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Cards flex their muscles in opener vs. Padres

Martinez, Ozuna, Gyorko each homer to back sharp Flaherty
MLB.com

ST. LOUIS -- Even on a night when a lot went right for the Cardinals, there was still drama in the late innings. This time, though, St. Louis' bullpen found a way to protect the lead, delivering a 5-2 victory over the Padres on Monday at Busch Stadium. Jack Flaherty pitched into the seventh for the second time in his career, and Jose Martinez and Marcell Ozuna each hit two-run homers before the relief corps salted away the win.

It wasn't easy, though. The Cardinals' three-run lead was in jeopardy in the seventh, and San Diego put at least one runner on base in each of the final three innings. John Brebbia, whose two walks loaded the bases in the seventh, also delivered two key strikeouts to escape the biggest jam.

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ST. LOUIS -- Even on a night when a lot went right for the Cardinals, there was still drama in the late innings. This time, though, St. Louis' bullpen found a way to protect the lead, delivering a 5-2 victory over the Padres on Monday at Busch Stadium. Jack Flaherty pitched into the seventh for the second time in his career, and Jose Martinez and Marcell Ozuna each hit two-run homers before the relief corps salted away the win.

It wasn't easy, though. The Cardinals' three-run lead was in jeopardy in the seventh, and San Diego put at least one runner on base in each of the final three innings. John Brebbia, whose two walks loaded the bases in the seventh, also delivered two key strikeouts to escape the biggest jam.

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After Flaherty recorded the first out of the seventh, he walked Cory Spangenberg. Brebbia walked Christian Villanueva and Freddy Galvis to load the bases, but then struck out Raffy Lopez and Jose Pirela to escape the jam without giving up a run. Austin Gomber, Sam Tuivailala and Bud Norris pitched the final two innings, allowing one run.

"You never want to create trouble for yourself but to not give up any runs, especially not let Jack's run end because he pitched so well, it was a relief after the third out," Brebbia said.

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Relief pitching arguably has been the Cardinals' most consistent problem. Jordan Hicks was unavailable, Brett Cecil has struggled and Greg Holland has yet to find his footing at Triple-A Memphis. Daniel Poncedeleon was called up so Cardinals manager Mike Matheny could have more options to back the consistent starting pitching. It's crucial for the bullpen to have nights like Monday, when, even though it can be patchy, the unit gets the job done.

Video: SD@STL: Norris K's Lopez in 9th to record the save

"It's going to be giving guys those opportunities. …. We need guys to distinguish themselves, for them to say, 'I'm ready for a bigger role,' in case it's a day somebody is down," Matheny said. "What we saw today. We'll give the ball to Brebbia when it looks like a good matchup. Have the lefties in there. We're not afraid to go to Gomber. We'd love to get Brett Cecil into a place where he's in that conversation. Mike Mayers has been thrown into some bigger spots. [Tuivailala] has, to me, set himself a part. Hopefully, we can keep him sharp and confidant."

Video: SD@STL: Martinez launches a 2-run homer to center

Flaherty tossed 6 1/3 innings and allowed one run on three hits. A Spangenberg solo home run in the second gave the Padres an early lead. Flaherty followed with four clean innings before he exited the game in the seventh.

"We were just throwing with more conviction tonight," Flaherty said. "Last time out I said I didn't really execute well. I feel like it had a lot to do with execution and conviction behind everything, just really throwing everything with intent."

Video: SD@STL: Gyorko belts a solo homer to left in the 8th

The Cardinals took advantage of Padres starter Jordan Lyles in the third when Martinez crushed a go-ahead two-run home run to center. Ozuna gave the Cards a 4-1 cushion in the fifth when he drilled a 422-foot home run to left, scoring Martinez, who extended his hitting streak to nine games.

"Actually, everybody is saying we are hitting that many homers, but we're actually not trying to do that. We're just trying to put it over the plate," Martinez said. "We're trying to not do too much at a time and just try to help the team win."

Video: SD@STL: Flaherty tosses 6 1/3 frames of 1-run ball

Travis Jankowski scored on Hunter Renfroe's RBI groundout in the eighth to cut into the lead, but Jedd Gyorko answered with a home run in the bottom of the inning to make it 5-2.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Ozuna gave the Cardinals a three-run cushion in the fifth when he hit a 422-foot home run to left center. The Cardinals were clinging to a 2-1 lead before Martinez reached and Ozuna hit his seventh homer. Ozuna didn't show much power in April and May, hitting only three home runs, but has come around of late. Monday's blast was his fourth this month.

SOUND SMART
Martinez tallied his 10th game of the season with at least three hits, tops in the National League. Martinez hit two singles and a two-run home run to center on Monday, and is slashing .531/.583/1.094 in June.

HE SAID IT
"I can't speak for anyone else, but for me, I never want to have an inning where I'm putting guys on base, but when it does happen it definitely feels good to get out of it. But that's getting out of the trouble you created." -- Brebbia, on loading the bases in the seventh but escaping with no runs allowed

UP NEXT
Cardinals right-hander Miles Mikolas (7-1, 2.27) will take the mound Tuesday against the Padres for a 7:15 p.m. CT game. San Diego will start reliever Matt Strahm in place of injured lefty Joey Lucchesi. Mikolas allowed five hits and one run in 6 2/3 innings against the Padres on May 10.

Sean Collins is a reporter for MLB.com based in St. Louis.

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