Note—this was by far the tightest vote of any of the awards, with none of the five choices even garnering 25% of the vote. In the end, it was tied between this game and Armando Galarraga’s Imperfect Game. By unanimous executive decision which will be explained in the final Awards article, we decided to give the nod to this one.
Before the season began, the St. Louis Cardinals were the overwhelming favorites to repeat as NL Central champions. Early on, they played the part, winning seven of their first ten games. Albert Pujols had an OPS north of 1.200, Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter threw four gems in their five starts, and they already had a two game lead in the Central.
The Mets, on the other hand, were trying to put the disaster that was the 2009 season behind them. No one picked them to be particularly competitive, and early on they too played the part, losing seven of their first ten games. Mike Pelfrey started off the year strong, but Johan Santana had scuffled after his strong Opening Day start, giving up five runs in five innings to the Nationals on April 11th.
All that set the stage for the second game of the Mets-Cardinals series on April 17th, when Johan Santana took the hill for New York, looking to rebound after getting shelled by the Nats. Opposing him was Jaime Garcia, who made one start and a bunch of relief appearances in 2008 before missing the entire 2009 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. He made one (very good) start in 2010 prior to April 17th, meaning that game was just his third big league start. What followed, as voted by you and with tiebreaking input by us, was the craziest, most unpredictable game in 2010.
Santana labored early, needing 54 pitches to get through the first two innings, but the Cardinals couldn’t break through before Santana settled in. Garcia on the other hand was brilliant. After a somewhat rocky first inning, he retired the Mets on just nine pitches in the third, eleven in the fourth, and ten in the fifth. He didn’t allow a hit until Angel Pagan led off the sixth inning with a single. In the end, he threw seven innings and gave up just the one hit. Santana went seven innings as well, and struck out nine while allowing four hits.
With his number eight hitter making the last out of the seventh, Tony La Russa went for the first of many substitutions on the night, this one a triple switch: he pulled Garcia in favor of Brendan Ryan, who went to shortstop, moved Felipe Lopez (who started the game at short) over to third, and starting third baseman David Freese was pulled in favor of reliever Kyle McClellan, who tossed two scoreless innings. In the meantime, the still scoreless game headed for extra frames.
After an uneventful top of the 10th, La Russa pulled center fielder Colby Rasmus, who was 0 for his last 16 in favor of Joe Mather, and with runners on first and second, two outs, and Albert Pujols up, it was Jerry Manuel’s turn for a double switch of his own: He yanked first baseman Fernando Tatis in favor of Alex Cora, and put Fernando Nieve on the mound. Nieve promptly walked Pujols, but was able to retire Matt Holliday, and we played on.
After Pagan drew a walk with one out in the 11th, La Russa had had enough of reliever Mitchell Boggs, and he called for the double switch. Trever Miller came on to pitch, Allen Craig took over in left field…and Holliday was removed from the game. In a scoreless game in the 11th, the pitcher’s spot was now protecting Albert Pujols. The inning ended with Pagan getting picked off first.
In the 12th, the Cardinals threatened off Nieve and put runners on first and second with two outs for Pujols. With pitcher Jason Motte standing on deck, Jerry Manuel made the easiest call in the history of calls and ordered an intentional walk. For whatever reason, Motte was allowed to hit for himself. It was only the second plate appearance of his career. Shockingly, he struck out.
In the top of the 13th, Mets catcher Rod Barajas singled, and, because he had been catching for 12 innings already, Manuel pinch ran for him. His choice of pinch runner? John Maine, the next day’s starter. At that point (two outs in the 13th), La Russa pulled Jason Motte in favor of Dennys Reyes. Remember, Motte had been allowed to hit for himself with the bases loaded in the previous half inning, and now he was being pulled with two outs and a guy on first.
In the bottom of the 14th, the Cardinals threatened again, this time with second and third and no one out. Hisanori Takahashi proceeded to bear down and strike out Schumaker and Ludwick, bringing up Pujols again with a pitcher standing in the on deck circle. Again Pujols was intentionally walked, again the pitcher (Blake Hawksworth this time) was allowed to hit for himself, and again he struck out. Sometimes you can predict baseball.
In the top of the 15th, with Takahashi coming up to bat, Jerry Manuel sent up another pitcher, Jon Niese to pinch hit for him. He struck out.
In the bottom of the 16th, Pujols was actually pitched to with a runner on first and one out. He came through with a single, sending Hawksworth up to bat again. This time, La Russa sent up a pinch hitter, Bryan Anderson, whose entire body of work in the Major Leagues to that point consisted of a first pitch lineout as a pinch hitter two days earlier. He grounded into a double play, and we continued. To pitch the 17th, La Russa sent out his final reliever, closer Ryan Franklin.
Franklin was then inexplicably pulled after one inning. For the 18th, Kyle Lohse (a pitcher) came off the bench and took over in left field, Allen Craig (who entered the game when Holliday was pulled) moved from left field to right field, Ryan Ludwick moved from right to center, Joe Mather (who pinch hit for Colby Rasmus in the 8th) moved from center to third base, and Felipe Lopez (who started the game at shortstop) moved from third base to pitcher. Got all that? Lopez, a ten year veteran, had never pitched before, but he pitched a scoreless inning, getting around a ten pitch single from the opposing pitcher, Raul Valdes.
In the 19th, Lopez was apparently tired out by his inning on the mound, so he moved back to third base and Joe Mather (who had also never pitched before) took over. After two walks (one of them intentional) and a hit batsman, Jeff Francoeur hit a sac fly, scoring the first run of the ballgame. After another intentional walk, Mather got Raul Valdes to ground out. Now that the Mets had the lead, closer Francisco Rodriguez would see some action.
Rodriguez however, had warmed up approximately two dozen different times during the game, and by the time he finally came in, he was gassed. He walked Ryan Ludwick to lead off the inning but was bailed out by Ludwick getting caught stealing second. Albert Pujols doubled, was moved over to third by Kyle Lohse’s groundout (Lohse is a pitcher, but he had been playing left field since the 18th), scored on Yadier Molina’s single, and we went on to the 20th.
11 pitches later, the Mets had the lead again as Mather once again couldn’t hold down the fort, and starter Mike Pelfrey came on to close the game out. 6 hours and 53 minutes after it started, Ryan Ludwick grounded out to second to finally end it with Albert Pujols standing on deck. Congratulations to the Mets and Cardinals, you played the most unpredictable game of 2010.
(If you don’t know how to read this, see our explanation)
Of the 50 players on the two active rosters, 46 saw playing time. For St. Louis, only Chris Carpenter (who started the previous day), Adam Wainwright (who started the next day), and Brad Penny (who started the day after that) sat out, while the Mets benched only Oliver Perez.
As hilarious as it is that Perez was the only Mets player to not see action in the game, there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for it (other than “he’s Oliver Perez”)—he had started the previous day. He pitched pretty well, too (6.1 innings, 1 earned run).
Despite winning the game, the Mets managed only nine hits in 20 innings. Jose Reyes, Jason Bay, and Jeff Francoeur all went 0-7.
There were six sacrifice bunts in the game, and only one was by a pitcher. Speaking of pitchers, they came to the plate nine times.
Allen Craig, who entered the game in the 11th, got four at bats.
The two teams were a combined 1-25 with runners in scoring position and left 35 men on base.
As per the title, a closer (Rodriguez) got the win, a position player (Mather) got the loss, and a starter (Pelfrey) got the save. After the game, Mike Pelfrey led the Mets in both wins and saves.