ST. LOUIS — Life without Yadier Molina behind the plate did not start well for the Cardinals on Thursday night at Busch Stadium.
On the day they learned their All-Star catcher will miss eight to 12 weeks because of a torn ligament in his right thumb, the Pittsburgh Pirates added to their misery with a 9-1 victory that kept the Cardinals from sweeping the four-game series.
"It was a tough night for our club," manager Mike Matheny said. "We just didn’t look right from the beginning."
Was that because of the loss of Molina?
"I hope not," Matheny said. "It’s not the first time we realize that one of our guys is down. That’s just the nature of the game. It’s a matter of whether they let that in or not. There’s going to be people to make more of it than what we need to."
It would have been difficult for even Molina to turn around their effort in this one. The Cardinals managed only six hits against right-hander Edinson Volquez, who came into his 14th career start against the Cardinals with a 5.58 ERA. He finished with his first complete game of the season and only the second in 172 career starts.
"He kept us off balance and had command of all his pitches," Matt Carpenter said. "Whenever a guy has that, he’s going to be very tough."
Tony Cruz, who figures to handle most of the catching duties in Molina’s absence, did not distinguish himself in this one. He allowed a passed ball with a runner on third, watched Andrew McCutchen steal two bases (though those were on Miller) and went 0 for 3 at the plate.
— Cardinals’ place in the standings. A victory would have allowed the Cardinals to start their weekend series at Milwaukee just one game behind the division-leading Brewers. But given they trailed by 6 1/2 games just more than a week ago, the Cardinals aren’t disappointed to have closed the gap to two games. It will take a sweep for the Cardinals to go into the All-Star break in first place. It’s possible; Milwaukee has lost five straight and eight of its past nine.
— Kolten Wong. After homering in the previous two games, the rookie second baseman used his speed to manufacture the Cardinals’ only run. He bunted for a hit, stole second, went to third on a sacrifice and then scored on a sacrifice fly to tie the game, albeit briefly, in the third.
— A bizarre forceout. Carpenter’s play — or misplay — on an attempted sacrifice resulted in the rare 5-8 force at second base. With runners on first and second in the sixth, Carpenter — who also drove in a run and got one of the Cardinals’ five hits — let a popped-up bunt drop so he could go for a double play. One problem: He forgot that no one would be covering second base. Center fielder Jon Jay came to the rescue, though. Backing up the play, he caught the ball in shallow center and outraced Jordy Mercer to second for the force.
— Shelby Miller. Anyone who thought Miller had found his stride with that shutout at Toronto early last month can rethink. He’s made six starts since and only one has been solid. His control and, at times, his focus were lacking against the Pirates. He managed to battle through the first four innings before his night came apart. In the fifth, he walked three, gave up three runs and threw 35 pitches. Miller, who has dealt with back issues lately, had to be checked out in the fifth but stayed in the game. He said afterward he was fine physically but grimaced more out of frustration, likely because of his mechanics.
"When things start to fall apart, he’s lost his balance point," said Matheny, agreeing that Miller’s mechanical issues led to a lack of command. "He’s kind of falling all over the place. His mechanics do fall apart."
— Tyler Lyons. He got off to a rough start in his first outing after nearly two months on the disabled list. Lyons made fielding misplays on the first two batters he faced, both reached and it went downhill from there. He was touched for four runs in the inning, though only one was earned because of his miscues. Lyons rallied and followed with two scoreless innings to relieve some pressure off a bullpen that has been busy lately.
— Jon Jay. He made a defensive play to remember on the 5-8 force, but he will want to forget his offense in this game. In three at-bats, six outs were made. He grounded into double plays in the fourth and seventh and was the strikeout victim on a strike-’em-out, throw-’em-out double play in the second.