In the eighth inning of a March 25th spring training game between the Cardinals and Washington Nationals, an interesting sequence of plays took place. If you had been multi-tasking – fixing dinner, washing dishes or playing with dogs – you might have missed it. I nearly did. But when it happened, it stopped me dead in my tracks and put a giant smile on my face.
Sort of like this …..
Here’s what happened.
Kyle Lohse (Cardinals) and Tom Gorzelanny (Nationals) had each given up two runs, and had turned the game over to their respective bullpens.
Cardinals reliever, Fernando Salas, walked the leadoff man in the home half of the seventh inning – and you all know what that means, right ? Yep, a hit and a sac fly later, the Nationals have a 3-2 lead.
Then comes the top of the eighth inning. Nick Stavinoha leads off by grounding out to third. Up to the plate comes Donovan Solano.
Interruption time – Remember when the Cardinals drafted Pete Kozma out of high school in 2007 ? He was supposed to be the future shortstop of the franchise. Part of a core of players including Colby Rasmus who would lead the Cardinals to their next round of championship titles. Well, somebody forgot to tell Donovan Solano.
The book on Solano is that he had a good glove, but can’t hit. Again, somebody forgot to tell Donovan that little fact. That’s OK, Dal Maxvill anchored a marvelous defensive infield for nearly a decade, and he couldn’t hit – except when it counted. But the truth is that Solano can in fact hit, as he proved last September when the Cardinals recalled Tyler Greene just as the Memphis Redbirds were set to play the PCL East division leaders in a do-or-die series. By the end of those four games, we were all saying “Tyler Who ???” – Solano hit and hit and hit all series long.
Back to our game. With one out, Solano singles. Great, tying run is now on base. Tyler Greene follows that with a harmless pop-out on the infield. Two outs.
This is when all eyes, well …. both of them in my case, turned to the video stream on my iPad and watched in amazement. With spring training surprise Matt Carpenter at bat, Donovan Solano goes on first pitching motion and cleanly swipes second base. It was not even close. Somewhere, Whitey Herzog just broke into a big smile (see above graphic).
That, Son, is what we mean by playing like a Cardinal. Sure, the manager called for the steal from the dugout. It’s the fact that Solano knew the game situation with Carpenter at the plate, and he executed a perfect stolen base to give his team a chance to win. And it almost worked out as Matt Carpenter hit a line drive to left-center field that looked like a gapper off the bat . It took a shoestring catch by Roger Bernadina to keep the game at 3-2 Nats. It was a great hit, but an even better defensive play.
Neither Carpenter nor Solano are likely to make the 2011 Cardinals out of spring training. That means that both will be making their way back to Memphis to start another season of baseball in the Pacific Coast League.
Let this be a notice to the other teams in the PCL – the Cardinals farm system may not get much respect because there are no Jason Heywards or Mike Stantons on the horizon, but they do play as a team. Thanks to Springfield manager Pop Warner and Memphis manager Chris Maloney, they also play like future Cardinals.