TORONTO — In the first half of the season, the Cardinals showed they could win a variety of ways, but best of all when they got a stout start from a pitcher and some muscle from the lineup.
As the second half opens, getting neither is one sure way to lose, and big.
The Toronto Blue Jays greeted their interleague visitors with a continued show of force, building off a series of thunderous victories in Boston for a 10-3 victory Tuesday night at Rogers Centre. The Cardinals inched and clawed their back from a difficult start to tie the game, only to see it vaporized by George Springer’s grand slam. The Blue Jays’ leadoff hitter connected in the sixth inning for his seventh career grand slam to turn what was a tie game at the start of the inning into a blowout. Springer’s bolt was the second of three homers hit against the Cardinals, two off reliever Junior Fernandez.
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The loss was the Cardinals’ third in four games since the All-Star break. They’ve allowed 25 runs in those losses.
Before the Blue Jays sent eight batters to the plate in the first inning to assert themselves, the Cardinals struck for an early lead. Dylan Carlson hit a solo home run for a 1-0 lead with his fifth homer of the season. Playing in the series without the team’s two top home run hitters, Paul Goldschmidt and Noland Arenado, the Cardinals must rely on offense from other sources — or pitching to suppress the hottest-hitting team in the land. They got neither. Toronto had seven hits off starter Andre Pallante before the right-hander got his fourth out. And timely home runs put the Jays ahead, again and again.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit a two-run homer in the first inning to erase the Cardinals’ only lead of the game. Springer put the game out of reach with his shot in the sixth.
The Cardinals loaded the bases in the ninth inning and had two cracks at turning that opportunity into runs. Tyler O’Neill, playing for the first time as a pro in his home country, put the last pitch of the game deep into right field. Springer tracked the ball down at the wall to keep O’Neill shy of tidying up the score.
Nothing Junior about George’s grand slam
Despite a rocky start, the Cardinals piloted a 3-3 tie into the sixth inning with multi-inning reliever Jordan Hicks holding it firm — for an inning.
Hicks pitched a perfect fifth inning on three groundouts to keep the game knotted and his evening going into the sixth inning. Trouble came fast. The Blue Jays tagged Hicks with three consecutive singles to break the tie and set up something far worse. Third baseman Matt Chapman had the tie-breaking single up the middle. Hicks invited more trouble with consecutive walks to bend the Jays’ lineup back around to leadoff hitter Springer.
The Cardinals’ choices were limited.
Instead of giving Springer a second look at the right-hander sinker-baller Hicks, the Cardinals went to the right-hander sinker-baller Fernandez because they did not have a surefire strikeout option for that spot. Fernandez fell behind in the count 3-0, and Springer kept that upper hand in the at-bat even after taking a 99.3 mph sinker to run the count full. The next pitch he put over the wall for a grand slam.
All three runners Fernandez inherited scored on Springer’s 18th homer of the season and seventh career grand slam. A one-run game had become a rout.
The Cardinals’ rally to tie had become a footnote.
Pallante gets second wind after turbulent first
Pallante, the most successful so far of the Cardinals’ pitchers who had to reinvent themselves as starters on the job this summer, got a quick sense of what it must have felt like to pitch for Boston over the weekend.
The Blue Jays gusted into the second half of the schedule with 40 runs on 51 hits in a three-game sweep of the Red Sox. Toronto set records for most hits and most runs in a three-game series, and in one game scored more runs (28) than any opponent ever had against Boston.
The change in venue and change in opponent did little to slow the Jays.
Toronto welcomed Pallante to his first start at its ballpark with two runs before he got an out. Four of the first five batters Pallante faced reached base. Guerrero socked a two-run homer on Pallante’s sixth pitch to erase the Cardinals’ 1-0 lead.
By the time Pallante found an escape route out of the first inning, the Jays had pelted him with five hits, two extra-base hits and a 3-1 lead.
The second started similarly.
The bullpen began to stir.
Through 10 batters, Toronto had seven hits against Pallante, and that was when things shifted. Pallante got three outs on his first 53 pitches. He got two on his 54th.
When Guerrero skipped into a double play, Pallante began a run of retiring eight consecutive batters to get through four innings. He got nine outs from the final eight batters he faced to avoid dumping innings on the bullpen — and buy time for a rally that never materialized.
Cardinals find a single way to tie game
As successful as the Cardinals’ offense has been in sum total for the season, it goes dim at times because it can be labor intensive.
With the exception of the power-packed season from Goldschmidt and hot streaks from Arenado (both of whom are missing the series because of COVID-19 vaccination requirements in Canada), the Cardinals don’t have the consistent drumbeat of extra bases to generate rallies.
They get there the long way.
They use their above-average ability to get on base and their league-leading ability to run the bases to drive rallies. It can take stacking hits together — something good pitchers keep them from doing. But something Toronto right-hander Jose Berrios could not.
In the third inning, the Cardinals used three singles and a walk to create two runs. The two runs Guerrero produced with a swing, the Cardinals produced in an inning that sent seven batters to the plate. But the result was the same — a tie game, 3-3.
Lars Nootbaar opened the inning with a walk. Tommy Edman, Carlson, and Albert Pujols followed with singles. Carlson’s scored Nootbaar for his second RBI of the game. Pujols’ scored Edman for the 2,171st RBI of his career.
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