If you’ve watched a St. Louis Cardinals game recently, odds are pretty good it was a nail-biter.
Twice in the most recently completed series with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cardinals won on a game-ending home run in the bottom of the ninth.
I actually watched from the stands at Busch Stadium for two of the games in that series, Friday and Sunday, which turned out to be the only two games of the series that didn’t have a winner decided by ninth-inning heroics.
Shortstop Yairo Munoz’s three-run game-winning blast to deep center field Thursday capped a five-run ninth inning in a come-from-behind 10-8 St. Louis win.
Friday’s game was the only one of the series to be won by Pittsburgh, 4-0.
The Cardinals made things interesting Saturday as a late home run by Pirates outfielder Austin Meadows tied the game at 2-2 in the top of the ninth inning.
The other half of the Cardinals’ middle infield combo, second baseman Kolten Wong, drove one down the right field line that snuck over the fence for a 3-2 victory.
The St. Louis lead was never in any real jeopardy Sunday after left fielder Marcell Ozuna’s grand slam put the Cardinals ahead 4-0 in the first inning. The Cardinals went on to win, 5-0.
That didn’t stop Sunday’s game from still having a thrilling final inning.
Cardinals starter Michael Wacha gave everybody all the excitement they could handle in the series finale by taking a no-hitter into the ninth inning.
Unfortunately, Pittsburgh pinch hitter Colin Moran broke up Wacha’s bid at history with a leadoff single in the final frame.
Despite not finishing off what would have been just the third complete game no-hitter thrown in Major League Baseball of the 2018 season (Oakland’s Sean Manaea and Seattle’s James Paxton have the first two), Wacha’s outing was the latest installment in what has been a great run for Cardinals starters.
The Cardinals have four starters with a 2.62 or lower ERA on the season, led by ace Carlos Martinez’s 1.62 mark. Martinez, who hasn’t pitched since May 9, was scheduled to return from the disabled list Tuesday against Miami.
Wacha and Miles Mikolas both rank among the top eight in the National League in ERA. Wacha ranks sixth at 2.41 and Mikolas eighth at 2.49.
Mikolas unfortunately took his first loss of the season Friday after starting off his first year with the Cardinals with a 6-0 record in April and May.
Jack Flaherty is the fourth piece of that puzzle. The rookie has impressed with a 2.62 ERA and a 2-1 record in six starts after filling the spot in the rotation vacated by a string of injuries to veteran Adam Wainwright.
Luke Weaver seems to be the forgotten piece of the equation, ranking last among the Cardinals starters with a 4.41 ERA. His 3-5 record marks him as the only active starter on the team without a winning record (Wainwright is 1-3).
However, Weaver, a former first-round draft pick in 2014, has shown a great deal of potential and the ability to break out at any time.
Other than a slew of injuries, right now most notably sidelining two opening day starters — catcher Yadier Molina and shortstop Paul DeJong, it’s just the Cardinals offense that has been a cause for concern thus far in 2018.
That’s been the case in the last few seasons, an issue the Cardinals hoped to begin erasing with the acquisition of Ozuna in an offseason trade.
The Cardinals currently rank in the bottom half of the National League in runs scored and pretty much every other offensive category — except home runs, where they rank fifth in the league.
Despite inconsistencies in the offense, the Cardinals are one of the best teams in baseball in the clutch. The Cardinals have won seven of their home games this season on the final at-bat, a total that leads all of Major League Baseball on the year.
It’s a continuation of the type of late-inning magic that the Cardinals have been able to summon when the game is on the line for much of the past decade-plus.
None have been more prolific at it in recent years than Wong, who has climbed to fifth place all-time in the team’s history with four game-concluding home runs. One more would tie him with Jim Edmonds and Ken Boyer for third. Wong would then have quite a bit of work to do to catch Albert Pujols (10) and Stan Musial (11), according to statistics put together by Post-Dispatch writer Rick Hummel.
That, however, does not include Wong’s postseason game-winning homer against the San Francisco Giants in Game 2 of the 2014 National League Championship Series.
Wong already has two game-finishing blasts this season. The other came May 5 in the 10th inning against the Cardinals’ archrivals, the Chicago Cubs.
Both of Wong’s first two regular season walk-off home runs came against the Pirates, the same team he did it to again on Saturday. The first two came on July 8, 2014, and May 3, 2015.
In addition to Wong and Munoz, Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler have each connected on game-ending home runs this season.
Fowler and Molina both have a game-ending base hit that were not home runs this season as well.
If there’s any end to the Cardinals’ late-inning magic this season, it’s nowhere in sight.