It’s around 11 a.m. on Saturday morning, and I’m still struggling to process Oli Marmol’s thinking during the Cardinals’ devastating Game 1 loss to the Phillies at Busch Stadium.

The first-year manager, so smart and cool-headed during the regular season, entered his first postseason and went helter-skelter in a deeply unsettling manner. For the Cardinals, Game 1 was reversed and ruined by Marmol’s bizarre combination of overmanaging by needlessly yanking the smooth and brilliant starting pitcher Jose Quintana … and then not managing at all as closer Ryan Helsley imploded during a horrifying collapse that required quick intervention.

The home team’s 2-0 lead and ninth-inning 97 percent win expectancy went up in smoke, Marmol’s credibility took a hit, and the Cardinals were electroshocked in the unimaginable 6-3 loss that rates among the worst in STL’s postseason history. And while individual players screwed up or had bad or nondescript days, this hideous setback goes on Marmol … full stop.

Here are the manager’s most egregious mistakes in Game 1:

1. Pulling Quintana with one out in the sixth, even though the slick lefty had limited 19 Philly hitters to two hits and a walk during a 75-pitch glide. At the time Marmol took the ball from “Q,” the pitcher had retired nine of his last 10 batters faced, striking out three of them. Quintana – coming off a six-start September in which he crafted a 0.83 ERA – was still fresh and very much in command. But Marmol obviously went into Game 1 with a script, and was determined to follow the plan … even if it meant removing a highly effective starting pitcher too soon. The hyper aggressive Marmol was in a hurry to turn Quintana’s game over to the bullpen as soon as possible. I don’t know how much his decision was influenced by recommendations made by the team’s analytics department – or by front-office executives. But Marmol deferred to some sort of data formula instead of relying on what his own eyes told him as he watched Quintana work.

2. When Giovanny Gallegos walked a batter with one out in the eighth, completing a stint that lasted 1 and ⅓ innings, Marmol turned to Helsley to  secure an especially risky five-out save. Marmol was overly ambitious with a pitcher that had jammed the middle finger of his throwing hand on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh … a fluke injury that created anxiety and at least some doubt about Helsley’s status. The doctors cleared Helsley to pitch in this series – but did that mean he’d be the full 100 percent, and able to go more than an inning and run up a high pitch count without the affected finger numbing up, or cramping up? It was OK to use Helsley … who looked great in getting two outs in the eighth. But at that point was it risky to push it?

3. At the very least, at the start of the ninth inning, Marmoil had to be extremely alert for any sign of distress with Helsley. Again, this hard-throwing dude had just injured a finger on his right hand less than three days earlier. And with this type of ailment, there’s no way to predict how long the finger would hold up without weakening or experiencing discomfort. It was imperative for Marmol to have a contingency plan at the ready. But after receiving assurances from Helsley that the closer was feeling good to go back out there in the ninth, Marmol let his guard down. He stayed on script. In Oli’s mind, Helsley would get the save and finish this game. Period. And the manager would not deviate from the plan, ignoring the clear-cut evidence of a meltdown as Helsley combusted.

4. Marmol’s stubbornness turned into absolute neglect as the manager failed to get the bullpen warming in time as the emergency turned increasingly ominous. Marmol should have anticipated at least the possibility of trouble with Helsley’s grip. Helsley struck out Rhys Hoskins, and gave up a single to J.T. Realmuto. Then he walked Bryce Harper and Nick Castellanos, managing to throw only three strikes, combined, to the back-to-back hitters. The bases were loaded now.

At what point do you activate the bullpen? At what point do you choose to recognize the obvious and act on it instead of disregarding the obvious? At what point do you rescue a clearly uncomfortable and out of control Helsley before it’s too late? At what point do you do what’s best for the team and replace a free-falling reliever?

The answer: Helsley stayed in and hit Alec Bohm with a high-tight pitch to bring in Philly’s first run. Let’s recap: Marmol saw vulnerability in Quintana when there was none. And Marmol refused to see the vulnerability in Helsley as the closer fell apart and ran up a massive pitch count while walking or plunking every Phillie this side of Lenny Dykstra.

Helsley hadn’t thrown 30-plus pitches in an appearance since June 25th. But here he was, in plain view, laboring through a 33-pitch outing less than three days after hurting that finger on his right hand.

The manager irresponsibly let Helsley set himself and the game on fire, defiantly following the pre-scripted strategy that should have been trashed based on the dramatic change of circumstances.

