Ponce de Leon played that part in the first inning by striking out three consecutive batters, but he needed only 14 pitches to get those three outs.
A dozen of his first-inning pitches were strikes.
The second and third innings bloated on him, and by the time he struck out Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber to end the third inning, Ponce de Leon had thrown 63 pitches. That had been the witching pitch count for other starters who were pulled from games right around 60. Ponce de Leon pressed on to throw 79 pitches and complete 3 1/3 innings. His seventh strikeout of the game came from the last batter he faced, the one following Heyward’s triple.
The starter came with a personal moment for Ponce de Leon and Cubs catcher Victor Caratini. The two are bonded by a line drive that sent Ponce de Leon to the hospital with a fractured skull and little certainty he’d ever pitch again.
In 2017, while an undefeated starter for the Cardinals’ Class AAA affiliate, Ponce de Leon delivered a fastball that Iowa Cubs catcher Caratini laced straight back from where it came.
The ball struck Ponce de Leon in the temple, leaving a dent he still has.
Ponce de Leon had surgery that even, recovered, and ferociously rehabbed so that by the next spring he was back on the mound and in a game for the Cardinals. He and Caratini developed a relationship through the event – but had never faced each other again until Tuesday night. Both now rooted in the big-league rosters, they’ll face each other often – but the second inning was the first since that liner in 2017. Ponce de Leon got Caratino to fly out to right field, where second baseman Kolten Wong gave long chase to make the catch.