Carlos Martinez is only 22 years old. But he has been a pitcher long enough to know that when he is backing up the plate on a throw home from the outfield, he needs to be behind the catcher instead of in front of him.
This fundamental breakdown was key to a three-run San Francisco Giants eighth inning that helped cost Jaime Garcia and, more importantly, the Cardinals a win Thursday night at Busch Stadium as the Giants boosted the majors’ best record to 35-19 with a 6-5 victory before a paid house of 41,337.
Martinez’s problems in the eighth began when Gregor Blanco singled for the third time as the Cardinals were clinging to a 4-3 lead. Pinch hitter Tyler Colvin popped up before Blanco stole second.
Angel Pagan then singled to center. Peter Bourjos threw home and third-base coach Tim Flannery held Blanco with one out. The ball bounced toward home where Martinez, strangely standing in front of the plate, tried to grab it before it got to catcher Yadier Molina and the ball deflected off his glove as it skipped past Molina.
“Yadier would never been able to see that ball anyway,” said manager Mike Matheny, referring to Martinez shielding his catcher who could have blocked the ball with his shin guards had he had a chance.
Blanco dashed home and Pagan wound up at second on an error to Bourjos, which he didn’t deserve.
“Definitely a weird play,” said first baseman Allen Craig, who had rushed to be in cutoff position at the mound with the ball sailing past him.
Hunter Pence then tapped to Martinez, who almost overthrew Craig at first.
Matheny ordered an intentional walk to hot-hitting Pablo Sandoval, who had homered and driven in a run for the ninth straight game and, unusually, summoned closer Trevor Rosenthal in the eighth to face Michael Morse, who also already had homered.
This time, Morse hit a two-run double to right center and the Cardinals lost a game they probably should have won or at least given themselves a chance to win.
The Cardinals rallied for a ninth-inning run against Sergio Romo, who gained his 17th save but, with .325 hitter Matt Adams unavailable — “unfortunately,” said Matheny — because of a calf injury, pinch hitter Shane Robinson popped up to end the game.
There was no sugar-coating Martinez’s fielding mistake, which won’t show up as his error.
“As soon as that ball is hit, (the pitchers) all know that they’ve got to be behind the catcher,” Matheny said. “And he was in the wrong spot. It ended up hurting.
“I think what he saw was that the runner wasn’t going to go, so he stopped at that point and thought he could get a shorter hop before (it got to) Yadi. He’s an athlete and he wants to be on top of every play.
“But that’s not the right play,” said Matheny.
Martinez wasn’t sharp on the mound either.
“It just comes down to making good pitches,” said Matheny. “But if you get too much of the plate to a good hitter, even with electric stuff it’s going to get hit. And that’s what we saw today. There’s some things he’s going to have to sort through.”
Matheny hadn’t used Rosenthal in the eighth inning of a tie game this year, but with Martinez seemingly frazzled and the game about to get away, he deemed it time and double-switched Rosenthal into the game for second baseman Kolten Wong, whose spot came up in the ninth.
“I was trying to get us out of that,” said Matheny. “We were trying to salvage at that point.”
Rosenthal, detailing the winning hit, said, “I got ahead and then I tried to throw a good pitch down and away and not get too much of the plate and, unfortunately, it was over the plate too much.”
Joe Kelly’s left hamstring strain, which has kept him out since mid-April, is on the mend. But the Cardinals have had the luxury of replacing one of their rotation members with a pitcher who twice has won 13 games in the majors. Garcia, inching closer to form, turned in a strong seven-inning performance in his third start since coming off the disabled list which he had occupied for nearly a year, or since his nettling left shoulder betrayed him to the point he had to undergo surgery.
Garcia allowed two home runs, swelling his total to four, but they all have been solos because he isn’t walking anybody. That means nobody.
Striking out seven in a tidy, 84-pitch effort, Garcia allowed just five hits and raised his strikeout total to 19, compared to no walks for his 19 2/3 innings this year. Twice he has gone seven innings, which is one more time than has Shelby Miller, who has made 11 starts.
While Garcia has returned to prominence after a year off, Craig is returning to his reputation as one of the most dangerous hitters in the league. Driving in at least one run for the eighth game in the last nine, Craig doubled in a run in the first and smacked his sixth home run off Ryan Vogelgsong to snap a 3-3 tie in the sixth.
Bourjos nearly had run the Cardinals into a score in the fifth but was stranded at third.
After Bourjos’ speed forced Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford to throw high to first for an error after Crawford had charged a grounder, Bourjos took off for second as Garcia bunted toward third.
Third baseman Sandoval threw to first for the out. But, even after sliding into second, Bourjos quickly got up and headed for third, which, for the moment, was unoccupied. Crawford ran toward third but first baseman Morse chose not to risk a throw to a moving target and Bourjos was safe without opposition.
But Carpenter’s one-hop smash was gloved by second baseman Brandon Hicks, who held Bourjos at third. Wong walked and then stole his eighth base without a throw. But Matt Holliday popped up.
This might have been the inning that bit the Cardinals.
“When you don’t get the runs out of it, that’s what hurts,” Matheny said. “Heads-up play by Peter. Very aggressive. Good bunt by Jaime to get the ball down. Usually those turn into runs. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get the job done.”
Craig said, “We definitely had a bead on that game. We felt like we were going to win it. But we just didn’t make enough plays.”
Or, over-eager Carlos Martinez tried to make one too many.