ST. LOUIS -- There is a conviction circulating around the Cardinals' clubhouse, manager Mike Matheny says. It grows with every game-winning dogpile and is reinforced by every postgame water cooler toss. The Cardinals are making a habit of both as they rack up walk-off wins.
"It's the belief we're going to be able to do something because we've seen it happen before," Matheny said after the Cardinals capped their second walk-off win in three days, a 3-2 triumph over the Pirates on Saturday at Busch Stadium. "It self-perpetuates. You almost expect it again."
To a man, his players agree. And who can blame them? No team has walked off more often over the season's first two-plus months. Saturday, the hero was Kolten Wong, who sent a line-drive screamer into the right-field seats off Richard Rodriguez in the ninth. Wong's second walk-off homer of the season marked the Cardinals' MLB-leading seventh walk-off win of the year, and fifth they've won via home run.
"The guys aren't getting overwhelmed with the situation," Matheny said. "They come through and do some amazing things."
The secret, Matheny said, is that belief. Few seem to be immune. The game-ending hits have come from a variety of sources. The resiliency is a common thread throughout the clubhouse, from key contributors to injured newcomers.
"These guys are fighters," reliever Dominic Leone, who is out indefinitely with nerve damage in his right arm, said early Saturday morning. "I'd do anything to be a part of it."
Marcell Ozuna's home run opened the scoring in the second, before Colin Moran countered with a solo shot off Luke Weaver in the fifth. Tommy Pham's RBI single a half-inning later scored Weaver, and the righty was in a position to win after Austin Gomber bridged the gap to Bud Norris in his MLB debut.
Matheny spoke eagerly before the game of his desire to use Gomber, who was promoted following a dominant nine-start stretch at Triple-A. Flashing his signature curveball, the left-hander faced the minimum over three frames to save a taxed bullpen and hand Norris a one-run lead in the ninth. Previously perfect in save chances, Norris allowed a game-tying home run to Austin Meadows to lead off the frame, setting up Wong's heroics a half-inning later.
"They're always awesome, no matter how many times you do it," Wong said. "It's always the same feeling. You know there are three or four water baths waiting for you."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Mired in a pull-happy, power-zapping slump for much of the season's first two months, Ozuna showed signs of breaking out all afternoon. He tagged all three of the balls he put in play in excess of 100 mph, including a 109.8-mph home run to center off Pirates starter Chad Kuhl in the second. Ozuna's fourth home run of the season was also his first in three weeks, first as a Cardinal at Busch Stadium, and 100th of his career.
"My family came to the game today," Ozuna said. "When my family is here I play really, really different."
Saturday marked the 1,000th regular season game at Busch Stadium III since the ballpark opened in 2006. The Cardinals are 590-410 at home in that span. Their .590 winning percentage at home ranks third behind only the Dodgers and Yankees since 2006, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
DAZZLING MLB DEBUT
Gomber became the second Cardinals rookie in 20 years to toss at least three innings of scoreless relief in his debut, joining Ryan Sherriff last season. Before that, no pitcher in franchise history had done so since Jose Jimenez in 1998. The southpaw was promoted briefly earlier in the season, but did not appear in a game until Saturday.
"I figured this time I would get an opportunity, and I'd just show them what I can do," Gomber said. "When they told me I was going in, everything else kind of went away. It was a big spot. They threw me into the fire and I just tried to find a way."
HE SAID IT
"You don't want guys thinking home run, because that normally ends up as a popup to the infield. But whatever Kolten is doing, I'm not going to get in the way. If he's thinking home run, keep thinking it in those situations where we need something big to happen." -- Matheny, on Wong
The Cardinals get their second crack at Pirates rookie Nick Kingham, who blanked them for seven innings in April, when this series concludes Sunday. Michael Wacha (6-1, 2.71 ERA), who is riding a 10-start unbeaten streak dating back to the season's opening week, will get the ball. First pitch is set for 1:15 p.m. CT from Busch Stadium.