Attention Cardinals Fans: All Hail the (John) King

After a masterful performance against the Phillies on Sunday night, confidence is building in John King.
Baltimore Orioles v St. Louis Cardinals
Baltimore Orioles v St. Louis Cardinals / Brandon Sloter/GettyImages

I’ll be the first to admit, I didn’t believe in John King.

Sure, I was appreciative of what he had done for the Cardinals this year. And yes, his numbers last year after he came over from the Texas Rangers were encouraging. (More on that in a minute.)  But, if I’m being honest, I thought the clock would eventually strike midnight and we would see a decent-at-best reliever for the team.

The clock may still strike midnight.  But after watching King retire the top of the Phillies’ order on five pitches in a pivotal ninth inning to help the Cardinals avoid a sweep? Yeah, count me in as a believer.

Yes, this Cardinals-Phillies contest was an early June affair, with plenty of season left. But in some ways, the team salvaging a win against the National League’s best team feels like a statement game, a reminder to the rest of the NL Central that the Cardinals aren’t ready to fade after this latest encouraging stretch faced some speed bumps in Philadelphia.

It was hard to be anything but impressed with King’s work.  Facing Kyle Schwarber, Bryson Stott, and Bryce Harper (who had homered off of King the day before) in the bottom of the ninth, King retired the side in five pitches, opening the door for the Cardinals to use the extra-inning ghost runner in the 10th to ultimately come home with a win.  And all of this during a nationally-televised game at a rollicking Citizens Bank Park, where the Phillies had won eight straight.  Impressive enough?

We’re into June now and King, a 10th round pick by the Rangers back in 2017, is sporting a 1.5 ERA in 18 innings pitched.  His WHIP now sits at 0.83 and the homer allowed to Harper in game 2 of the series was only his second of the year.

When the Cardinals traded Jordan Montgomery and Chris Stratton to the Rangers at the deadline last year, Tekoah Roby was the headline piece, a future starter who some Cardinals fans saw as a potential ace if they squinted hard enough.  Thomas Saggese only added to the shine of the haul after he did nothing but hit, hit, and hit some more in the minors.

And John King, the almost-forgotten last piece of the trade? All he did last year is appear in 18.2 innings as a reliever in the majors, piling up a 1.45 ERA and allowing one homer.  Eerily similar to his first 18 innings this year. 

Of course, it was easy to write off his performance last year.  It was only 18 innings (and change) of work for a team that was treading water on its way to a last-place finish.  St. Louis is often a pressure environment but can anyone realistically say they were closely following King’s every appearance?  I, and I’m sure many others, wondered how he would do during a season with meaning.

It’s only been 18 innings this year, too.  And sure, questions remain.  Will King’s numbers last? Can he remain an effective tool in this bullpen?

I used to think no but after that masterful performance against the Phillies, it’s becoming harder to doubt The King.