Birmingham game turns into tribute to Willie Mays

Field Level Media

June 20, 2024 at 10:09 am.

The death of baseball legend Willie Mays heightens the emotions for the special game between the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Ala., on Thursday.

Major League Baseball is staging the game as tribute to Negro Leagues stars such as Mays, who played for the Birmingham Black Barons at Rickwood in 1948 before signing with the Giants.

Mays died Tuesday at the age of 93.

“Obviously, we wish he was here with us to see it, but he’ll be watching over the game,” Giants outfielder Mike Yastrzemski said, according to MLB.com. “It’s definitely one of those times to reflect on the important things in life. He had such an impact on this game and on so many people. To be able to be involved in a celebration for him is an incredibly humbling experience.”

The event gives today’s players an opportunity to reflect on the sport’s history.

“It means the world to me, and to my stepdad, who came into my life early on and taught me about the history of Black baseball players and their significance in our community,” rookie Cardinals shortstop Masyn Winn told MLB.com. “He told me about what it means to represent the African-American community. So playing in this game, it’s going to be amazing.”

The Giants petitioned MLB to activate LaMonte Wade Jr. from the injured list for just one game so he could play in Birmingham, but the request was denied.

San Francisco has lost four of its past six games, including each of the past two after the death of Mays, a franchise legend.

The Cardinals won five of six games through Monday to climb over .500 for the first time since early April, but they also have lost their past two.

The Giants will start Keaton Winn (3-7, 6.66 ERA), who had a no-decision in a loss to the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday in his latest start. The right-hander allowed three runs on five hits, including two homers, in six innings while striking out six and walking two.

In his previous four starts, Winn gave up 24 runs on 23 hits in 12 2/3 innings. He rebounded by mixing an effective splitter with a high-90s fastball.

“Honestly, it was just becoming more synced with myself,” Winn said. “I threw a lot of slide-steps (vs. the Angels), and I think that really helped sync everything up.”

In his one previous career appearance against St. Louis, Winn earned a four-inning save during his major league debut on June 13, 2023. He allowed one run on one hit and three walks while fanning two.

The Cardinals will start Andre Pallante (2-3, 4.61 ERA), who has a 3.63 ERA in four starts after posting a 6.30 ERA in nine relief outings earlier this season.

The right-hander didn’t last long in his most recent start. He allowed two runs (one earned) on five hits in 3 1/3 innings during a 5-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Saturday.

Pallante is 0-0 with a 2.45 ERA in four career appearances against the Giants, all in relief.

The Cardinals’ pitching scenario was complicated by the loss of starter Kyle Gibson on Wednesday. The veteran returned from bereavement leave for his scheduled start against the host Miami Marlins but wound up getting scratched because of back stiffness.

Reliever Matthew Liberatore replaced him in what became a bullpen start. That change could trigger additional moves to freshen the Cardinals’ bullpen, including the activation of reliever Giovanny Gallegos (shoulder impingement) from the injured list.

St. Louis third baseman Nolan Arenado exited the Wednesday game due to a right elbow contusion after being hit in the arm by a pitch. X-rays were negative.

“I feel OK,” Arenado said, according to MLB.com. He added, “Hopefully there’s no (injured-list) stint, but, you know, it’s gonna probably be a few days. So hopefully I can get back Saturday.”