ATLANTA -- When the Cardinals acquired Paul Goldschmidt, locked him up to a five-year extension and began revolving their offense around him, their intention was clear: To turn the middle of their lineup into a minefield for opposing managers to step into, a place their opponents’ best-laid pitching plans could
ATLANTA -- When the Cardinals acquired Paul Goldschmidt, locked him up to a five-year extension and began revolving their offense around him, their intention was clear: To turn the middle of their lineup into a minefield for opposing managers to step into, a place their opponents’ best-laid pitching plans could be laid to waste. October stages like Thursday’s were the kind they hoped Goldschmidt would help them reach, and the kind they got him to perform on.
Both scenarios came to pass simultaneously on Thursday. Goldschmidt’s first postseason moment as a member of the Cardinals was at the center of their 7-6 National League Division Series Game 1 win over the Braves at SunTrust Park. Goldschmidt’s eighth-inning solo homer off Luke Jackson was the catalyst for the Cards’ comeback, setting the stage for two late rallies to help St. Louis cling onto its first playoff victory in four years.
Goldschmidt’s homer was the spark, trimming the Cardinals’ deficit to one and awakening an offense that had spent the prior seven innings largely in a slumber.
“You’re down 3-1, their guys are getting some outs, we’re still taking some good at-bats, just nothing to show for it,” manager Mike Shildt said. “And then Goldy gets into one and you know you’re a swing away.”
Goldschmidt's teammates did the rest, as the Cards used big hits from Matt Carpenter, Marcell Ozuna and Kolten Wong to build a four-run cushion. They’d need it when Carlos Martínez coughed up three runs in the ninth. But the fact that Martínez was even in the game was the result of what happened when Goldschmidt stepped into the box in the eighth.
“You’re always aware of where [Goldschmidt] is at in the lineup, and it’s big,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It actually lined up just how I wanted to.”
It unfolded vastly differently. Snitker called on right-hander Chris Martin to face Goldschmidt, Ozuna and Yadier Molina, the right-handed heart of the Cardinals’ order. But Martin never factored in; he exited the game with a tight left oblique before throwing an official pitch. Snitker scrambled to replace him with Jackson, his at-times volatile former closer who now profiles as a secondary middle-inning option. Goldschmidt crushed Jackson’s second pitch 446 feet into SunTrust Park’s second left-field deck.
“That's a big at-bat right there. When Martin went down, I just hoped that maybe Luke could get us through three outs and get the ball to [Mark] Melancon,” Snitker said. “Anytime you get something like that to get you a run closer, that's huge in a game like that.”
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Said Martin: “I’d have rather just been out there. It sucks. I’ve never had that happen.”
Carpenter’s pinch-hit RBI single tied the game off Melancon later in the frame, and St. Louis tacked on four more off Melancon in the ninth.
For the Cards, it was a break that morphed into a collective boon. It also served as a snapshot of the impact a hitter like Goldschmidt can have in October, when every out and chess move -- and muscle tweak -- is magnified. When one swing can swing a series.
“Definitely got some life back to us, but I don’t want to minimize that we didn’t have life before,” Shildt said. “But when you get down 3-1, the next thing you know, boom. 3-2, and here we go. Big swing.”
Joe Trezza covers the Orioles for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTrezz.