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Cards hold off Rox, tighten grip on WC lead

August 24, 2018

DENVER -- As they surged up the National League Wild Card standings in recent weeks, the Cardinals and Rockies appeared primed to enter this pivotal three-game series on a collision course. By the time they met Friday night at Coors Field, the matchup offered a preview of what that do-or-die

DENVER -- As they surged up the National League Wild Card standings in recent weeks, the Cardinals and Rockies appeared primed to enter this pivotal three-game series on a collision course. By the time they met Friday night at Coors Field, the matchup offered a preview of what that do-or-die game, five weeks or so away, could look like.
And by the time it was over, the Cardinals had continued to put space between themselves and not only the Rockies, but the rest of the NL's crowded Wild Card picture. Their 7-5 victory over Colorado pushed St. Louis' winning streak to four, and extended its grip on the first Wild Card spot to 1 1/2 games. The Cardinals are now an MLB-best 18-4 in August.
:: Players' Weekend presented by Valspar Stain ::
"This moment, tonight," winning pitcher Carlos Martinez (Tsunami) said, "felt like a playoff game."
Cardinals Players' Weekend gear
It was Martinez, recast as a reliever for the Cardinals' October push, who showed the type of impact he can provide in his new role should St. Louis get there. Summoned to stop the bleeding after the Cardinals saw their seven-run lead shrink to two by the sixth, Martinez logged 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief in his second such assignment to bridge the gap to Jordan Hicks (Hicks) and Bud Norris (Budman). Four Cardinals relievers combined to log 4 1/3 shutout frames in place of Miles Mikolas, whose first career start at Coors was halted by the Rockies' five-run fifth.
Cardinals' nicknames for Players' Weekend
"We made a decision to go get him some help," manager Mike Shildt said. "It turns into shortening the game at that point, and we have the pieces to shorten it."

That Shildt used "pieces" in the plural is telling. In Luke Weaver (Dream), Tyson Ross (Freeway), Dakota Hudson (Dak) and now Martinez, Shildt has an array of trained starters at his disposal should he need length, or just stuff, in more high-leverage, middle-inning bursts. It's a remarkably different situation than the one he inherited. The Cardinals' most glaring weakness a month ago, their 'pen now profiles as potentially their biggest strength come October.
Cardinals relievers own a 1.86 ERA in August, easily the best mark in the Majors. Turning Martinez back into one essentially gives the Cardinals an ace in the hole to add to that mix. Up and down the Cardinals clubhouse, his teammates used the word "weapon."
"We got the pieces down there, we have the arms and we have the matchups we like," Shildt said. "Carlos, clearly, is going to get leverage situations … whatever the stage, he doesn't mind being on it."

On Friday, Shildt called for Martinez to wiggle out of the first of three high-leverage jams St. Louis relievers would face over the game's final four frames. After Chasen Shreve (Sha-Reef) allowed the tying run to reach in front of Nolan Arenado (Nado) -- who'd homered earlier off Mikolas -- Martinez struck out the MVP candidate, then retired Carlos Gonzalez (CarGo) to end the inning. He ended up striking out three of the five batters he faced, and has now logged two multi-inning efforts in his new role. Both have been scoreless.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
More bullpen maneuvering: Hicks wiggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth when he threw a 101 mph sinker to retire Gonzalez to end the inning. Norris stranded two in the ninth to notch his 27th save.

Mile-high Mikolas: Mikolas capped a four-run second inning with a two-run homer to right-center off losing pitcher Antonio Senzatela (Senze). At 426 feet, the blast marked the second longest tracked by Statcast™ from a pitcher this season. Mikolas' two home runs lead all MLB hurlers, and the four by the Cardinals pitchers this season lead all MLB staffs.

"I got the juice right now for our pitching staff," Mikolas said. "That's something to help me go to bed at night."
SOUND SMART
The Cardinals have homered in 16 consecutive games, tied for the longest such streak in the Majors this season. The streak is the longest by the club since setting a franchise record back in 2016, when their 25-game streak matched the all-time NL record.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Making his second appearance since being recalled by the Rockies this week, former Cardinals slugger Matthew Holliday (Holliday) received a standing ovation from the crowd at Coors Field. His former teammate, Yadier Molina (Yadi), helped him soak it in. Molina stood in front of the plate during Holidays' ovation, prolonging it. Holliday, who played for St. Louis from 2009-2016, has spent 14 of his 15 big league seasons with either the Rockies or Cardinals.

HE SAID IT
"They say don't leave Coors Field without one." - Mikolas, on his homer
UP NEXT
This important set between playoff contenders continues Saturday from Coors Field, when John Gant (Gant) (5-5, 3.76 ERA) will line up against German Marquez (Marquee) (11-9, 4.42). A win would mark St. Louis' 10th straight road victory, and ninth straight series victory, its most since winning 10 consecutive series in 2009. First pitch is slated for 7:10 pm CT.

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.