It was a night of firsts, really. It was the first win for manager Mike Matheny. The first hit for Carlos Beltran in a Cardinal uniform. The first time a player not named Albert Pujols played first base for the Cards on Opening Day in close to a decade. The first time a player not named Albert Pujols hit in the number three spot in even longer.
Last night, the Cardinals didn't just open up their 2012 season. They didn't just kick off a title defense. Last night the Cardinals began a new era in their long and illustrious history, sans Pujols and without Tony La Russa in the dugout. No Dave Duncan charting pitches in an oversized binder, either.
With all that change, it was remarkably comforting to see that the product on the field doesn't seem to have changed much at all.
The Cardinals looked like they never left, to be honest, picking up right where the 2011 club left off. The offense was relentless, collecting 13 hits on the night, 10 of which came against Marlins ace Josh Johnson. Johnson wasn't particularly sharp, looking rusty in terms of both location and pure stuff, but the Cardinal bats had plenty to do with that.
The number one offense in the National League a season ago looked ready to lead the league again. The four runs was actually not a great outcome, considering the number of baserunners the Cardinals generated on the evening. Sixteen baserunners and just four runs isn't exactly an ideal ratio, but change a few at-bats here and there and the Cards could easily have had twice that number of tallies.
While the offense as a whole looked ready for prime time, there was one member who had a very tough evening. Matt Holliday opened the season in ugly fashion, going 0-for-5 on the night and arguing with the home plate umpire twice on called third strikes. (For the record, I thought Matt had a point. Both of those pitches looked low to me. But, you're not going to win very often against the men in blue.) A Holliday hit or two would have netted a couple more runs as well, as both Rafael Furcal and Carlos Beltran were on base multiple times.
The real star of the night, though, was Kyle Lohse. He looked every bit the part of an Opening Day starters, painting corners and inducing weak contact all game long as he took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning. He didn't strike out many, but he didn't have to. The Marlins swung early and often at what he was offering, and what he offered were easy outs. It was a beautiful performance. If Kyle Lohse pitches even half as well the rest of the season as he did the first time out, the Cardinals are going to win a ton of games this year.
Only Angel Hernandez, doing his Angel Hernandez impression (also known as The Worst Umpire in The Game Impression), was able to actually get the Marlins on the board, blowing the call at first on what should have been an inning-ending double play.
All in all, it was everything a Cardinal fan could have hoped for out of this team. The offense looked to be in midseason form already, filling the bases all game long, David Freese struck fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers, the starter gave seven plus innings of brilliant pitching, and the bullpen came in and shut the door. Jason Motte threw in the high-90s, Marc Rzepczynski struck out a right-handed hitter on a slider in the dirt. It looked very much like October 2011 all over again.
Best of all, we didn't have to see that effing sculpture/water feature/Cirque de Soleil prop department surplus thing the Marlins have in the outfield go off. Thank god.
One game down, 161 to go. Hopefully they all go just like the one last night.