There has to be a voice somewhere in the back of Jack Flaherty’s mind asking about what could have been, both for him and the St. Louis Cardinals.
After going 74 days between starts, Flaherty looked like he hadn’t been away at all, going six strong innings and striking out five, walking none, and allowing only two hits and no runs, as the Cards won their fourth game in a row.
The victory pushed St. Louis to three games over .500 for the first time since June 5.
Jack Flaherty, 94mph Paint. 🖌️🎨 pic.twitter.com/tG7M4qeWU0
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 14, 2021
“I just didn’t try to do too much tonight,” Flaherty said. “Once I got that first strike in there everything felt normal. I missed competing with these guys and being a part of the team was what I missed the most.”
“Jack was in control and he hit right where we wanted with his pitch count,” said Cardinals manager Mike Shildt. “It was a perfect outing and we’re glad he’s back.”
When he walked off the mound after throwing for five innings on May 31, Flaherty was 8-1 with a 2.90 ERA, and the Cardinals were 30-24, good enough to be sitting in first place in the National League Central.
Flaherty was leading the NL in wins, and hadn’t allowed more than three earned runs since Opening Day.
Between April 7 and May 19, he won eight consecutive starts. Outside of maybe Jacob deGrom, no one was handling hitters as effectively as Flaherty.
St. Louis seemed like a lock for the postseason, and the Black Ace was an early frontrunner for the Cy Young Award.
On The MLBBro Show Podcast week 4’s Black Ace ♠️ report @FANalyst1 is shouting out @Cardinals Jack Flaherty and thinks he might be a Cy Young Winner. Check out https://t.co/d5pfLsCroD for the full episode and comment below to let us know what you think. @Jack9Flaherty #STLFLY pic.twitter.com/L7E4CSlfMq
— MLBbro.com (@MLBbrodotcom) May 19, 2021
Then came the left oblique strain that took the Ace right out of the deck.
By the time he was activated from the 60-day injured list on Friday,
Flaherty was returning to a team now 10.5 games back in its division and tied with the New York Mets for sixth place in the Wild Card chase.
It won’t be easy for the Cards to make a playoff push, though they face divisional foes Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee, in 16 of their next 20 games. That’s an opportunity to quickly make up some ground in the Central and pull closer to the postseason pack.
Flaherty can help lead the charge, but he’s going to be smart during his return. He’s not the savior, but hopefully his return signals the start of a turnaround in St. Louis.
“I’m not looking to say that me making one start is going to sparkplug this team,” said Flaherty. It’s going to take a whole group and a whole collective effort.
“I’m just looking to go out and compete every five days and try to win as many ball games as I can.”
If the end of his season looks like the start, he can still rack up some W’s, give fans a reason to come to the ballpark and set the tone for 2022.
Welcome back Jack.