MILWAUKEE — A mess of a game became an ugly game, and then rapidly slid toward the makings of a costly, painful loss.
But it's not without some drama.
Mike Shildt and catcher Yadier Molina have both had animated conversations in the later innings here as Milwaukee thundered away for a 18-3 shellacking Tuesday at Miller Park. The loss left the Cardinals with welts -- physically, mentally, and in the box score. Molina left the game after catching a few innings with a possibly injured hand. He told a team official he did not have any answers on his condition.
Jack Flaherty shouldered nine runs allowed on eight hits in three innings.
Shildt was clearly furious during the incident that got him ejected.
The biggest brouhaha of the game came in the fifth inning after Braun’s bat clipped Yadier Molina’s mitt and sent the catcher reeling away from home plate in obvious pain. Manager Mike Shildt, trailed by a trainer, reached Molina as he cradled his left hand. At some point while he was leaning over Molina, Shildt pivoted and stalked toward the Brewers dugout. He appeared to have heard a comment from the Brewers’ dugout that also caught the ear of former Cardinal Jedd Gyorko.
Gyorko acted quickly to intercept Shildt as the Cardinals’ manager shouted into the opponents’ dugout. Every player on the field gravitated toward the entry to the Brewers’ dugout, and eventually the bullpens would clear, too.
Shildt’s fury was clear at the field, and in photos.
Even with Gyorko near the top step of the Brewers’ dugout, Shildt pressed toward it.
At one point, Molina had regrouped and joined the cluster of players to get between Shildt and the Brewers. Pitching coach Mike Maddux also joined Gyorko as a buffer. The only incident – which violated all sorts of COVID-19-related social distancing protocols – resulted in the ejection of Shildt and Brewers manager Craig Counsell. No players were bounced as a result, and much to the surprise of several Cardinals Molina remained in the game.
He was still flexing and looking at his left hand as Shildt and teammate Matt Carpenter approached him to talk about yielding to Matt Wieters.
Wieters had his gear on, was standing near home plate.
That Molina stayed proved important later on as he had an animated conversation with home plate umpire John Bacon as rookie Nabil Crismatt finished his warmup. It was not immediately clear the precise issue that Molina had, though it is possible that Crismatt had his warmup pitches cut short. The rookie waved as if to start the inning, end the discussion and insisted he was ready to pitch. The discussion between Molina and Bacon brought Maddux, bench coach Oliver Marmol, and other umpires over before the inning could begin.
Crismatt did what the previous pitchers in the game could not – keep Milwaukee from batting through its order in an inning.
The Brewers have batted around in the fourth and fifth innings against the Cardinals and scored 13 runs total in that stretch.
They've bounced starter Flaherty from the game, chewed up long reliever Jake Woodford, expelled reliever Rob Kaminsky, and now brought Crismatt into the game. The Cardinals still have six outs to cover in the game and are starting to run out of pitchers if they want a full complement for the doubleheader on Wednesday.
Not all losses are created equal.
This one traces back to Flaherty's trouble with the Brewers.
Milwaukee greeted the Cardinals' opening day starter with nine runs on eight hits and two walks. The Brewers hit back to back homers off the righthander in the first inning, and that was but a flesh wound compared to what came in the fourth inning. Flaherty did not record an out, and yet he allowed five of the runs in the inning.
In his last 33 1/3 innings against the Brewers, he's allowed 30 earned runs.
Flaherty looks to fill a hole in his resumé — a win at Miller Park
Of all the places the Cardinals go during a regular season, the only place outside of Busch Stadium where Jack Flaherty has pitched more often in his career than Miller Park is, predictably, Wrigley Field.
His career ERA is higher at Wrigley (5.22) and the Cubs have a higher on-base percentage at their home against Flaherty than the Brewers do at their home, but there is something else glaring from the young righthander's resumé at the ballpark in the valley near Milwaukee.
He's yet to get a win there.
In five starts at the Brewers' screwtop ballpark, Flaherty is 0-2 with a 4.68 ERA. The Brewers have slugged .495 against him at one of the finest fields when it comes to hitting in the division. This is, after all, the place that Albert Pujols tossed a ball to himself and knocked it to the scoreboard just to show us he could, and Matt Holliday often raved about it as a hitter's ballpark because of the large, single-color batter's eye created by the center-field scoreboard.
Not that the Brewers have taken advantage of it this year.
The Cardinals have struggled to maintain any semblance of consistency with the offense, and yet the Cubs at Wrigley and the Brewers anywhere have had the same difficulty, arguably more. Of the bottom 10 teams in the majors when it comes slugging, the NL Central has half of them.
Put another way, all five teams in the National League Central rank 21st or lower when it comes to slugging percentage. This is the division that has Miller Park and Great American Small Park and the wind blowing out at Wrigley, and still there they are -- 21st, 22nd, 24th, 26th, and 30th when it comes to slugging percentage as a team.
The Cardinals are 24th, at .391.
The Brewers are 26th, at .380.
The results of those struggles was clear Monday in the doubleheader split between the two teams. Combined they managed to score eight runs in 14 innings. Half of those runs came in extra innings, where teams now have, by rule, a runner in scoring position to start every inning. It took the offense getting a goose for them to get a gander at runs.
Into this staring contest for offense enters Flaherty and his on-the-job strengthening and sharpening. His most recent start resembled the final start of spring training -- one where the pitches are there, the arm strength is there for 90 throws, and the efficiency is not. It was similar to how he spent the first half of 2019, before his game, as he says, "clicked."
If that's the case, then this start Tuesday night against the Brewers would fit with the timing of the clicking.
Where efficiency meets readiness and that combination meets results.
With the current schedule, the Cardinals face the Brewers eight more times. Flaherty will have two starts against them in that span. It's likely that those eight games will determine whether the Cardinals reach the playoffs -- or don't have to bother with that last week in quarantine to be ready for a bubble.
And that brings us to some pregame notes:
• Johan Oviedo is traveling to Milwaukee with plans of starting Game 2 Wednesday. He is driving. He will take a rapid test for COVID-19 on Wednesday morning and if he gets a negative he will be cleared to pitch with seven consecutive days without a positive test.
• John Gant went running with some of the other non-throw relievers today (Alex Reyes, Genesis Cabrera, because of use) and if his groin injury/soreness has subsided he could be ready to pitch Wednesday.
• Many of the Cardinals packed for the possibility that this road trip will leak right into their quarantine time for the postseason. That could mean what equates to a 50-day road trip.
• Mike Shidt did wear a batting practice cap during the game Monday. No one told him he wasn't wearing the game cap, he said.
Here are the lineups for Tuesday's single, nine-inning game at Miller:
1. Wong, 2B -- a late scratch, so here's the new lineup.
1. Edman, 3B
2. DeJong, SS
3. Goldschmidt, 1B
4. Ravelo, RF
5. B. Miller, DH
6. Molina, C
7. Carpenter, 3B
8. O'Neill, LF
9. Bader, CF
Starting pitcher: Flaherty RHP (3-1, 3.08 ERA)
1. Garcia, CF
2. Yelich, LF
3. Braun, RF
4. Vogelbach, DH
5. Hiura, 2B
6. Gyorko, 1B
7. Peterson, 3B
8. Arcia, SS
9. Narvaez, C
Starting pitcher: Brett Anderson LHP (2-3, 4.64 ERA)
Check back throughout the evening here at Cardinal Beat and STLtoday.com for coverage from Miller Park. In a rookie move, the cheese curds were left behind at the hotel room and thus there will be less snacking than planned. But there will be more reason to meet deadline since there will be curds awaiting as a midnight delicacy.