Friday night's game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium should be sponsored by the letter K, because there figures to be more than a few strikeouts.
If young right-handers Walker Buehler of the Dodgers and Jack Flaherty of the Cardinals pitch on Friday as they did Aug. 22 when they faced each other at Chavez Ravine, runs and solid contact might be at a premium in a game dripping with pennant-race pressure.
Buehler (6-5, 3.09 ERA) fired seven shutout innings in that game against the Cardinals last month, permitting just three hits and two walks while whiffing nine. Flaherty (8-6, 2.92) owned a no-hitter until Joc Pederson cracked a solo homer with one out in the bottom of the sixth. It was the only hit Flaherty, who walked two and fanned 10, allowed in six innings.
Los Angeles' bullpen gave it up in the last two innings that night. Tyler O'Neill clouted a pinch-homer off Scott Alexander in the eighth and Paul DeJong drilled a tie-breaking two-run shot off Kenley Jansen in the ninth to give St. Louis a 3-1 win that polished off a series sweep.
The Cardinals (81-66) lead the Dodgers (80-67) by one game in the race for the National League's second wild-card spot, thanks to Los Angeles' 9-7 win Thursday night. The Dodgers led wire-to-wire, including 8-1 at one point, yet couldn't really exhale until Matt Adams grounded out to first as the potential tying run to end the game.
Manny Machado starred for Los Angeles with three hits, including a double and his 34th homer of the year in the seventh inning.
"I just tried to go up there and be myself, have quality at-bats," Machado said to Sportsnet LA. "Every out, every pitch from now on counts. One play can turn things around, so we have to be on top of it. We did everything we needed to do today."
The Dodgers, who at times have experienced terrible difficulties hitting with runners in scoring position over the last month, set the game's tone with a great at-bat in that situation in the first inning. David Freese taxed rookie left-hander Austin Gomber for 14 pitches, fouling off nine of them, before lacing a two-run triple down the left-field line.
Freese, who gets cheered during every at-bat in St. Louis because he was the 2011 World Series Most Valuable Player for the Cardinals, was acquired just before the Aug. 31 waiver deadline from Pittsburgh.
"It's always great coming back here and seeing the fans," Freese said. "I'm excited to be a part of this. I'm on the back end of my career, sitting at 35 years old."
One of Freese's former Cardinals teammates made his way back into the lineup Thursday night for this big series. All-Star catcher Yadier Molina (hamstring) missed six games, and probably isn't 100 percent, but St. Louis wanted him back in there.
The Cardinals plan for him to catch every game in the series except for Saturday, which is a 12:05 p.m. start after the Friday night game.
"He's very confident he can regulate himself in what he's doing so not to have a setback, which we clearly don't need," St. Louis manager Mike Shildt said of Molina.