photo: Kevin Herget (Memphis Redbirds)
Editor’s note: This guest column was written by John Baker, a long-standing member of The Cardinal Nation’s very active message board community, where he is known as “14NyquisT”. I liked it, so I decided to share it with you.
By John Baker
The most exciting game in 2017 in the entire St. Louis Cardinals organization was played on September 14th. The Triple-A Memphis Redbirds were home to the El Paso Chihuahuas in the pivotal second game of the Pacific Coast League Championship Series.
As many know, Manager Stubby Clapp’s Redbirds had cruised through the regular season, winning the division by 22 games (91-50). On the other hand, El Paso finished just four games over .500 (73-69), but had beaten Reno in their initial play-off series. Memphis was coming off a set with Colorado Springs having scored 39 runs in the last three games.
The El Paso series was to begin on September 12 following an off-day, but the opener was pushed back a day due to rain. Dakota Hudson then pitched Memphis to a 6-4 Game 1 win.
By the time the post-season had arrived, the Redbirds rotation had completely turned over from July – when it consisted of Luke Weaver, Marco Gonzales, John Gant, Jack Flaherty and Mike Mayers. By play-off time, the starting five was Hudson, Zac Gallen, Matt Pearce, Ryan Helsley and Kevin Herget.
Because of the rain-out, the Redbirds had to go with all five starters – and it so happened that Game 2 was Herget’s turn to get the ball. He might have been skipped had the series gone according to schedule. A swingman, Herget had started nine games at Triple-A with a modest 4.62 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. The right-hander had pitched in the opening round of the play-offs and lost 5-0.
Down 0-1 in the series, El Paso would need a victory to avoid having to win the last three games of the set at home. They had their ace going, Bryan Rodriguez, winner of six of his last seven decisions and with a 3.34 ERA over his last 10 outings. As a make-up game, the start time was noon on a Thursday. Schools were in session, so the attendance figure was low at 3,750.
The game had gone 7 1/2 innings with no score when the starters were replaced. Rodriguez had given up just four hits. Herget not only matched him but had completely dominated, pitching eight innings on four hits with an amazing 15 strikeouts. In fact, Herget had pitched the best game for Memphis over its entire season based on his 93 game score. Certainly, none was more important.
With the game in the hands of the bullpens, the Redbirds offense had its chances to score. In the eighth, Breyvic Valera hit a two-out double, but was stranded. In the ninth, Adolis Garcia singled with one down, and in the 10th, Wilfredo Tovar’s lead-off single went for naught when he was erased trying to steal.
Meanwhile, Mayers pitched through the ninth and 10th before Sean Gilmartin started the 11th. After he yielded a two-out single, Rowan Wick took over. The runner was stranded on first due to an inning-ending strikeout.
With one out In the home half of the 11th, Aledmys Diaz reached with a single. After a strikeout, Garcia launched a two-run walk-off bomb to left-center, giving Memphis the 2-0 win and a 2-0 lead in the series.
So what? The Redbirds were the heavy favorites to win the title, you say. As it turned out, the Chihuahuas wouldn’t go away. With play heading to Texas, El Paso battled back to knot the series at 2-2 with another shutout win, 3-0, on Friday and a 5-1 victory on Saturday.
That set up the decisive Game 5 on Sunday. Patrick Wisdom’s two-run homer in the fifth was the difference in the 3-1 Redbirds win to wrap up the League Championship. Starter Pearce allowed just one run on five hits, striking out eight over six innings.
Yet, the pivotal moment of the series was Herget’s Game 2 outing. Despite his name not appearing on top prospect lists, for one day, the 26-year old was the top pitcher in the organization.
Some pitching gems across the Cardinals system over the course of the 2017 season:
6-10-17 Carlos Martinez – 9IP 4H 0R 11K
7-18-17 Michael Wacha – 9IP 3H 0R 8K
9-14-17 Kevin Herget – 8.0IP 4H 0R 15K
4-17-17 Jack Flaherty – 7.2IP 2H 0R 9K
5-26-17 Matt Pearce – 9.0IP 4H 0R 6K
4-19-17 Junior Fernandez – 8.0IP 1H 0R 6K
5-20-17 Mike O’Reilly – 8.1IP 1H 0R 10K
6-10-17 Austin Sexton – 7.0IP 1H 0R 10K
6-30-17 O’Reilly – 8.0IP 2H 0R 9K
7-10-17 O’Reilly – 9.0IP 1H 0R 12K*
6-25-17 Daniel Castano – 8.0IP 4H 0R 9K
8-26-17 Johan Oviedo – 8.0IP 2H 1R 9K
* highest game score = 104
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