WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S

The Cardinals were down 5-0 after three innings Friday at Washington. That’s an awfully big gap. Can the tourists from St. Louis win this game? Forget about it. That was about as likely as Democrats and Republicans getting along beautifully on Capitol Hill.

Well, I guess it was at least possible. Only because just about anything is possible. But realistically? Dream on, sisters and brothers. No need to torment yourselves by watching this. You knew how it would end. This was a ridiculous, preposterous longshot.

Before last night, when trailing by exactly five runs at any moment of a regular-season game since the start of the 2015 season, the Cardinals had three comeback wins … and 320 losses. That’s right, people. The Redbird had lost 317 of their last 320 regular-season games when staring at a five-run deficit.

As you undoubtedly know by now, the Cardinals did in fact chip away at the Nationals until finally tying Friday’s game (5-5) on a bold, big-shot home run by Willson Contreras. And after this kung-fu fighting carried on through extra time, the intransigent Cardinals came out on top for a 7-6 victory in 11 innings.

What a comeback. What a game.

How did it happen?

Maybe it has something to do with the juju of the ballpark in Washington D.C. The Cardinals have a history there … a history of smiting the Nationals against all odds.

Remember 2012? Game 5 of the NLDS, with the winner advancing to the league championship series? The confident Nationals, showing no fear of the defending World Series champions, jumped on St. Louis starting pitcher Adam Wainwright to seize a 6-0 lead through three innings.

The District was all set to party when the Cardinals grabbed their bats, went off in a wild uprising, and bopped a sequence of Washington pitchers upside the head to for a 9-7 conquest. After successfully storming the ramparts to ambush the Nationals, it was onto San Francisco for the start of the NLCS.

Current St. Louis bench coach Daniel Descalso was one of the heroes of Game 5, striking for a two-out, two-run, first-pitch ninth-inning single that tied the classic 5-5. Descalso swiped second base. David Freese already was on third. Pete Kozma entered the crucible and broke the Nationals’ spirit with a 2-2, opposite-field, two-run single that made it 7-5. That’s a winner. It capped one of the great postseason triumphs in Cardinals postseason history.

Here’s the thing about the Cardinals and D.C.

That wasn’t a singular, against-all-odds comeback.

The wretched, hopeless, 2023 Cardinals did the same thing to the Nationals in the ballpark at Navy Yard LAST SEASON. After getting shoved into a 5-0 hole during the first two innings, the Cardinals did a John Paul Jones. What? I’m trying to link it to Navy Yard, so gimme a break. I have not yet begun to fight.

The Cardinals refused to retreat on what seemed to be a lost-cause that evening on June 19, 2023. They regrouped, turned on the pressure and upended the dazed Nationals for an improbable 8-6 stunner. Brendan Donovan, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Tommy Edman and Conteras combined for seven hits, five RBIs and five runs scored.

This is not a mistake. That comeback was indeed staged by the same ‘23 Cardinals team that came into the day 12 games under .500. This was the same out-of-gas house gang that would go on to finish 71-91 for the worst full season by the franchise since 1990.

A little more than a year later, the visiting Cardinals did it again Friday night. Crazy. Or just baseball. But weird things happen in Washington’s ballpark when the St. Louis team and a colorful, noisy delegation of Cardinals fans walk through the gates.

So, for an update: the Cardinals now have 4 wins and 320 defeats over the last 10 seasons when trapped in a five-run deficit in a regular-season game … and two of the four sudden successes were grabbed in consecutive seasons, against the Nationals, in the same ballpark. Baseball, man.

This most unlikely win makes it a memorable win. This was the third consecutive extra-innings conflict for the Cardinals. They lost the first extra at Pittsburgh then pivoted to beat the Pirates and Nationals in the next two OT thrillers. And these two wins revealed and reaffirmed the tenacious personality of the 2024 Cardinals. Their team character took time to develop, but these fellows did not capitulate during times of hardship. They do not back away from a fight.

“It was wild,” closer Ryan Helsley told Derrick Goold of STLToday after Friday’s game. “Got down big early, and the guys fought back. Huge win for us as a team. We clawed our way back. A lot of guys are gassed and giving it everything we’ve got. Huge win, from top to bottom, for everybody on the team.”

