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Cards vs. Cubs June 20, 2016 - Was This The Best Game Of The Year (So Far)?

Updated on June 23, 2016

At Home in the Friendly Confines

Wrigley Field, that wonderful field in Chicago; home to the Chicago Cubs, a team that hasn't won a championship since 1906. A team full of youth, swagger, braggadocio and arrogance against a team that has the second most championships in history and is seemingly in contention every single year, the St. Louis Cardinals. One appearing to be on the way up, the other due for a down year according to prognosticators across the land. Meeting for the seventh time this year as inter-division rivals. Going in, Chicago leads the series this year, 4 to 2.

Chicago is rolling out its next young superstar, Willson Contreras. Contreras hit a home run on the very first pitch he saw in the big leagues the day before and seems to be another of the young lions in the Cubs organization. Virtually the entire team on the field fits this description as seven of the eight position players starting for Chicago were under 26 years old.

Not so the Cardinals. They are older, more experienced and seem to find a way to get the job done in the face of adversitity, and buddy, was there adversity going on here.

This game had it all: bad blood due to a century old rivalry between the two teams; bad blood that spilled over into a hit batsman after a home run, then a retaliation for that action. Base runners getting thrown out attempting to steal bases, trying to get into position to score a badly needed run to extend a lead or to eliminate one. Gestures made by arrogant youth against established players while getting a hit and driving in a run. Outstanding defense by the best in the game to eliminate a scoring threat when it was needed the most: with the game on the line.

I literally sat on the edge of my seat for three hours, watching, waiting, chewing my nails, Early on I knew this was going to be one of those games where one mistake, one play could be the hinge that creates a win or a loss. And boy, was I right.

John Lackey former Cardinal: current Cub
John Lackey former Cardinal: current Cub | Source

The Scoring Begins

The starting pitchers are former teammates Jaime Garcia for the Cardinals and John Lackey for the Cubs. Lackey pitched for the Cards the last two years and left a bad taste in the mouths of fans because he chose their bitter rivals to sign with during the off season. Of course, he had a bad taste in his as well. His contract stated that if he lost time due to an injury he had to play the final season of that contract at league minimum and because he did, the Cardinals held him to the contract. I think it pissed him off but he signed the contract so don't complain over what you signed up for, John. He led the team last season after Adam Wainwright was injured early on and did a great job.

Jaime has had an up and down season thus far but pitched like he can last night. 6 2/3 innings, 2 runs, 2 BB and 6 K's against Lackey's 6 innings, 3 runs, 3 BB and 6 K's. Both were stellar, both hungry for the win. But John allowed a couple of homers that cost him the game.

The scoring began in the second inning with a first pitch home run by Brandon Moss, who leads the Cards in homers this year. Lackey is notorious for throwing first pitch fastballs for strikes and Moss jumped all over one, driving it ten rows deep in the right field bleachers. Kolton Wong, fresh from AAA scores after wunderkind Aledmys Diaz gets a hit and the score stands 2 - 0. In the next inning, Jhonny Peralta, fresh off the DL follows Moss' lead and strokes a first pitch fastball into the left field bleachers for another home run. That would end the Cardinals scoring for the night. Would it be enough?

Jaime Garcia
Jaime Garcia | Source

In the bottom of the third, Kris Bryant, last year's wunderkind doubles down the line, driving in Ben Zobrist, beloved everyman of manager Joe Maddon. Then Contreras singles, driving in Bryant. It is at this point where things begin to bubble. Contreras, a veteran of twenty four hours thrusts his hand up in the air as he returns to first base, making a gesture that to me was quite, uh, vulgar. Was he making it at Garcia? I couldn't tell for sure but it sure looked like it. Nothing comes of it then, but in the fifth inning, Moss comes to the plate again and is hit in the elbow; it could have been the ribs but he moved out of the way enough to only get hit in the elbow. Now these were teammates last year, enemies this year. There is no doubt this was intentional for Lackey has outstanding control as evidenced by his first pitch strikes; he is among the league leaders in this category.

