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St. Louis Cardinals: The Bottom of the First

The Budweiser Clydesdales march on Opening Day

Baseball’s opening night is near. But what it will bring? Well, I can tell you exactly how it will unfold, for last night I had a vision that was both clear and true. Shall we begin?

Prologue: The Top of the 1st

‘Tis the 2nd of April in the year 2017; the Day of Fools has passed us by and at long last, baseball’s regular season has reached its genesis. Standing high on the hill is Carlos Martinez. The broadcasters talk at length about the ballyhooed and newly anointed Ace and, theretofore, face of the St. Louis Cardinals. At this time the cameras cut to the disposed, former Ace and current team jester, Adam Wainwright. Being privy to the situation, he was already playing peak-a-boo with the television cameraman from behind the wide body of an unassuming Lance Lynn. Back on the field, Carlos’ adversaries are the newly crowned victors of the baseball world (perhaps the non-baseball world as well), the Chicago Cubs.

Kyle Schwarber steps in against Carlos. The broadcasters praise his perceived skills and the genius of Joe Maddon. Carlos gets him to pull a ground ball between the first and second basemen. It’s not a routine play, but one that should be made. Wong scoops it and retires him at first. A man in a bow-tie looks on smiling. The broadcast team quickly feeds viewers a narrative regarding Kolten’s “gold glove potential.” This is just first of 201 times this year that a broadcaster will utter such a thing (112 will come from Al Hrabosky alone). Kris Bryant strikes out on some alto queso (high cheese in Spanish) and Anthony Rizzo hits a groundball to Jhonny Peralta. The fans hold their breath. He then – in a surprising twist – fields it cleanly and completes an accurate throw across the diamond to end the inning.

A Jefferson National Expansion Memorial employee tweets out that “Carbon Dioxide levels in the Midwest have reached an all-time high,” as a massive exhale goes out through Cardinals Nation.

The scorecard turns…It’s the bottom of the inning.

Television viewers are greeted with the image of a blue and grey clad Dexter Fowler rounding first base in reverse as a member of the Chicago Cubs. Back in the present, the latest Benedict Arnold of the rivalry, the Anti-Heyward, steps to the plate. Fowler is facing none other than 2016 Cy Young runner-up, Jon Lester. Fowler works him to a 2-2 count on eight pitches. This can only be described as a Matt Carpenter-style at-bat. Mike Matheny sees this and he is pleased. On pitch number nine he lobs a blooper into shallow center field. The fielder races in and goes into a familiar slide, but alas, Jon Jay can only field the ball on a short hop. Single.

1 On, 0 Out

As Fowler looks on, the broadcasters speak of Lester’s unique inability to throw a baseball to first base. But worry not; they assure us, for it is only another quirk that makes this team so special. Why, it is as harmless as a Joe Maddon custom t-shirt. Dexter is not impressed and he breaks for second base. But hark, it is a hit-and-run! Aledmys Diaz has shot a ground ball into the five-hole. Addison Russell makes a fine backhanded play but, with Fowler already standing at second, he must go the long way to first where Diaz has beaten the throw by a step. Infield single.

2 On, 0 Out

“We-e-l-l-l-l, I got me a gal in Pekin, she’s a good old gal, okay,” sings out a voice from above. John Ulett then confirms what the music of the Turnpike Troubadours had already told us. Stepping to the plate is the long anticipated heir to the 3-spot, Matt Carpenter, finally taking his rightful place. Not to be outdone by Fowler, he works Lester for 12 pitches and 3-2 count. Mike Matheny sees this and he is pleased. On the pitch that matches his jersey number, he drives a ball up the right-center field alley. The traitor, Jason Heyward, gathers the ball as Dexter Fowler scores. He throws to the second baseman, Ben Zobrist, who relays the ball to home plate where Aledmys Diaz has, again, just beaten the throw.

The camera immediately cuts to Javier Baez in the Cubs’ dugout as the broadcasters talk of his boundless defensive abilities. They speculate as to whether the wunderkind could have changed the outcome of the play.

Across the Midwest, to save themselves from nausea, a great many televisions have now been muted. Damage done. Double, two runs score.

1 On, 0 Out, 2-0 Cardinals

Henceforth, we turn to Stephen Piscotty. He is a seemingly square peg in a very round 4-spot. At least he is according to many who desired a more thunderous bat in the cleanup position. Speculation as to whether his gawdy RISP numbers can be sustained crackles across the airwaves. With a swing tweaking spring in the rear view, he wastes no time in driving the first pitch he sees in to right-center field. Matt Carpenter crosses home as Piscotty slides safely in to second. Double, one run scores.

