St. Louis has seen a stormy Spring so far this year, and the forecast showed another doozy headed for the Gateway City right around the time the Cardinals were supposed to start the first game of their first 2011 series against the Cincinnati Reds. What better way to renew the recently escalated rivalry than to drop in a few tornadoes, right?
With the impending weather, Tony LaRussa pulled a quick switcheroo right before the game and penciled Miguel Batista in as the starting pitcher. The reasoning, of course, being that if/when the game was delayed, original starter Kyle McClellan would likely not be able to return to the mound and the game would essentially become a bullpen-burner. The Cards would have wasted the start by McClellan, making it tough to get the series off on the right foot.
Ironically, this is exactly what happened to the Reds. Dusty Baker—even though he had to know of the impending weather, too—elected to submit a lineup card that listed scheduled starter Edinson Volquez. The skies opened up two batters into the top of the first inning…which means Volquez warmed up but did not get to throw a pitch. Two-plus hours later, Volquez was spent…and Baker had to go to his bullpen for the entirety of the game.
So how did it all turn out? Once the game resumed around 9:30 CDT, McClellan took the mound and threw a great game. He tossed six innings before being lifted with two on, none out in the 7th and allowing two runs on seven hits. Reliever Eduardo Sanchez came on in relief in the 7th with runners at first and second, no one out and only allowed one of those inherited runners to score. Jason Motte struggled but got two outs in the eighth allowing no runs before being removed for Mitchell Boggs, who nailed down the final four outs for the save. Pretty typical game.
The Reds had a little rougher go of things. Baker was forced to have long reliever Matt Maloney start the game, and he was roughed up for three runs on eight hits in just two innings (73 pitches). After that, the Reds paraded out Jordan Smith for three innings, Nick Masset for two innings, and Bill Bray for one inning. They didn’t pitch a bad game, but they threw a lot of pitches. The Cards scored four runs, and that was enough.
The final score of the first game of this series: Cardinals 4, Reds 2. And the Reds’ bullpen will be short for Saturday’s game for sure and maybe Sunday’s game, too. The one possible advantage for Baker and his Redlegs is Volquez might be able to pitch Sunday night. But the Cards have already drawn first blood and leapfrogged the Reds into first place for the first time in the young 2011 season.
LaRussa haters and most Reds fans probably think the Cards’ manager pulled a dirty trick, but nothing he did was outside the rules. Baker could—and probably should—have done the same thing. As it turned out, LaRussa out-finessed Baker. It’s just another chapter in what is becoming a more intriguing rivalry each time these teams get together. The Reds are set up to be competitive for the foreseeable future, and the Cardinals always seem to find a way to be in the thick of things, even in their off years. Stuff like this, and the continued verbal diarrhea from Brandon Phillips, combine with all of the events from last year to become fuel for the fire. Oh, and these teams play each other 14 more times this season. Take cover.