Sonny Gray, Michael Siani carry Cardinals over Orioles

Sonny Gray, Michael Siani carry Cardinals over Orioles
Sonny Gray, Michael Siani carry Cardinals over Orioles

ST. LOUIS — Having spent several months together now, Cardinals ace Sonny Gray and manager Oliver Marmol have seen their communication and trust in one another grow to the point where they often need only gestures — and not necessarily words — to convey their thoughts.

Just last week, when Gray was laboring through a difficult start in Anaheim, Marmol sent pitching coach Dusty Blake to the mound for a chat instead of going himself because he didn’t want the veteran right-hander to think his faith in him was wavering .

On Monday, the communication on us fell on the 34-year-old Gray, who encountered trouble after moving through the Orioles’ lineup with five no-hit innings. When Gray yielded a three-run homer to blossoming star Gunnar Henderson and the inning stretched to 31 pitches — nearly half as many pitches as he had thrown to that point — Gray was honest with himself and his new manager.

That’s when Gray stared into the dugout and used his black glove to move Marmol out to the mound to get him out of the game. There’s a monumental difference between a pitcher being stubborn and aware, and that was a moment when Gray felt like he could be honest with his manager.

“As much as I want to be like, ‘Oh man, I’m tough,’ I just thought [leaving the game] it was the right thing to do,” said Gray, who notched his sixth win of the season in the Cardinals’ 6-3 victory over Baltimore at a steamy Busch Stadium. “I was just kind of saying [to Marmol]’Hey, I’ve got nothing left!’

“That’s kind of the relationship that’s being developed and I was just being honest. I know that Oli has given me some leeway in the last game, and I can honestly tell him that I felt good in those situations. And I can honestly say that I hit a wall there in the middle of that [Anthony] Santander at-bat. Then, after that at-bat was done, I was just being honest.”

Gray got run support on Monday from center fielder Michael Siani, who singled out a run in the second inning and smashed a three-run home run in the fourth for his first MLB long ball and a career-best four RBIs. Because his Statcast-projected 392-foot smash landed in the Cardinals’ bullpen, Siani was able to get the ball from his first big league home run and he plans to give it to his parents, Ralph and Kristen Siani, next week when the Cardinals play in their hometown of Philadelphia.

“I’ve had a couple of close calls, so it was good to finally get one out,” said Siani, who made the Opening Day roster only after injuries to Tommy Edman and Dylan Carlson and has bounced back from hitting .132 in April to hit .341 in May. “When I hit that one, I was like, ‘That’s gotta go!’ And when I saw the guys in the bullpen put their hands up pretty quickly, I figured it was out.”

Gray was out after 88 pitches, but it was the final 31 in that sixth inning that did him in on a muggy night. He breezed through the Orioles’ stacked lineup over the first five innings, racking up six strikeouts and needing just 57 pitches.

Some of the trouble he encountered wasn’t of his own doing. Rookie shortstop Masyn Winn was uncharacteristically tagged for errors on back-to-back plays — a fly ball in shallow left-center that dropped and on a hard-hit grounder. Henderson made the Cardinals pay and ended Gray’s no-hit bid by drilling his fourth home run in as many games and MLB-best 16th this season.

Henderson hit a hanging sweeper from Gray, who used that pitch to make a runner-up finish for the American League Cy Young Award in 2023 with Minnesota. The Henderson homer was the first off Gray’s sweeper since 2022. He entered Monday having thrown 100 sweepers without giving up an extra-base hit, per Baseball Savant. He threw 578 sweepers in 2023 and allowed just four extra-base hits — none of them home runs — making it the game’s most effective pitch of that season, per Baseball Savant.

Gray’s run of success with the pitch hit a snag with the Henderson homer, but it did little to rattle his confidence in using it.

“It’s a good pitch, and I’ve wanted to throw it more and I did use it more tonight,” said Gray, who threw 28 sweepers and got 17 swings and three whiffs.

Marmol was impressed that Gray was cognizant enough of his body and comfortable with his standing to be willing to signal to him that he was done.

“There’s a lot of trust there,” Marmol said. “He’s as direct as anybody. It makes things easier when they are good self-evaluators and they’re aware of the situation and communicate clearly. It goes both ways with us.”

 
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