The first inning for Dakota Hudson was long, laborious, and veering toward far worse, and still the Cardinals stayed with their young righthander Sunday. They saw reasons behind the struggles to stick with him, have faith, and not make a kneejerk change that could cause more trouble later.
“We want to give guys rope,” manager Mike Shildt said, “and trust them.”
Like starter, like team.
After sticking with Hudson and getting quality from Hudson, the Cardinals ruptured late and sank deeper into the quicksand of their worst patch of the season. The Cardinals overcame an early three-run deficit, pushed ahead for a three-run lead, and botched it, losing 10-6 to Pittsburgh at Busch Stadium.
A Mother’s Day crowd of 48,555 tickets sold — the most ever at the 13-year-old ballpark — saw the locals lose for the ninth time in 11 games and the fifth time in a seven-game home stand. Through it all, Shildt has preached process, stuck often with the same lineup, and, as with Hudson on Sunday, counted on players to right themselves and the team.
He said he doesn’t want to “overreact or underreact” to the sour stretch. But when to react is his challenge.
“No doubt about it,” he said. “It’s a balancing act.”
• BOX SCORE: Pirates 10, Cardinals 6
• STANDINGS: Cards fall to 4th in NL Central
Paul Goldschmidt hit his first home run in 18 games to yank the Cardinals back from the Bucs’ 3-0 first-inning lead. Jose Martinez added a two-run homer in the second inning to push the Cardinals farther ahead.
Hudson completed six innings, and then the erosion of the Cardinals’ lead started. Josh Bell punctuated his four-hit game with a three-run homer off John Brebbia to tie the game in the seventh. The Cardinals surrendered to Bell in the eighth, walked him intentionally then watched him score for the Pirates’ 10th run, their seventh unanswered.
The late-game split in the bullpen capped a 2-5 home stand in which all facets of the Cardinals’ game took a turn faltering. Hudson allowed eight runs in his first start of the home stand for a loss. Twice the Cardinals scored only a run against the Pirates and lost. Starters Adam Wainwright and Miles Mikolas combined to hold the Pirates to three runs in 14 innings and only nine baserunners. They each lost.
The Cardinals’ offense managed 32 runs in the seven-game stay, but 23 of them came in two games — 17 in the lone romp of the week. And on Sunday it was the bullpen’s turn to bend, then break.
“We’re a better team than our record in the past handful of games indicates,” said Brebbia, who had allowed two runs in his previous 21⅓ innings before Sunday. “We play so much, especially in our division. It’s a really competitive division. There is not a lot that we won’t see. Teams are going to have good and bad stretches. Teams are going to have mediocre stretches. You just try to be the team that has more good ones than not.
“I think the product that we have on the field is going to have a lot more good stretches than not, but that doesn’t eliminate them. We do a good job of being levelheaded and understanding who we are as a team and what our identity is.”
Shildt has sided again and again with stability as the response to struggles, believing the process instead of panicking with each problem.
In his office before the game he gave a strong defense of keeping Matt Carpenter in the leadoff spot despite his .201 average and increased strikeout rate, though he was given the day off Sunday other than a pinch-hitting appearance.
The team has been willing to take the tradeoff on defense for the thundering offense from Martinez — and did so Sunday as Martinez drove in or scored three runs, had a second homer robbed from him and had two plays in the outfield that contributed to Pirates doubles. And the club has watched as Hudson, a first-year starter, has learned on the job, sometimes from turbulence like the first inning.
Before Hudson could get a second out in the inning he had thrown 24 pitches and was about to allow a third run. Three of the first batters he faced reached by a hit. Hudson dialed the game’s pace down to molasses — it took 21 minutes and 32 pitches to complete the top of the first inning. After the Cardinals rallied against Bucs lefty Steven Brault for four runs, the first inning had lasted 41 minutes. In the dugout, as his teammates rallied and before he singled in the first, Hudson reset and decided “let me play catch with Yadi (Molina), and see how many innings I can eat up.”
The Cardinals let him go.
When he allowed three hits in the third, they let him go. When he walked the leadoff batter in the fourth, he kept going. They figured commitment to him would pay off more than change would. It did with a six-pitch second inning and six innings for a quality start.
“As the game went on I felt like they were trusting my process and letting me get out there to the best of my ability,” Hudson said. “They know I’m a competitor. Letting me be able to work through a couple of things later in the game really helped me out and I just felt like my process as the game went on got better.”
That’s the same thing the Cardinals are saying about their team.
The trick is knowing when a move or a change is necessary. Shildt saw that in the seventh inning as he made the choice to replace lefty Tyler Webb with Brebbia to face Bell. Webb could have turned Bell around, to the right, but Shildt saw an immediate need to change because Webb’s stuff wasn’t “his best that particular moment,” the manager said.
Brebbia misplaced a fastball to Bell and lost the lead, saying later that he’d like to have a pitch or seven back and also “an Inspector Gadget arm so I can reach up and catch everything.”
The change in the moment proved costly.
The Cardinals are counting on steady-handed approach to their scuffles. They’re not turning to hope and change, big or small, but betting instead that measured consistency will win out.
A fourth of the way into the season and the Cardinals (22-19) are a fourth-place team with the fourth-most losses in the National League Central. Their schedule allows them, for the first time, to duck out of division play for a long time. Of their 48 games before the All-Star break, only nine are against division rivals, including six against the first-place Cubs.
“I don’t want to sound like a broken record — we have the accountability of end results,” Shildt said. “We get it. I get it. I can confidently tell you this is a group that I have zero doubt about. It is an ebb and flow of the season. Don’t want to overreact, and don’t want to underreact. I’ve said that. I want to stay true to it. It’s a good team.
“We weren’t able to bring it home.”