1 On, 0 Out, 3-0 Cardinals

And now the enigma steps in. It’s the x-factor, Randal Grichuk. Before broadcasters can even begin to discuss the greater implications of his position change, he has lined a foul ball into the Cardinals dugout. Jhonny Peralta attempts to dive behind Matt Adams, but his new slight frame gives little protection. Peralta is struck on his left hand (oh the humanity!) and heading for the clubhouse. On the next pitch, Randy lifts a ball deep in to left field. “Get up baby, get up, get up…,” thrills radio listeners. “…It’s off the wall,” bellows Mike Shannon. Piscotty scores as Grichuk strolls in to second. Double, one run scores.

1 On, 0 Out, 4-0 Cardinals

Lester’s frustrations mount as Mr. Intangible, Yadier Molina, takes his turn. 475 fans in attendance lean to their neighbor and speak a sentence containing the words “Carson Kelly.” Another 3630 discuss his contract and Hall-of-Fame candidacy. Molina goes about his workmanlike ways. After taking a few pitches he guides a softly hit ball towards the right field line. Three fielders converge. Though Zobrist draws closest, none have a chance as it falls for a hit. Grichuck is running all the way for he fears not the vaunted arm of Jason Heyward. Mike Matheny sees this and he is pleased. He scores easily from second base. Again broadcasters question whether Baez could have made the catch. With a roll of the eyes, those televisions left un-muted before now fall silent as well. Single, one run scores.

1 On, 0 Out, 5-0 Cardinals

Now enters Jedd Gyorko, batting due to the injury of Jhonny Peralta. He takes two mighty cuts that come up empty. But then, like another mountaineer named Jedd, he strikes it rich on his third try. He crushes a ball with ideal launch angle and exit velocity into left field. It hits high and hard off of an advertisement above the wall and caroms back on to the field. Seeing this, Joe Maddon questions the ruling as the fireworks commence. An already grueling inning comes to a halt as umpires gather. They debate heavily as to which is the left or right side of the headset, eventually determining, incontrovertibly, that the mouth piece goes in the front. The umpires uphold the play. Home run, two runs score.

“I can smell the coffee brewing, heh heh heh…”

0 On, 0 Out, 7-0 Cardinals

Now to the plate is Kolten Wong. Out to prove that he is not a platoon player, he immediately lines a single to right field. Later, during ‘Mike’d Up’, the manager will express how he’d “like to see him take a pitch there.” Nitpicking aside, he now stands at first base with Carlos Martinez stepping to the plate. Lester checks on Wong, yet Wong is not impressed. He wastes no time in breaking for second base, in a show of aggressive baserunning. Mike Matheny sees this and he is pleased. Lester steps off the mound but can do nothing but hold the ball and surrender the base.

Martinez now squares to bunt. Mike Matheny sees this and again he is pleased. The bunt is good but Anthony Rizzo, thinking his skills to be otherworldly, cuts it off and looks to third base. To his shock, Wong is already there and he must simply settle for retiring Martinez at first base. Finally, an out has been recorded.

1 On, 1 Out, 7-0 Cardinals

Lester’s first pitch to Fowler is low. Wilson Contreras fails to use proper blocking technique and instead stabs at the ball. It skips by to the backstop. (Let it be noted that not all players can approach the game in a casual, Carlos Beltran-esque manner.) Kolten Wong races home safely. After another grinding at-bat, Fowler walks on a pitch just outside the strike zone. Since Lester is not impressed by the umpire’s eyesight, he walks very near to home plate and refers him to a skilled optometrist. The broadcasters speculate whether these long at-bats will be addressed in pace-of-play discussions.

Furthermore, somewhere in America Rob Manfred is considering starting hitters with a 1-1 count and instituting foul outs.

1 On, 1 Out, 8-0 Cardinals

Aledmys Diaz again steps to the plate and immediately lofts a routine fly ball to medium left field. The fielder races in fifteen feet before going into a dramatic, yet unnecessary slide to catch the ball. The graphics team refuses to spare those with muted televisions from the horror, as “Kyle Schwarber, gold glover?” flashes across the bottom line.

1 On, 2 Out, 8-0 Cardinals

Finally, after working Lester to another 3-2 count, Matt Carpenter strikes out looking on a pitch squarely located in the right-handed batter’s box. With this the first inning of the of the St. Louis Cardinals’ opening night ends. Cardinals 8, Cubs 0. My dream has ended and I awake.

…but if this was just a dream, how is it that I woke up in this T-shirt…

Cardinals will try to win at home on Opening Night
Courtesy of @cardinalsgifs

P.S. I sprinkled a lot of good links throughout this piece that will take you to several Cardinals articles (old and new) and some that are just for fun, as you get set for Opening Night.

Thanks for reading!

Rusty Groppel
I'm a diehard Cardinals fan that feels privileged to write about his favorite team in this corner of cyberspace. I'm also the bass player for the best damn band in the 618, Tanglefoot. Check us out some time.
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