ST. LOUIS – Cardinals manager Mike Matheny elected to intentionally walk a guy hitting .186 in his last 21 games to face a guy batting .409 in his last six games in the tenth inning of a tie game Saturday night. It didn’t work.
Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki lined a two-out, two-run double into the gap in left center off reliever Fernando Salas after the Cardinals decided not to face the struggling Danny Espinosa and the home team suffered a tough 6-4 loss at Busch Stadium.
The Cardinals trailed 4-0 in the seventh inning before scoring three runs in the seventh and one in the ninth to tie the game. But a walk by Sam Freeman to start the tenth opened the door for the Nationals winning rally and the questionable pitching decision that eventually followed.
The scenario unfolded when Washington had a runner on second base and two outs in the top of the tenth inning with Espinosa due up. The second baseman entered the at-bat with a .186 average (13-for-70) in his last 21 games and had struck out in eight of his last 15 at-bats.
Despite the struggles, Matheny instead decided to walk him and bring up Suzuki, who had nine hits in his last 22 at-bats coming in and was hitting .311 in his last 26 games. A passed ball moved the runners to second and third before the move backfired when the catcher lined a double into the gap to score both runs.
But Matheny pointed to a different set of numbers when explaining his decision after the game. Espinosa was 2-for-4 in his career against Salas with a triple and home run. Salas and Suzuki had never faced each other. Also, Suzuki was just 5-for-41 (.122 avg) with runners in scoring position and two outs.
Asked after the game how he weighed the history between Salas and Espinosa and the two players contrasting cold and hot streaks, Matheny said, “I would say both. I knew 2-for-4 with a homer, a little bit of a history there, no history with Suzuki. That’s our best chance.
“Espinosa has had a strong season. You can also look at the season numbers with Suzuki and guys in that position, scoring position, and our best chance right there was try to get Suzuki out.”
Matheny has had to make plenty of difficult decisions in his first year as a big league manager. And he’s learning to deal with both the positive and negative results that follow.
Saturday’s decision didn’t go his way. And the Cardinals lead for the second wild card spot in the National League dropped to two games with just four to play because of it.