When measuring success through championships, few organizations stand on par with the New York Yankees. The St. Louis Cardinals, however, are one of the few that can.
The Cardinals boast the most championships in the National League with 11 trophies, trailing behind only the American League’s Yankees, whose 27 titles rank first in MLB.
Unsurprisingly, when the league announced that the Yankees would host the Cardinals for a three-game series early in the 2017 campaign, it was time once again for analysts, baseball fans and writers to dig through the rich history between the two clubs.
The Cardinals are one of the few NL teams that hold a winning record against New York in the World Series, having matched up with the Yankees in five different Fall Classics. Since the establishment of interleague play in 1997, the Cardinals have only visited the Bronx once for three games back in 2003. Since then, all of the other 28 teams have visited Yankees Stadium at least once.
For the first time in over a decade, the two teams finally locked horns again on April 14. The Cardinals sent 2015 All-Star Michael Wacha to the mound, opposing Yankees’ import Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka entered the game with a bloated ERA following an uncharacteristically poor start to the season, which saw him getting knocked around in consecutive starts by division rivals Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays.
At first, Tanaka’s poor performance seemed to continue, as Cardinals first baseman Matt Carpenter took Tanaka well over the right-field bleachers for a two-run home run and an early St. Louis lead.
The Yankees would quickly respond in their half of the first, as former Chicago Cub Starlin Castro took Wacha over the right-field scoreboard for a game-tying two run homer of his own. The Yankees would grab the lead in the second inning when Austin Romine–the backup catcher thrust into a starting role following the injury to young phenom Gary Sanchez–drove a Wacha fastball onto Yankee Stadium’s infamous short porch in right field for a solo home run and a 3-2 Yankees lead.
The Yankees would take advantage of the Cardinals’ sloppy defense in the third inning for a fourth run. Following a double to the right by third baseman Chase Headley, center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury was held at third by coach Joe Espada. When Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong’s relay throw sailed past veteran catcher Yadier Molina, Ellsbury took off for the plate.
This error would prove to be the difference, as Tanaka would settle in to toss 6 1/3 innings of three-run ball while the Yankees’ bullpen would slam the door shut for a 4-3 win.
The two teams were on short rest, forced to regroup quickly for a Saturday afternoon matinee. This game would be special, as it was played on Jackie Robinson Day in the MLB, a day to remember the icon’s pioneering of breaking the color barrier in baseball. It is celebrated league-wide by all major-league players donning the number 42 on their uniforms for one day.
The Cardinals sent their young ace Carlos Martinez to the mound to be opposed by the grizzled veteran CC Sabathia. Sabathia dominated the Cardinals for 6 1/3 innings, allowing only one run. Martinez put together a unique pitching stat-line, walking eight, striking out 11, but giving the Yankees just enough runs to squeeze out a 3-2 win.
The two teams were featured on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball Game of the Week for the series finale. Veteran and New York nemesis Adam Wainwright would get the call for St. Louis trying to avoid the sweep while Michael Pineda would draw the starting assignment for the Yankees, coming off one of his most dominant outings in pinstripes.
The Redbirds would draw first blood in the second when second baseman Greg Garcia roped a single to right to give the Cardinals an early 1-0 lead. The Yankees would quickly respond in the bottom of the second as Yankees giant Aaron Judge drilled a Wainwright pitch for what appeared to be a two-run home run.
Yet, following a lengthy umpire review, it was determined to be interfered by a fan and Judge was relegated a triple. Yankees first baseman Greg Bird would then make it a moot point on Wainwright’s very next pitch as he drilled a two-run blast high and deep into the right field bleachers for a 3-1 Yankees lead.
Pineda would then settle in to dominate the Cardinals pitching for seven innings of two-run ball. The Yankees would then slam the door on any hopes of a St. Louis comeback in the eighth inning, scoring five runs on a resigning Cardinals’ bullpen. The rout was highlighted by booming two-run doubles by both Romine and shortstop Ronald Torreyes, who sealed the series sweep with a 9-3 victory.
The Cardinals head home beaten and weary with a 3-9 record, their worst start since 1988.
The Yankees on the other hand are flying high, riding a seven-game win streak, their longest streak since a 10-game streak during the 2012 season.
So far, the early returns have been excellent on this crop of Yankees, but only time will tell if this is the group that can return the pinstripes to championship glory.