This horror show was avoidable. Helsley’s crash didn’t occur in an instant. This wasn’t about one misplaced pitch, the flash and sound of a bat, and a baseball zooming over the wall for a go-ahead homer. Those things can happen suddenly and without warning. But this disintegration happened in slow motion, playing out over several batters and a sequence of crazily inaccurate pitches that disappeared from the radar screen.

Marmol had numerous opportunities to spring into action and make it stop. But in the heat of the crisis he chose to do nothing. Helsley lost the feel on his pitches. Marmol lost his feel for managing. Oli just sat there as a witness to a disaster instead of doing something to prevent the catastrophe … staring at Helsley but not really seeing Helsley air-mailing pitches as a victory turned to ashes.

5. The mishandling of the defensive positioning. Marmol summoned Andre Pallante from the bullpen, hoping to see the rookie induce a ground-ball double play and save the day. But one problem: the Cardinals didn’t align their defense at double-play depth, and that allowed a ground ball struck by Jean Segura to get by second baseman Tommy Edman for the two-run single that gave Philadelphia a 3-2 lead. That advantage increased to 5-2 when first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and third baseman Nolan Arenado failed to get outs on consecutive grounders. The roiling madness mercifully ended when Kyle Schwarber delivered a sacrifice fly to make it 6-2.

What’s the point of calling in a ground-ball thrower when you don’t set up a GB double-play defense? I expected Marmol to do some unconventional things in this series. But I did not expect him to turn into Mike Matheny.

6. By overdoing it with Helsley and letting the game get away, Marmol wiped out Helsley’s availability for Game 2, a potential Game 3, and perhaps the division-round series should the Cardinals escape and advance. So even if the Cardinals are fortunate to extend their year, they’ll have to go without a closer who had a 1.25 ERA and 39% strikeout rate during the regular season. We’ll know more – we think – when the Cardinals relay the test results on Helsley’s finger. Will Helsley have to go in the Injured List? That would take him out of the next round if there is a next round. And even if Helsley makes it back sooner than expected, you have to wonder if he’ll be psychologically scarred by Friday’s breakdown.

I do not enjoy writing this … not at all … I’ve admired Marmol’s work all season. He’s been very good along the way. But in the late stages of Game 1, Marmol couldn’t handle the pressure. He froze. And now the Cardinals are on the brink of an immediate elimination — bounced from a special season that has provided so much wonderment and joy. Unless, of course, they can bounce back in the strongest possible way in Game 2. It isn’t that they lost Game 1 … it’s HOW they lost. They blew it. And there are no excuses or spin for what happened.

The Cardinals threw away a perfect opportunity to take a 1-0 series lead with a chance to clinch on Saturday night. They were dominated by Phillies starter Zack Wheeler — but fought to a draw, with Quintana matching Wheeler’s toughness. The Cards were able to break through on Jose Alvarado, Philly’s best reliever who had allowed only one earned run in 21 innings since Aug. 3. And Alvarado hadn’t gotten popped for a home run since July 30.

The big blow against Alvarado was a two-run, pinch-hit homer by rookie Juan Yepez. That’s was so huge, and such a thrilling moment that should have put the Phillies away. But the Yepez heroics were squandered and betrayed during a  historically embarrassing collapse. Until Friday’s sickening loss, the Cardinal franchise was 93-0 in the postseason when heading into the ninth with a lead of at least two runs. And the Phillies set a MLB postseason record Friday by scoring the most runs in a ninth inning (6) by a team that had no runs on the board after eight innings.

Unless the Cardinals can rally themselves to overcome Marmol’s managerial malfeasance in Game 1, it’s going to be a short series, an abrupt ending to a 2022 season that held such promise, a hasty goodbye to Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina, and a long and miserable winter.


A Quiet Day For The Big Three: Marmol set up a new-look lineup by batting Albert Pujols second, Paul Goldschmidt third, and Nolan Arenado fourth. The three All-Stars combined for 89 homers and 286 RBI during the regular season but went 1 for 11 in Game 1. The Cardinals had runners on first and second base with no outs in the bottom of the sixth but Pujols hit into a 5-4-3 double play in one of the most impactful moments in Game 1. But I can’t condemn Pujols for that; he’s been carrying this competitively ambivalent team for weeks.

Goldschmidt, Arenado And Disturbing Trends: In his last nine postseason games for the Cardinals, Goldschmidt is 5 for 35 (.143) with a .231 OBP, .343 slug and a 33.3 percent strikeout rate. Goldy has two homers and three RBIs in the nine contests. The Cardinals are 1-8 in the nine games.

