Carp hits No. 33, Cards walk off on DeJong HR
Shortstop's late-night swing-strategy sessions pay huge dividends
ST. LOUIS -- Sitting inside a Miami hotel room last week, Harrison Bader turned candid with Paul DeJong.
"Bro," Bader said. "What are you doing?"
That question, which Bader posed after the club's series-opening loss to the Marlins, sparked some late-night workshopping of DeJong's swing. The two took turns tweaking their hand placement on imaginary bats until, voila, DeJong felt something click.
That late-night epiphany has sparked an offensive renaissance for DeJong. With his power suddenly unlocked, he capped one of the more scintillating wins of the season with his first career walk-off hit -- a 380-foot home run off reliever Koda Glover -- to lift the Cardinals to a 7-6 victory over the Nationals at Busch Stadium on Monday.
"You have a walk-off and you're able to come back in a game late, and then you get tested and then you come back and immediately take a win, I think that might have a little bit more emotion to it," interim manager Mike Shildt said. "They all feel good. They all taste good. And they all help you sleep better."
DeJong's blast completed a comeback that began with home runs from Jedd Gyorko and Matt Carpenter in the eighth. And it bailed out Bud Norris, who couldn't protect a two-run lead. The win ran the Cardinals' winning streak to six, pushed them nine games above .500 for the first time this season and sustained their sprint up the standings.
The Cardinals, now five games behind the Cubs in the National League Central, are only two games out of a Wild Card spot.
"For us to come back again, it just shows what kind of team we are right now," said starter Miles Mikolas, who allowed four runs over seven innings. "We're a pretty tough group of SOBs. Things are going good right now."
The Cardinals' surge has coincided with DeJong's resurgence. His season interrupted by surgery on his left hand, DeJong returned in early July without his power to lean on. He had one homer and six extra-base hits in 100 at-bats at the time he and Bader started talking swings. They determined that DeJong's was too loopy. So he lowered his hands, which made things more compact.
DeJong has hit safely in every game since, tallying three doubles and four home runs in 26 at-bats.
"I give him credit," DeJong said of Bader. "He got me back to who I am."
While a rejuvenated DeJong has helped lengthen the lineup, the biggest spark continues to come from the top. Their longest road trip of the season now in the rearview mirror, the Cardinals soared home from the seven-win, three-city swing eager to benefit from the home-heavy finish to their season schedule -- and, of course, happy to keep riding the coattails of the Majors' hottest hitter.
After DeJong saved a run with a diving stop and double play turn in the top of the eighth to keep the deficit at two, Carpenter delivered again, jolting the Cardinals ahead with a three-run homer to cap a four-run frame. It was the seventh homer in 10 games for Carpenter, who has reached base safely in 31 straight. He's homered in 17 of those games.
Just before Carpenter took lefty Sammy Solis deep, DeJong offered a prediction to Bader.
"This is Carp's MVP moment right here," DeJong said.
"Clearly," Shildt added, "he's one of the guys we want up there."
But Carpenter's curtain-call moment didn't tie a bow on the series-opening victory. Norris frittered away the two-run lead in the ninth, prompting Shildt to hand the mess over to rookie Dakota Hudson, who stranded a pair in scoring position to set the stage for DeJong.
"I feel like I've been kind of thrown in some different situations, but there's a first time for everything," Hudson said afterward. "That experience was something I'll always remember."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
DeJong does it on 'D,' too:Bryce Harper had already blasted a home run when he stepped to the plate in the eighth with an opportunity to extend what was then a Nationals 4-2 lead. With runners on the corners, DeJong took a few steps in, readying himself to go home with the ball if Harper hit a chopper his way. Instead, Harper hit a sharp grounder; DeJong gloved it on a dive and turned it into an inning-ending double play.
"Big play," DeJong said afterward, "because that would have been a run there, for sure."
Hudson's great escape: Shildt wasted little time getting Hudson warm as the Cardinals watched Norris start to labor in the ninth. Norris threw 24 pitches to his first four batters, only one of whom he retired. After serving up a game-tying single to Matt Wieters, Hudson took over with one out and runners on second and third. In just his eighth career appearance, Hudson induced a groundout and then struck out Adam Eaton to strand both.
"Not a lot of wiggle room," Shildt said. "And he didn't wiggle."
The blown save was Norris' first since July 23.
"He's a guy that picks up everybody," Hudson said. "I was just happy I could pick him up for once."
Three of the Cardinals' last four wins have come in walk-off fashion, pushing their home record to 30-26 this season. Their 17 hits on Monday were a season high at Busch Stadium.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Though he came up empty twice in bases-loaded spots, Bader used his speed to produce the Cardinals' second run. He sprinted out of the box after dropping a hit into center and, with a Statcast-tracked sprint speed of 29.9 feet per second, slid safely into second for a leadoff double in the third. That positioned him to advance to third on a single and score on Mikolas' sacrifice fly.
HE SAID IT
"You hate to sound like a broken record, but we always believed in this team. Obviously, it took some significant changes to get us to where we are. Watching players play with a bounce, watching how this team goes about things, candidly, it's been very enjoyable. You just want to see it continue. I think it's brought a little bit of life to everybody, and now you can make a very strong argument that we are in a race, and that's fun." -- president of baseball operations John Mozeliak
The Cardinals expect to have outfielder Tyler O'Neill, who has been on the disabled list with groin inflammation, available for Tuesday's 7:15 p.m. CT game against the Nationals at Busch Stadium. Right-hander John Gant (4-4, 3.89 ERA) will make the start for St. Louis against lefty Giovany Gonzalez (3.39).