The Cardinals must love hitting with Jack Flaherty on the mound.
Before the fifth-year starter could even throw a pitch against the Pirates on Saturday, his lineup gave him four runs of support in the top of the first inning. The Cardinals added three more before manager Mike Shildt subbed in the hard-throwing Jordan Hicks for Flaherty in the bottom of the seventh, but that was enough to secure Flaherty’s fifth win of the season in the 12-5 victory at PNC Park.
“You get a lead like that, you've just got to make it count,” Flaherty said. “There's been some times where I haven't done as good a job of attacking when I've gotten those leads. I felt like I did a much better job today of attacking -- especially in that first inning once we got that lead and then getting the guys right back in the dugout.
“You get leads like that, you've got to make them hold up. And credit to our offense, they didn't stop there.”
To quantify just how much support Flaherty has gotten from Cardinals hitters this season, here are some statistics:
• They have scored five-plus runs in each of his six starts
• They have scored 61 runs in the games that he’s started
• They have scored 49 runs while Flaherty was still in each game, the most for any pitcher in the Majors
“It makes all our jobs easier [when] we score more runs, but again, our guys have the mentality of going out and getting shutdown innings every inning, irrespective of what the score is,” Shildt said. “So just a lot of good at-bats and I love the hunger to it. Just kept eating and kept going about taking quality at-bats and adding on. It was a nice job across the board offensively.”
Despite the offensive outburst, at least one negative did come out of Saturday.
After a 2-2 pitch to Pirates center fielder Bryan Reynolds with two outs in the seventh, Hicks noticeably grimaced and took some extra time before getting set on the mound. Third baseman Nolan Arenado went to talk to Hicks, followed by the Cardinals’ coaching staff and athletic trainers. Hicks pleaded his case to stay in the game, but Shildt decided to bring Génesis Cabrera in from the bullpen.
Shildt revealed postgame that Hicks had some inflammation and stiffness in his right elbow, though he added that it wasn’t an uncommon occurrence for pitchers recovering from Tommy John surgery (Hicks had the surgery in June 2019). Shildt said that Hicks will be evaluated Sunday and likely will be looked at again when the team returns to St. Louis.
But while the Cardinals wait to hear more about Hicks’ situation, they can bask in their second straight offensive explosion.
Similar to the Game 1 win, St. Louis received contributions from all around the order. Seven different Cardinals got hits against Pittsburgh, led by four from second baseman Tommy Edman in the leadoff spot.
St. Louis first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and Arenado -- heart-of-the-order batters who’ve seen their offensive statistics drop in recent weeks -- combined to go 6-for-8 with four RBIs and six runs scored. Shortstop Paul DeJong got in on the fun, hitting a three-run shot to left in the first inning, while also grounding out and lining out on balls with expected averages of .620 and .480, respectively.
Just for good measure, pinch-hitter Justin Williams topped off the win with a two-run shot in the ninth inning, his third home run of the season.
“[Edman] and [Dylan Carlson] have been great all year and [Goldschmidt] and Arenado have been doing great, too,” DeJong said. “I think top to bottom, we have some threats and I think that's our identity as an offense. We want everyone to contribute and we need everyone to contribute, so no we're not just riding on one or two horses. We're all going to be the horse.”
It was the kind of offensive performance that would’ve given any Cardinals starter a very good shot to win.
But having Flaherty lead things off on the bump didn’t hurt.