The Cardinals don’t strike out a lot. No matter, Spencer Strider got a bunch of whiffs the first time through, and survived the rest of the game. Paul Goldschmidt has a fearsome offensive line. No matter, Strider and the Braves held him in check. Jose Quintana is somehow avoiding all the homers he owes the universe. No matter, the Braves got him without leaving the yard. In short, it was a night when almost everything came up Braves, as they romped to a series-opening win in St. Louis.
Though the score in this one reflected a laugher eventually, it really took a while to get there. Strider and Quintana traded zeroes in the first, with the Braves’ incredible right-hander striking out the side. The Braves collected a couple of hits off Quintana in the second, but the inning ended when William Contreras was thrown out trying to take third on a Vaughn Grissom bloop single into right.
Strider got into a bit of a jam in the third, as a hit-by-pitch, a steal of second, and a high chopper by Lars “Delicious” Nootbaar that was booted by Grissom at second put men on the corners with none out. Strider got Brendan Donovan to hit into a tailor-made double play, but the runner from third scored, and the Braves trailed 1-0. Goldschmidt popped out to end the inning.
But, the Braves got the run right back. Dansby Swanson led off the top of the fourth with a seeing-eye single. Austin Riley followed by obliterating a pitch (114.9 mph), but unfortunately, right at Corey Dickerson in left field. The baseball gods apparently saw fit to make this one up to the Braves, though, as five pitches later, Matt Olson hit into what should have been an easy double play. Instead, Nolan Gorman’s throw was well wide of the second base bag and rolled all the way into foul territory. Swanson scored to tie the game, and Olson ended up on second. Travis d’Arnaud followed with a softly-hit liner back up the middle to score Olson, but the rally ended there as Contreras actually did hit into a double play on the very next Quintana offering.
Gorman tried to make up for his error with a ringing double off a knee-high Strider fastball with one out in the bottom of the inning. That drive came after an Albert Pujols single, and the Cardinals had both the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position. But, Strider, who had struck out five of his first nine batters and none since, blew Tyler O’Neill away with a 1-2 high fastball, and got Yadier Molina to pop out weakly to keep the Cardinals off the board in the inning.
The Braves threatened again in the fifth, as Michael Harris II crushed a one-out double off Quintana, followed by a Robbie Grossman walk, but they weren’t able to extend their lead. Strider went 1-2-3 against 9-1-2 in the bottom of the inning, but with zero strikeouts and a barreled out from Nootbaar. In the sixth, though, all hell broke loose for Atlanta, in a good way. For whatever reason, St. Louis skipper Carlos Marmol let Quintana continue wending his way through Atlanta’s order a third time, even after he issued a leadoff walk to Riley. Olson followed by crushing a double over Nootbaar’s head in right, forcing Marmol to go get Quintana and put Andre Pallante into the game. Pallante walked d’Arnaud, and then Contreras came through with a special delivery of breathing room by smashing a Pallante fastball into right-center for a bases-clearing double.
With the score now 5-1, Strider was also allowed to try his hand at retiring the Cardinal batters for a third time, and things didn’t look too auspicious at first: both Goldschmidt and Dickerson hit weak singles against him to start the inning. That led to a bizarre sequence where Pujols “teed off on” an 0-2 slider, including staring at the pitch after he connected, only for it to land on the edge of the warning track into Grossman’s glove. Strider then went back to the well for ye olde high fastball to Gorman, and Ronald Acuña Jr. made a nice running catch on a low liner to end the inning.
The Braves got a couple of two-out walks against Chris Stratton in the seventh inning, but nothing else. Raisel Iglesias sat down the Redbirds in order in the bottom of the frame. With one out and a man on first in the eighth, the Cardinals replaced Stratton with Genesis Cabrera, their worst relief arm. Things went predictably south for them, as Cabrera went HBP-RBI single-RBI single-RBI groundout-walk-single where runner was thrown out trying to score. The Braves now led 8-1. A.J. Minter came in despite the large lead and threw a scoreless frame. The Braves then went double-single-out-double to finally chase Cabrera, forcing the Cardinals to use catcher Andrew Knizner on the mound. Knizner got two outs in three batters, but also allowed two more runs, and Atlanta had tallied 11 total at this point.
But the game was, weirdly, far from over, despite the Cardinals essentially conceding. Jackson Stephens came on to close the door, but allowed a single, a homer to O’Neill, and a walk to start his night. The next batter hit into a double play where the call at first was overturned, and then Nootbaar (I’m just gonna keep typing Nootbaar, you can’t stop me) doubled. That brought up Brendan Donovan, who delivered a scary moment by lining a ball back up the box, with it striking Stephens flush in the forehead. Stephens was able to walk off under his own power and didn’t seem addled — we’ll keep you updated as we hear more. After all that drama, Tyler Matzek was forced out of the bullpen, and got two flyouts to right to end the game.
Strider delivered another great outing — 7/1 K/BB ratio and a hit-by-pitch, zero homers. In addition to just generally being awesome, he’s shown the ability in recent starts to get outs without blowing guys away once they adjust to the hard stuff, while still keeping that high fastball in his back pocket for the real key situations. Quintana managed to skirt the HR/FB gods for another day, but fared pretty poorly with just a 3/2 K/BB ratio.
William Contreras had a four-hit day and broke the game open with his double. Matt Olson was “perfect” if you count Gorman throwing a ball away as a positive development. Michael Harris II collected two doubles. Every Braves batter got a hit save Austin Riley, who walked three times instead.
The Braves will go for the series win tomorrow night.