One of the things I hope to do on this site is talk about turning points and key moments in games. Sometimes, there are subtle things that go unnoticed that affect the outcome of a game, positively or otherwise. I look for those moments in every game I watch, and I love to make note of them. I will use this time and space to talk about them. One such moment occurred in last night's game between my beloved St. Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves. Read on.
. In what was an early game of back and forth momentum, the turning point came in the bottom of the 5th.
Before we get there, lets point out that the Braves took an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second. The Cards would bounce back in the top of the 3rd with a run of their own to tie it up.
In the bottom of the third, Altanta would fight for two runs in front of their home crowd. The second of those two runs deserves some attention, both for the unusual circumstances surrounding it, and for the way it gives shape, meaning, and context to what I am calling the key pitch of the game.
Francouer is on third base with two out. He took third on a ground out to the third baseman, advancing the extra 90 feet on a fielder' choice. With the ball and the third baseman in front of him, this was a risk that not many baserunners would take with what would soon be the second out on the way. He is already in scoring position, and it will still take a hit to score him. Most don't take this chance, because the risk reward is not worth it.
But he took the chance. I was listening on my Satellite radio at the time, and was getting the feed from the Atlanta radio team. They pointed out how unusual it was that Francouer would take that risk, but then pointed out (with what would turn out to be remarkable prescience) that with Wainright on the mound, there was a chance for a breaking ball in the dirt that could score a runner from third. Fat chance, I thought, with Molina behind the plate. I'll be damned if before they got the last words out of their mouth, on the very next pitch, Wainright didn't throw a 55 foot sinking curve that bounced off Molina's chest. It took a quick and decisive action from Francouer to dare to succeed, but he went on first bounce and scored the go ahead run.
Now we fast forward to the bottom of the fifth. St. Louis would explode for four runs, and a two run lead as a result, in the top of the fifth. But as early in the game momentum would shift often, so too would Atlanta again threaten a big inning the bottom of the fifth. Bases are now loaded. Two out. St. Louis up 5-3. 0-2 count on Ross. Wainright misses with a curve - 1-2. Misses with another curve, 2-2 count. He tries a cut fastball that hangs high and outside, Ross lays off and the count is 3-2.
What will he throw? He missed bad with two curves. He threw a shitty cut fastball at 85 miles an hour that also missed bad. Bases loaded now with the runners taking off on his first move. He doesn't want lay in a fastball right down the middle, but he can't afford to nibble either. He remembers not just the two missed curve balls earlier in the count when he was ahead, but also the one two innings earlier which went wild and scored the go ahead run.
This is the pitch of the game. This is the key moment. This is the turning point, one way or the other. And this is where legends build their reputations.
David Ross knew what was coming - he figured like everyone else Wainright HAD to risk a fastball and hope he had more on it than Ross could handle. Which is why halfway to the plate there was a look of utter disgust on his face as he watched a 12-6 curveball drop out of his forehead and buckle his knees as it passed through the strike zone. A called third strike. Carlos Beltran and Brandon Inge both know that feeling of disgust. The umps arm went up, and Molina just jumped up and rolled the ball back to the mound and he and Wainright made their way back to the dugout.
The game would end on that 5-3 score.
One pitch, but my what a pitch.