With this highly entertaining victory, the Cardinals:

* Added to their NL-best record since May 12. They’re 31-17 (.646) in this fuss-making turnaround. And if we rewind some more, the Cardinals are 36-27 since April 24 (.571.) Is that good? I think so. In the NL, only the Phillies (.672) and Dodgers (.625) have won more often than St. Louis over since that date. And that covers the last two-plus months of ball. Which means more, than, say, two-plus weeks of winning baseball.

* Moved to five games over .500 for the first time this season at 46-41. They cut into Milwaukee’s lead for a second consecutive day to sneak to within five games of the first-place Brewers.

* Expanded their lead over other NL Central chasers. As MLB play began Saturday, the second-place Cards were four games ahead of the Pirates, 4 and ½ games ahead of the Reds, and six games above the last-place Cubs.

* Stayed in the NL’s third wild-card spot. The revived Redbirds came into Saturday only 1 and ½ games behind the No. 1 wild-card Braves. And the STL gang is a half-game away from the No. 2 wild-card Padres.

* Raised their record in one-run games this season to 17-12, which is the sixth-best mark in majors and third best among NL sides. During their 31-17 return to quality, the Cardinals are 14-6 in one-run games, 6-2 in two-run games, and 5-2 in games determined by a three-run margin. Add all of that up and St. Louis is 25-10 (.714) in games since May 12 in games decided by a three-run margin or less.

Some Bird Bytes before I log off …

1) The Cardinals bullpen supplied six innings of dogged relief after starter Sonny Gray got knocked out after five innings, leaving STL down by five runs. No problem. The sequence of Chris Roycroft, Matthew Liberatore, Ryan Fernandez, JoJo Romero and Ryan Helsley allowed no earned run. There was some vulnerability – six hits and three walks conceded in five innings – but Washington’s one run (in the 10th) was an unearned marker scored against Helsley.

2) Under the dumb extra-inning rules, this went in the books as a blown save by Helsley. Which is absurd because every extra-inning (top or bottom) begins with a runner on second base. The scenario isn’t fair to relievers. Helsley wanted to stay in, and got the necessary three out for the win. But his streak of 31 consecutive saves was ruined by the Rob Manfred Rules.

3) In the two consecutive extra-inning victories, St. Louis relievers stitched together nine scoreless innings over the two nights. The bullpen boys faced 38 batters in the two games, and none touched home plate. One reason: over the two games against the STL bullpen, the Pirates and Nationals went a combined 1 for 14 with runners in scoring position (.071). The 18 scoreless bullpen innings in the last two wins were handled by Helsley, John King, Roycroft, Liberatore, Andrew Kittredge, Romero and Fernandez.

4) In 16 appearances since May 28, Fernandez has been nipped for one earned run in 18 and ⅓ innings for a 0.64 ERA.

5) During the last 48 games (31-17) that changed everything for the Cardinals, their bullpen has ruled with a 2.94 ERA that ranks fifth overall during that time.

6) Also since May 12: in the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth and extra innings (combined) the STL bullpen has a 2.85 ERA that ranks fourth overall and third in the NL. Opponents have a .200 batting average in those late-game showdowns against Cardinal relievers since May 12.

7) The offense started slowly Friday but kept pushing until making a breakthrough that built up and became an unexpected win. From the start of the fourth inning through the 11th inning, St. Louis hitters scored seven times. The Cardinals went 12 for 28 (.429) with two walks, two doubles, a homer, a sac fly and two stolen bases. And they hit .333 (3 for 9) with runners in scoring position.

8) The guys who stepped up offensively included Conteras (homer, two RBIs, Nolan Arenado (four hits, two runs scored), Nolan Gorman (two hits, two RBIs after entering as a pinch hitter.) Dylan Carlson and Pedro Pages each drove in a run, Michael Siani had two hits, and Masyn Winn scored the winning run by scooting from third base on a passed ball. A little of everything. So many contributions. Big and small and wide-ranging and unexpected – with some goofiness mixed in.

The cliche is true: this was a team effort.

And this team is fun to watch.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the rest of your Saturday.

–Bernie

A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie has provided informed opinions and perspective on St. Louis sports through his columns, radio shows and podcasts since 1985.

Please follow Bernie on Threads @miklaszb

For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz. It returns on Monday, July 8. Follow @seeingredpod on X for a direct link.

Stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Baseball Prospectus, Brooks Baseball Net, and Sports Info Solutions unless otherwise noted.

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 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. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, 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.