two outs. Righthander John Brebbia was brought in for Kendrick, who was hitting .376 against lefthanded pitching.

That would seem to make that a non-arguable decision, except that Kendrick, called in the trade a “professional hitter,” also hit .327 against righthanded pitchers this year. 

Miller had held righthanded batters to a .236 average. Brebbia had held righthanded hitters to a .212 mark. So take your pick.

The upshot was that Kendrick lined a single to account for the insurance run. 

“Miller was great,” said Shildt. “He got his guy in Soto. It’s not that we can’t go with Miller against righties. We just felt at that moment, with runners on base, and the way the game was going, . . . you look at matchups, we took our absolute best matchup we felt was on the table to hold it to a one-run game.

“Nothing against Andrew. We just went to ‘Brebs’ to clear the table.”

Of course, when the losing team gets only one hit through eight innings, some of the strategy involved otherwise is a moot point.

What is a significant point, though, is that if Kendrick doesn’t own Mikolas, he has made a hefty deposit.

His second-inning double made him nine for 12 (.750) in his career against Mikolas at that point. Kendrick, like Sanchez 35 years old and like Sanchez a veteran of 13-plus major league seasons, had tripled and homered off Mikolas in a 6-1 Washington win here on Sept. 17.

Another move that Shildt didn’t make also worked. Shildt warmed up lefthander Genesis Cabrera in the fifth as the Nationals threatened. But, after Mikolas walked Rendon on four pitches to load the bases, and Soto coming up,  Cabrera remained in the bullpen. Mikolas remained in the game and, after falling behind Soto 2-0, retired him on a groundout to second baseman Kolten Wong.

The Nationals, who had the highest bullpen earned run average in the majors this year, required just one reliever on Friday. With closer Daniel Hudson out on paternity leave, lefthander Sean Doolittle was the only bullpenner to work. He set down the final four hitters in order.

Counting the final 5 2/3 innings in Atlanta Wednesday in the division series final and the first 7 2/3 innings on Friday, the Cardinals went 13 1/3 innings and 42 batters without a hit.

Whether to walk an opponent intentionally or not won’t affect that statistic.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals’ lone hit, a pinch single by Jose Martinez, was the first allowed by the Nationals’ franchise in NLCS play since 1981 when Los Angeles’ Rick Monday homered in the ninth inning of the decisive fifth game in Montreal to beat the Expos (who moved to Washington) 2-1. 

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