A return to somewhat normalcy for Opening Day was a whole lot of fun, wasn't it?
From the current red jackets to the near-future red jackets to the down-the-road red jackets, Cardinals fans could not help but feel nostalgic after seeing the entirety of Thursday's spectacle at Busch Stadium in downtown St. Louis.
But I did not return from a two-and-a-half-year hiatus to recap pregame festivities. The Athletic's Katie Woo already did that (subscription required), with significantly more quality than you can reasonably expect from me. I am not here to write about the offense, either, though Tyler O'Neill's emergence has truly been something to behold.
Instead, I dusted off the keyboard in order to digitally drool over a two-pitch sequence thrown by Ryan Helsley in the ninth inning of the Cardinals' Opening Day win over the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates. Josh VanMeter, a 25-percent below-average hitter for his career, proved to be completely overmatched by the 27-year-old Helsley.
After 99.6mph (called strike), 98.9mph (foul), and 87.8mph (ball -- a premium offering that I honestly have no idea how he laid off of; the breaking of his back ankle suggests he was just too fooled to swing if he even wanted to) to get ahead 1-2 on VanMeter, Helsley fired the fastest pitch currently recorded in 2022, at 101.5mph:
(cheers to the guy wearing the red-white-and-blue headband, by the way)
While the location was fairly close to middle-middle, VanMeter sped up his entire hitting mechanics just enough to make contact and keep his at-bat "alive." If you thought a 13.7mph difference from the pitch prior to this one was impressive, you'll be even more impressed by Helsley's put-away curveball:
A drop in 21.7mph, with an entirely different pitch shape, is borderline illegal. VanMeter's timing is geared up for 100+ mph, and the sharp hump out of Helsley's hand could resemble that of a rising, two-strike fastball above the zone. Similar to Adam Wainwright's NLCS curveball to Carlos Beltran, the middle-middle location is immaterial when you consider the pitches thrown immediately prior to this one.
It is this two-pitch sequence that could lead to Helsley's supplanting of Giovanny Gallegos as the Cardinals' primary option for high-leverage situations in 2022. Please note how I worded that: "primary option for high-leverage situations." I hold out hope that the new manager, now that we are in the year 2022, understands the importance that games can be won or lost long before the ninth inning.
First and foremost, though, Helsley must curtail the walk rate he exhibited in 2020 (15.4 percent) and 2021 (13.1 percent). Secondly, this potential role takeover takes into account a healthy, successful transition to the starting rotation by Jordan Hicks.
To better appreciate the differences between these two back-to-back offerings, @cardinalsgifs paired them side-by-side:
And then overlaid them to show just how much VanMeter's timing was impacted by the 21.7mph drop-off in velocity:
The 101.5mph fastball has already begun exiting the field of play as the curveball begins its entry into the hitting zone. VanMeter's complete collapse of his bottom half represents a hitter completely thrown off by the timing difference between the two offerings.
I am downright giddy about what Helsley can bring to the table in 2022. You should be, too.