LOS ANGELES — The Cardinals won Tuesday’s middle game at Dodger Stadium, 3-2, on Edmundo Sosa’s go-ahead single in the ninth inning. But it was the Cardinals’ glovework that truly saved the day.
A handful of fantastic plays — including left fielder Tyler O’Neill’s running catch on a Mookie Betts drive to the wall to end the game — made all the difference for St. Louis in the victory over the Dodgers.
“It was remarkable,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I don’t really know how well they defend through the season, but tonight it was a difference-maker. Even that last play that O’Neill made, the game is over and we win the game [if he doesn’t catch it].”
It was a ninth inning to remember for O’Neill, who first set up Sosa’s RBI opportunity in the top of the frame by stealing second base. In the bottom half, with two outs and runners on first and second, Betts drove one toward the corner in left field. O’Neill ran it down expertly, making a jumping grab over his shoulder to take away the game-tying run — and, likely, the game-winning run — from Los Angeles.
“The play, I was just in ‘go get it’ mode, all or nothing,” said O’Neill. “That’s what we train for, that’s why we take reads every day in BP. That’s what we live for, making those catches late in the game.”
O’Neill’s catch was the last of four highlight reel-worthy snags. Second baseman Tommy Edman had a pair of fantastic plays behind starter John Gant. One took a base hit away from reliever Nate Jones in the fifth. The other was an impressive leaping snare of a Max Muncy liner to rob a hit in the sixth inning.
It was center fielder Dylan Carlson, though, who preserved the scoreless outing for Gant. With runners on second and third and two outs in the sixth inning, Carlson’s sliding catch of a Gavin Lux fly ball helped Gant put up yet another zero.
“It was amazing,” said Gant. “Just seeing those guys work is a beautiful thing. What they do kind of allows us to go up there and throw with a little more confidence. Just knowing that we got that elite defense behind us that’s gonna make plays — not maybe they make plays, they’re going to make plays.”
Strong defense is nothing new for the Cardinals. Manager Mike Shildt acknowledged that they have more errors than they’d like this season — 37, most in the NL — but he noted that they were rated much more favorably by FanGraphs’ Defensive Runs Saved metric.
“The last time I checked, that’s the most important defensive metric,” said Shildt. “So we want to do some things a little cleaner, for sure, but let’s appreciate the fact that, at the end of the day, the way we evaluate saving runs is what’s ultimately most importantly, and our group’s done that very well in the last several years and did an exceptionally well tonight.”
In a contest where offense was sparse, and on a night when, for the second consecutive game, a usually reliable reliever gave up a lead, defense was as important as anything else in keeping the Cardinals in it and setting them up to win it.
“We played defense like a World Series champion team today,” said Sosa.