While the World Baseball Classic has been a success for the Cardinals, the Japan-Mexico semifinal was not their best showing
Outfielder Lars Nootbaar clearly is one of the most identifiable St. Louis Cardinals on a non-U.S. roster for the World Baseball Classic. His pepper grinder celebratory move is all the rage among his teammates, and his Noot nickname has brought Pingu the Penguin and his signature sound fully into the public's consciousness.
The love for Nootbaar was on full display Monday night in Samurai Japan's instant classic WBC semifinal against Mexico.
While Japan won the game in dramatic fashion via a two-run, walk-off double by Munetaka Murakami to drive in Shohei Ohtani and pinch-runner Ukyo Shuto, Nootbaar had a fairly quiet game, going 0-for-3 with two walks out of the leadoff spot.
But his team won, so it all worked out for the pepper grinder aficionado. On the other side, things weren't nearly as jubilant, as Team Mexico blew two leads to go home empty and leave their fans, which outnumbered Japan's supporters in the stadium at least 4:1 by the eyeball test, bitterly disappointed. And the causes of those meltdowns were two relievers employed by the St. Louis Cardinals.
JoJo Romero, who came to St. Louis at last year's trade deadline in a swap with the Philadelphia Phillies that sent infielder (and now outfielder) Edmundo Sosa to the Phils, was the first Cardinal to record a blown save. Coming on in relief of Jose Urquidy, who recorded the first two outs in the bottom of the seventh before a single to Kensuke Kondoh, Romero walked Ohtani before surrendering a three-run blast to Masataka Yoshida that just stayed fair down the right-field line and knotted the game at 3-3.
After Mexico re-took the lead in the top of the eighth by plating a couple of runs and Japan cut the lead to one in the bottom of the frame, Giovanny Gallegos took the ball in the bottom of the ninth to attempt the save. It didn't go well, to put it mildly.
Gallegos surrendered a leadoff double to Ohtani, whose name continues to come up in big situations, and then walked Yoshida. With the speedy Shuto inserted as a pinch runner for Yoshida, Murakami drilled a deep drive off the left-center field wall that brought in both runners and ended the game, sending Japanese fans into a frenzy and leaving Mexican fans to stream out of the ballpark downcast.
For Cardinals pitchers, the result was four runs, three hits, and two walks allowed while recording one out recorded, a 108.00 ERA and a 15.00 WHIP, and two blown saves. And yes, their performances really were as dreadful as those numbers suggest.
On the bright side for the St. Louis faithful, Nootbaar and his Samurai Japan teammates are heading to the WBC title game Tuesday night against Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, and the rest of Team USA. No matter who wins, the Cardinals will have at least one player celebrating a championship, though it also means at least one Redbird has to lose.
Ideally, the game won't be like the U.S.'s 14-2 semifinal victory over Cuba and instead will come close to the Japan-Mexico showdown in terms of drama. Barring a blowout, it ought to be a lot of fun to see which squad emerges victorious.