In his two postseason games for the Cardinals, Nolan Arenado is 1 for 8 with a run scored, and the Cardinals are 0-2 in the two games. For his career, Arenado has a .172 batting average, .161 OBP and .276 slug in seven postseason games for the Rockies and Cardinals.

Including Friday’s loss, Goldschmidt has only two home runs and 10 RBIs in 149 plate appearances over his last 34 games. Arenado has just two homers in 110 plate appearances over his last 28 games.

This would be a good time for Goldschmidt and Arenado to step up, emerge from their inert state, and do something positive. Frankly, their poor hitting is choking this offense.

It was good to see rookies Juan Yepez and Nolan Gorman drive in STL’s three runs in Game 1. But isn’t that supposed to be Goldy and Nado’s job?

Puzzling Lineup Construction: I don’t know why Marmol went away from having the combination of Lars Nootbaar and Brendan Donovan hit at the top of the lineup. In Game 1, Nootbaar batted leadoff and got on base twice with a single and a walk. But Donovan was moved to the No. 5 spot. During the regular season Donovan had a .399 OBP and .439 slug when hitting second in the lineup. Nootbaar had a .345 OBP and .486 slug when batting first.

OK, so if you put two left-handed hitters in the top two lineup spots, that would make it easier for the Phillies to neutralize them by bringing in a lefty reliever – right? No, not at all. After the All-Star break Nootbaar batted .293 with a .946 OPS vs. lefties. And during the regular season Donovan had a .421 OBP and .749 OPS against lefthanders. Not that Arenado or Goldschmidt have driven in a lot of runs lately; combined they have only 24 RBI in 222 plate appearances since Sept. 1. But in theory, putting two high onbase guys in front of Goldschmidt, Arenado and Pujols is a common-sense move. Marmol is trying to be too cute.

Quote From Marmol, On Quintana: “He was awesome. I loved the way he competed. Everything you would expect out of the guy that you name one. But unbelievable job. Mixes pitches. Kept guys off balance. A lot of soft contact early. Exactly what you would expect out of Q. He took this game no different than any other. He competed extremely well.”

Agreed. So why the heck did you take him out so soon?

Where Was Yadier Molina? If we’re going to praise the future Hall of Fame catcher for taking charge, handling pitchers, and being smarter than just about any catcher in MLB history, then it’s totally fair to ask why Molina didn’t take control in the ninth inning as Helsley cumbled. I kept expecting Molina to look to the dugout and convey an obvious message: Helsley ain’t right, and we gotta make a change right now. But as far as we can tell, Yadier didn’t do that.

Postseason Randomness: It’s something I harp on all of the time. You can’t assume that regular-season traits and trends will carry over to the postseason. We saw that again in Game 1. Compared to Philadelphia, the Cardinals had a vastly superior defense during the regular season. But in Game 1, the St. Louis defense unraveled in the fateful ninth inning. And the Phillies didn’t have a single moment of failure on defense in this game.

The Cards Have Lost Their Way In The Postseason: With Friday’s dispiriting loss, the Cardinals are a dreadful 5-16 in their last 21 postseason games. That stretch began with three straight losses to the Giants in the 2014 NLCS … starting with their three consecutive losses to the Cubs to close the 2015 NLDS, the Cardinals are 4-13 in their last 17 postseason games … beginning with their loss to Washington via four-game sweep in the 2019 NLCS, the Cardinals are a hideous 1-8 in their last nine postseason games and have been outscored 48-25.

Quality Of Opponent Matters: The season-long struggles continued for the Cardinals in matchups against good teams. With Friday’s defeat the Cards are 34-39 this season when facing winning teams. The Cardinals won 93 games during the regular season and 62.3 percent of their victories came against teams with losing records.

Next Up, Game 2: It’ll be two right-handers, Aaron Nola vs. Miles Mikolas, on Saturday night. Over the entire regular season Nola was one of the best starting pitchers in the majors. But late in the schedule he was hit up for at least four earned runs in four of his final nine starts. And Nola had a 6.08 ERA in his final four road starts during the regular season. Mikolas has been on a roll at Busch Stadium. In his final eight home starts of the regular season, Mikolas had a 1.73 ERA and held opponents to a slash line of .170 / .204 / .294. And in 85 plate appearances during this eight-start stretch at home, left-handed batters hit only .063 against Mikolas with a .207 OPS.

Seeing Red: The special postseason podcast featuring Will Leitch and this correspondent right here is available for you – specifically our Game 1 reactions. We will put up another Seeing Red on Sunday morning – a review of Game 2. You can listen by going to or wherever you get your podcasts,  including Apple and Spotify.

Thanks for reading …


Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.