So if I had told you before Tuesday night's game that the following things would happen:
- One team would have two home runs in the first inning, one a two-run shot by the center fielder, followed back-to-back by a home run by the first baseman, and
- One team's pitcher would pitch mostly shutdown baseball, except for a consolation home run by the other team's right fielder and a brief rally in the ninth inning
You would have thought this recap would have read this way:
But, strangely enough, that's not how things actually happened. On what must have been "Backwards Day" in St. Louis, the men homering in the first inning were Ryan Sweeney (a two-run shot) and Cody Ransom (a solo homer, the third time the Cubs have homered back-to-back this year), and it was Jeff Samardzija throwing dominant baseball into the ninth inning. The Cubs defeated the Cardinals 4-2 in one of their best-played games of the 2013 season. The win and the Brewers' 10-1 loss to the Astros (!) moved the Cubs out of last place in the N.L. Central.
Samardzija was great -- he didn't really run out of gas in the ninth inning, one of the two hits he allowed was a floater that just barely wasn't caught by Starlin Castro (and Castro made a great effort to even get to the ball), and though Kevin Gregg did shut the door for his 10th save, Gregg allowed a hit that put one extra run onto Shark's record, beyond the solo homer hit by Carlos Beltran. More on the game's ending in a moment.
Beyond the four-run first inning, more runs than the Cubs needed, the Cubs played excellent infield defense all night. Every one of the Cubs' infielders made fine plays, including Ransom, who made some nice stretches for throws. Ransom hadn't started a game at first base in almost three years and since then had played the position just once, a couple of innings there for Milwaukee last year. The Cubs turned four double plays, and it's the last one, the one that ended the game, that I want to talk about.
Shane Robinson had been inserted into the game as a pinch-runner for Yadier Molina, representing the tying run. Gregg got David Freese to hit a ground ball to Darwin Barney, who flipped to Castro for the force on Robinson. But Robinson... well, watch what happened at this link (I'd embed this, but embed codes for MLB videos aren't available for 24 hours after the game).
If you think you remember seeing the Cardinals pull this kind of nonsense before, you're right:
Ignore Tim McCarver's bleating that Matt Holliday "could have" touched second base; it's exactly the same play. Two runs scored on that play, tying the score, and the Cardinals went on to win that game 13-5. That play should have been called interference; at least Tuesday night, second-base umpire Fieldin Culbreth made the correct call on Robinson, ending the game with a Cubs win. (Also, that argument might have been the beginning of the end for Mike Quade, who looked pretty feckless arguing with Derryl Cousins.)
The Cubs have split the four games played this year with the Cardinals, who still have the best record in baseball. The only other teams that don't have losing records against St. Louis are the Phillies (also 2-2), the Diamondbacks (4-3 over St. Louis), and oddly, the woeful Marlins, who won a three-game set against the Cardinals last weekend.
The two teams will continue their series Wednesday night in a game you probably won't be watching.