ST. LOUIS — The thing right-hander Merrill Kelly takes the most pride in as a starting pitcher is not strikeouts, not his ERA and not even his win total. Kelly wants one thing above all others — to simply give his team a chance to win the game.
Kelly did that and more on Saturday afternoon, shutting down the Cardinals through seven innings as the D-backs won their second straight, 2-0, at Busch Stadium.
“The day started and stopped with Merrill,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “He was fantastic.”
In three of his five starts this season, Kelly has not allowed a run, and with Saturday’s outing, he lowered his ERA to 1.27.
“The amount of balls I feel like I’ve seen the other team hit hard against him all year is, like, none,” shortstop Nick Ahmed said. “He’s mixing it up really well. Every one of his pitches seems to be moving and located really well. Guys are just off balance. No one’s taking good swings.”
Ahmed played a big role in preventing Kelly from allowing a run thanks to an outstanding play in the sixth inning.
The Cardinals had a runner on third with two outs in the frame when Paul Goldschmidt hit a soft grounder to short. Ahmed charged, snared the ball barehanded and fired it to first, where Christian Walker stretched as far as he could and dug the short-hop throw out of the dirt to nab Goldschmidt by a fraction.
The play was so close, in fact, that the Cardinals issued a challenge, but the call stood.
Ahmed and Goldschmidt played together in Arizona, and they are still close.
“I can’t let Goldy get a hit,” Ahmed said with a smile. “Merrill made a great pitch, and it was a weird check swing kind of awkward bouncing ball, and the guy is on third so, tie game, you’ve just got to come in all out, barehand, throw it to first. Walker made a great pick. Super team effort right there.”
Had Goldschmidt been safe, Edmundo Sosa would have scored from third, and the Cardinals would have been up 1-0.
“That one was a little bit of a roller coaster,” Kelly said of his emotions on the play. “Off the bat, I said, ‘Yes!’ because it was weak contact. Once it got past me and I realized where Nick was playing — he was kind of deep — I said, ‘Uh oh.’ When Nick got the ball in his hand, barehand, I said, ‘OK, we’ve got a chance.’ And when he threw it across, it was a bang-bang play. And from my vantage point, it looked like he got him. Obviously, whenever you see [a challenge] from the other dugout, you worry a little bit that they saw something that maybe I didn’t see, but I mean, obviously there’s a reason why Nick Ahmed has [two] Gold Gloves, and that play right there is an example of it.”
While Kelly was throwing up zeros, so was Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas, who held the D-backs scoreless through seven innings, allowing just two hits heading into the eighth.
With both pitchers throwing strikes and working fast, the game moved quickly.
“It’s fun,” Kelly said. “You know any time the other guy’s putting up zeros and getting in quick innings like he was today, you want to try to go out and match him. You want to try to pitch as well if not better than the other guy. That’s kind of what it’s about. He was putting up zeros. So my goal was to do the same and continue to put up zeros.”
Ultimately, it was Mikolas who blinked first in the pitchers’ duel, allowing solo homers to Ketel Marte and Ahmed in the eighth.