In the bottom of the inning, retaliation. On a 2 out, 1 ball 2 strike count Garcia buzzes a 92 mph fastball high up on Bryant's back, near the head. That was a classic "You hit our home run hitter, I'll hit yours" moment. Both benches are warned and play continues. Rizzo then pops out to Carpenter at second and the inning is over; but the war is on.

Both pitchers bear down in the sixth with Lackey striking out two and getting a line out for the third out. Garcia gives up a walk, gets a strikeout and two soft fly balls to right field. Lackey comes out to start the seventh, his day done after 100+ pitches. His replacement mirrors his sixth inning with two K's and a line out. Garcia goes back to work in the bottom and gets two quick outs before being lifted for Oh, the Final Boss after Jason Heyward grounds back to Garcia but beats it out for a single. Oh goes to a full count before getting Bryant to fly out to left field to end the inning.

The Cards go in order in the eighth then Oh gets a double play and a K to end the Cub's inning. On to the ninth!

Replacement left fielder Tommy Pham strikes out then Matt Carpenter draws a walk. Carpenter sees more pitches per at bat than just about anyone in the big leagues and has a great eye. But here he makes a mistake: he tries to steal second on the rookie Contreras. This guy has an absolute cannon for an arm and throws Carp out by five feet with a throw that has to be seen to be believed. Diaz walks and Jedd Gyorko comes off the bench to crush a double to the gap in left center. Diaz flies around the bases and heads for home only to be caught by a textbook relay play and is out at home. Oh the agony!!!

Trevor Rosenthal, 2015 record setting closer for the Cardinals comes on in the bottom of the ninth. He has given up four runs over his last two outings so I am not feeling too comfortable with him but he is the man so what else can we do? He promptly strikes out the number seven hitter Russell so I begin to get excited. Then Almora Jr. hits a ball over Wong's head in center and gets a stand up double. At this time the announcers are wondering why he didn't try for third as Wong is a newly minted center fielder whose natural position is second base. His arm is an infielder's arm so Almora could have made it close at third. This will be the crucial play in the game.

The next batter is hit by a pitch. Then a pitch gets away from perennial Platinum Gloved Catcher Yadier Molina and Almora tries to steal third. Yadi sees the ball has hit the umpire's foot and is just close enough to grab and fire to third. On a line. Dead on the bag at third. An absolutely perfect throw which Peralta catches and lets Almora slide into for the out. WOW!!!

Zobrist gets a hit that allows Coghlan to go to third and the attempted steal looms even larger for that would have tied the game but for Yadi's heroics. Then a popout from Heyward and let the celebration commence.

Cards Win! Cards Win! Cards Win!

The series continues tonight and I expect more fireworks to take place. These teams have no love lost between them and the Cubs are hell bent on being The Team To Beat this year and will refuse to let the old guard Cardinals hold them back. But the Cardinals have seen these types of upstarts before and year in, year out just find a way to keep winning (which is something Chicago never has figured out). Stay tuned, and game time 7:05 PM CDT!

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    • Angel Guzman profile image

      Angel Guzman 

      11 months ago from Joliet, Illinois

      We finally won last year :)

    • Mr Archer profile imageAUTHOR

      Mr Archer 

      24 months ago from Missouri

      Thank you Ma'am! Oh, it's hard this year, isn't it? Take care and here's to the Cardinals!!

    • Sarah Jewel profile image

      Lori Gross 

      24 months ago from Nashville

      Great article! I'm a Cards fan and I'm beginning to wonder if I'm going to make it to the end of season without having a heart attack. Keep up the good work!

    • Mr Archer profile imageAUTHOR

      Mr Archer 

      2 years ago from Missouri

      Game 2 was just as good as 1, and 3 was outstanding as we completed the sweep!! Go Cards!!!

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image

      Wednesday-Elf 

      2 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      Currently watching game 3 in the cards /cubs series. Cards up 5-0 in the 5th. My problem is I like both teams almost equally, with a slight edge to the Cardinals from living 11 years in Missouri. Good post! I saw this game you wrote about.

    • Mr Archer profile imageAUTHOR

      Mr Archer 

      2 years ago from Missouri

      Larry it was an awesome game, and last night's 4-3 win was great also. Cards are playing the Cubs again right now and just took a 2-0 lead in the top of the 5th.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Great overview of what was a wonderful game.

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