Friday, April 28, 2017

Toronto Blue Jays at St. Louis Cardinals - April 25, 27 (2), 2017

I've been to Busch Stadium on several occasions but never posted any details about it here. The last time was in 2013 when the Cardinals had a late-season game against the Nationals, but that was in the middle of my NFL trip, so I didn't have time to fully explore the venue. This time, with the Jays in town for a three-game set, I had ample opportunity to visit all corners of the stadium and offer a review here.

The third incarnation of Busch Stadium opened in 2006 and has seen a couple of World Series titles in that time, including in its first season. That makes 11 for the franchise, second most in major league baseball, and the years of these championships can be found in various places around the stadium. The Cardinals also have a rich history of stars, and there are a number of statues out front of the main entrance, including George Sisler, Lou Brock, Stan Musial, Ozzie Smith, and Red Schoendienst (below).

Just across the street is Ballpark Village, mostly a collection of bars, including Fox Sports Midwest Live, which is actually in the middle of the building and not a separate room of its own. Seems like a decent place to stop before or after the game. The Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum is also here, though it costs $12 to enter and see all the history here. The lack of pictures will tell you that I did not bother to see more Cardinal success after the DH sweep.

On the east side of the stadium is a long walkway with past accomplishments inlaid and surrounded by bricks that fans purchased during the construction of the stadium. As most fans come from the west, this area is often missed, so make sure to tour the entire outside of the ballpark.

Because there is so much history on display in the museum, the inside of the park has little more than the retired numbers and World Series championship years, but there is a wall with posters of the program covers from each of those World Series on the 2nd floor in the left field corner.

The Cardinals draw very well, with all three games announcing attendance over 40,000. Of course, that is tickets sold, but they still do a good job packing the park. The concourses are generally wide enough, but there are a few slow spots even 30 minutes before the game. Gates open 90 minutes before first pitch on a weekday and two hours on weekends, so get there early if you want to tour.

Below are a few pictures from various areas of the ballpark, walking clockwise from the left field corner.

The main scoreboard rises above center field and below is the scoreboard patio, one of several social sections where fans who are not so interested in the game can chat with their friends and have a few beers. More and more parks are adding these areas, which makes me happy because it means that fans who before would be yakking it up in the seating bowl are now confined to an area well away from those who want to watch the game.

The batter's eye is a patch of grass just next to a section called Homer's Landing.

The view from Homer's Landing. Note the asymmetrical design on the upper deck.

The Field Box seats stretch beyond the bases to where the sections start to turn to face the infield.. All seats are padded in these sections and ushers are a bit more serious about checking tickets here.

As you come around to first base, you get your first shot of the view with the Arch in the background, one of the best scenes in sports.

Upper deck tickets here are great for this view alone, especially behind home plate.

Even lower down, the view is quite nice.

If you are worried about being rained on, the last few rows of the lower level are covered by the overhang from the next level up.

Tickers vary in price, and the secondary market was very cheap for the Jays games, but we used the First Pitch Promotion for a couple of games. This is where you show up to the stadium in the morning and pay $11.20 (KMOX 1120 sponsors this promotion) for a pair of tickets in a random location that are handed out to you 15 minutes before first pitch. You must enter the stadium immediately so you cannot resell the tickets. This is not ideal if you want to tour the entire venue, but if you don't mind getting to your seat just as the game is starting and enjoy the vagaries of the lottery system, it can be fun. Once we received tickets in the last row of 160 down past third base, the other time was in 448 near the top along third base. We did not sit in either section; for the first game we had bought $3 tickets in 355 and used those, for the second we moved around, ending up in 355 again as we had gotten to know the usher, who was quite informative about the city and team. This also allowed me to take another picture of the wonderful view, this time at dusk.

Overall, Busch Stadium is one of MLB's finer ballparks. It is easily accessible by the light rail system that also serves the airport, thus a car is not necessary here. There are healthy and affordable food options, though St. Louis most-loved (by me at least) delicacy, toasted ravioli, is not served for some odd reason. But what really makes this place special is the fans; they show up in droves for every game and each and everyone wears something red. They are also friendly and knowledgeable, taking pity on us Jays fans after their terrible start. Cardinals Nation is the term used to describe these fans and it includes Arkansas, western Tennessee and Kentucky, southern Illinois, and parts of Indiana, Iowa and Oklahoma, along with most of Missouri. This wide range stems from the fact that the Cardinals were the furthest team to the west and south until the Dodgers and Giants moved to California, and that fan base has remained strong. Having all of their minor league franchises in the area helps build loyalty as well. If you haven't been, you should go this year, and make sure you wear red to fit in.

The Games

The Blue Jays came in at 5-14 and pretty much out of playoff contention in April. Injuries and a lack of depth have doomed them, and I feared a sweep, but St. Louis was also struggling at 9-10. In the first game, Toronto took a lead on three occasions, only to have St. Louis tie it up each time. The highlight was the diving slide by Chris Coghlan that gave the Jays a 3-2 advantage in the 7th. That lead was extended when Kevin Pillar scored on an error, but shortly thereafter Jose Martinez hit his first major-league homer, a two-run shot off Joe Biagini, spoiling the win for Marco Estrada. Jose Bautista singled home Pillar in the 9th to make it 5-4, but Roberto Osuna could not hold the lead, giving up a 2-out single to Dexter Fowler that sent the game to extras. In the 11th, pitcher Marcus Stroman pinch hit and doubled, the first extra-base pinch hit for a pitcher since 1971 and the first ever pinch hit by a Blue Jays pitcher. With two out Steve Pearce grounded to short and it looked like the rally would fizzle, but Aledmys Diaz threw wild and Stroman scored. It was the fourth error on the night for St. Louis, and they could not dig themselves out of yet another hole as Ryan Tepera got Martinez to fly out with the tying run on second to seal the win for the Jays.

After a rainout on Wednesday, we had a split doubleheader on Thursday. Mat Latos started for Toronto in the afternoon game and was great, going six shutout innings as the Jays built a 4-0 lead. But the bullpen gave up a run in the 7th and another in the 8th, and Osuna came in for the save in the 9th. With one on and two out, Randal Grichuk hit a deep fly ball that cleared the fence and tied the game. A disastrous display by the bullpen as a whole, who needed to keep their innings down with another game that night, not to mention protect the win for Latos, who at least showed he might be a serviceable starter. Still, Grichuk's swing ended Toronto's season for all practical purposes. Two innings later, Matt Carpenter hit a grand slam as St. Louis completed the comeback 8-4.

The final game featured AAA starter Casey Lawrence taking on Adam Wainwright. Lawrence should not be wearing a major league uniform, and he gave up three runs in the first and then singletons in the next three frames. Kendrys Morales hit a 3-run shot to make it respectable, but the Cardinals bullpen did not allow another run as the Cardinals won both halves of the DH. Just an ugly day all around for the Blue Jays, but at least they captured that opener.


J.P. Howell's ERA went from 54.00 to 81.00 on the Carpenter homer.

The Jays struggled mightily out of the gate last year too, but managed to eke out some wins to stay close until their bats got hot. With Donaldson, Sanchez, and Happ all out this year, those wins are much, much more difficult. It is going to be a long summer in Toronto, and I will get to see much of it on the road, with visits to Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Chicago still to come. Here's hoping they can at least play some entertaining ball the rest of the way.



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