Taking game out of Wainwright's hands, into McFarland's proves 'tricky' for Cardinals

Taking game out of Wainwright’s hands, into McFarland’s proves ‘tricky’ for Cardinals

BOSTON — The giveaway was Adam Wainwright asking for a new baseball.

He thought for sure he would still be in the game to throw it.

As Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol walked to the mound to make what became a pivotal decision, Wainwright held up the used ball in his hand, trying to get the home-plate umpire’s attention. The ball had just been scraped as a groundball for the first out of the seventh inning. Boston had a runner at third base, and Wainwright had the matchup he welcomed against the Red Sox No. 9 hitter, Jackie Bradley Jr.

So how about that new ball?

As Marmol arrived at the mound, Wainwright tossed the discard to the bat boy.

He would not be around when the new ball arrived.

With two outs to get, a relatively new rule creating a bind and a matchup looming he wanted to avoid, Marmol opted for reliever T.J. McFarland instead of sticking with his veteran starter. What followed was a three-run burst that gave Boston exactly enough insurance to weather the Cardinals’ uprising in the ninth, one spearheaded by four two-out, extra-base hits. The difference in Boston’s 6-5 victory Friday at Fenway Park traced back to that moment when McFarland received the new baseball that Wainwright requested.

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“I don’t think anyone is thrilled to come out of games,” Wainwright said. “I thought that was a good spot for me. That was a hitter I’ve had success against and a good situation where I’d like to hold it there. If you’ve got a starting pitcher who wants to come out of the game, he’s not a very good starting pitcher.”

Pitching opposite mentee Michael Wacha for the first time in their careers, Wainwright (5-5) carried a two-run deficit into the seventh inning. He had outlasted Wacha, bought time for the offense to rally and had yet to reach 100 pitches. The Red Sox tagged Wainwright with three runs, two of them on Trevor Story’s single in the fourth, but otherwise the veteran right-hander had navigated around seven hits allowed by controlling counts and getting groundouts (seven to be precise). He retired Bradley in each of the two previous at-bats, so what’s one more?

Who was three more batters away guided Marmol’s hand.

If Wainwright remained in the game to face Bradley, he would remain in the game for a fourth time against the top of Boston’s lineup and possibly lefty Rafael Devers. Due to the three-batter minimum, McFarland was not going to come in for Devers and chance an at-bat against Boston’s right-handed-slugging designated hitter J.D. Martinez and then Xander Bogaerts. For Marmol, it was McFarland to face Bradley so he was there for Devers — or stick with Wainwright until the eighth. He went to the bullpen, not the veteran.

“That’s the way that one rolled,” Marmol said.

McFarland faced the three batters Marmol expected.

He did not retire any of them.

Bradley skipped a grounder against the shift that went for a base hit to add an earned run to Wainwright’s line. Pinch-hitter Bobby Dalbec, a right-handed hitter, tenderized a misplaced changeup for a double. Devers, the left-handed bat the inning was engineered to get McFarland against, hit a high-hop grounder that brought home two more runs. He got two groundballs from three batters but also allowed three base hits that doubled Boston’s scoring.

“This one is a tricky one because: What’s his job? It’s to get groundballs,” Marmol said when asked if the bottom line was McFarland’s results yielded the decisive run. “What did he do? He got groundballs. Did he do his job? Yes. Do I like the changeup that gets hit a mile? No. But he came in, got soft contact from Bradley and Devers. Does it (stink)? Does it (tick) you off that they got through? Absolutely. If they’re at somebody are we feeling really good right now? The answer is yes.”

After going several weeks with a misbehaving sinker, McFarland had been trending down, which for a sinkerballer is up.

The lefty pitched three consecutive scoreless outings, had taken the helium out of his ERA, and saw the metrics that supported improved, downward, biting action on his best pitch. He got more of that — though not enough of that — during Friday’s appearance. The expected batting average on Bradley’s groundball was .140, but his happened to be the 1 in 7 times the ball gets through, aided by the open field created by the defensive shift. The metrics say McFarland allowed two groundballs that are usually outs and one double that never is an out.

The box score says he allowed three runs, two of them affixed to his 7.71 ERA, and did not retire a batter for the first time in any appearance this season.

To meet the three-batter minimum he allowed the maximum hits.

“You’re trying to execute good pitches and sometimes you even get the result you want in terms of the action when the ball is in play,” McFarland said. “It (stinks). I don’t know how to assess it, to be honest. It’s hard to take a silver lining out of that outing immediately. Right now, it’s not great. It’s not a good inning. We come back. We score a bunch of runs. To put up a zero there, to conserve his run on third, is huge.”

Limited in the first eight innings to Nolan Arenado’s solo homer over the Green Monster, the Cardinals mustered a two-out jubilee in the ninth. Dylan Carlson struck a two-out double to initiate the ninth-inning rally. Harrison Bader followed with a triple, scored on Tommy Edman’s double, and two more runs raced home on Brendan Donovan’s double. Donovan stood at second, the potential tying run, when Mizzou product Tanner Houck caught Paul Goldschmidt looking at a fastball to end the game.

It was the kind of rally that Wainwright tried to remain in the game long enough help make happen. It was a rally that fell short and made a winner of a starter who learned from Wainwright what it means to be in that role, to pitch deep into games, to tiptoe out of trouble and to take the ball until it’s taken away.

“He was the guy who kind of took me underneath his wing and was a big-time mentor and a huge influence on my game and my career,” Wacha said. “So looking back now, getting to share a mound against him was pretty, pretty freaking special. It’s one of those memories I’ll have forever.”

Wainwright fell behind 1-0 in the first inning after allowing a leadoff triple and a run that scored on a double play. He struck out the side in the second inning and got a 1-1 game into the fourth. He misplaced a fastball that Story stung for the two-run single, and thinking back on that two-strike pitch after the game suggested that the location was definitely off and the selection was likely off.

The Red Sox had planned to face Wainwright and Yadier Molina in their 317th start together as a battery. When Molina went on the injured list with knee inflammation, Boston instead got Wainwright and Andrew Knizner’s 10th start together.

“It’s different without Yadi behind (the plate),” Boston manager Alex Cora said. “We look for tendencies and certain things, and today was a lot different than what we expected.”

After the game, Cora described the veteran right-hander as someone who “is going seven innings against everybody.” Two outs away from finishing that seventh inning, Wainwright thought Marmol was coming out to talk about the approach, maybe talk some bunt defense with that runner at third base.

No, he was coming to get the ball.

The ball Wainwright no longer had.

How to measure the game from there is a Rorschach test.

The Cardinals called on McFarland to get grounders. Two happened.

The Cardinals needed McFarland to limit the runs. Three scored.

Boston edged them by one.

“It’s tricky because the results were there. Inducing some contact on the ground was there,” Marmol said. “Is it ideal? No. Is it better? Sure.”

#game #Wainwrights #hands #McFarlands #proves #tricky #Cardinals

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