Cardinals beat Tigers behind Kyle Gibson, late rally

DETROIT — In Tuesday's two pitching tales, it was hard to pick a team. On one side there are flashes of emotion and plenty of hits. The other brings quiet, methodical reliability over bumps.

Of course, Jack Flaherty is well-known to Cardinals fans, who either loved or hated the fiery righty who hung around the hills of St. Louis for parts of seven seasons. Kyle Gibson, an MLB veteran but new to the Redbirds rotation this season, is trending more evenly. Both pitchers were at their best in Game 1 of a doubleheader at UnionSky Park. Although they go about their business in very different ways, they both stay true to their brands.

The starting pitching is impressive and it would be a shame to see either side lose. Thanks to Alec Burleson and Pedro Pagues — and luckily for the Cardinals — neither of them had to do that.

Burleson tied the game with a one-out single in the ninth inning, and Puggs capped off a sacrifice fly in the series opener to lift St. Louis to a 2-1 win over Detroit.

The Cardinals lost 11-6 at bedtime.

“The guys kept saying, 'We're going to find a way to steal this,' and you've got to keep at it,” manager Oliver Marmor said. “… You just have to find a way to get some guys out there and get some big hits before the game is over and we can do that.”

It wasn't until the drama unfolded late in the game that Gibson took responsibility for the loss, not even because he blinked first, but because St. Louis couldn't counter Flaherty.

Gibson's only error in seven innings was a four-seam hit by Riley Green to the center field wall in the fourth. The lanky right-hander has retired all nine Tigers he's faced so far, and he didn't bat an eyelid on the rebound, sitting on the next five Tigers he saw.

Gibson doesn't light up the radar like his opponents do, but the way he hits his target, he doesn't need to. Combining a 92.7 mph fastball against Flaherty's 97-plus mph velocity, Gibson bit the corners and used a powerful sinker to get a season-high nine strikeouts.

While Gibson quietly made his fourth quality start in six tries this season, the spotlight is certainly still on Flaherty. It only makes sense for Detroit's starter to face his former team for the first time and show off a little after the Cards sent him to Baltimore in a deadline trade last summer.

“There was a lot of hope in St. Louis, but things didn't work out,” Flaherty said at the time. “Sometimes, that's just the way it is, and there's nothing you can do about it. Now, we just have to move on.

On Tuesday, Flaherty's path forward will require once again harnessing the magic of the 2019 campaign. He struck out the Cardinals in consecutive starts, tying an American League record and marking the first time in the expansion era (since 1961) that St. Louis had started a game that way.

While Flaherty and his career-high 14 punches couldn't be ignored, Gibson was certainly no slouch either, allowing only two more singles after Greene's homer in the fourth inning to advance to the fourth inning. Seven innings. Trouble came when Gibson got a chance on the mound after walking Carson Kelly with two outs to load the bases.

Gibson earned the right to face off against Mark Canha, but it became clear that the pinch-hitter was Gibson's final battle. After a brief chat about strategy, Marmore trotted back to the dugout to let fate unfold.

Gibson did not disappoint, eventually ending the threat with a sweeper ball past the tenacious Kania. The Cards pitcher then broke out of character, letting out a well-deserved celebratory howl and pumping his fist in victory.

“Being able to hit that extra zero out there really teaches our guys that you can either take the lead with one hit or you can tie the game with just three singles,” he said.

Perhaps inspired by their leader, St. Louis opted for the latter option and kept going in the ninth before adding Puggs' fly sac to take the lead for good.

“[Our] Offensively, they're really good,” Gibson said. “I know they get pushed down sometimes, but they believe in themselves and they never get out of it.”

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