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Cards gain momentum after late power surge

@anne__rogers
July 17, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- There’s no doubt Tyler O’Neill brings a physical presence to the Cardinals lineup. Not only in his stature, but in his power at the plate. That showed again Wednesday afternoon, when O’Neill continued his recent surge with a solo shot to bring the game within one of

ST. LOUIS -- There’s no doubt Tyler O’Neill brings a physical presence to the Cardinals lineup. Not only in his stature, but in his power at the plate.

That showed again Wednesday afternoon, when O’Neill continued his recent surge with a solo shot to bring the game within one of the Pirates, and Paul Goldschmidt hit the game-winning three-run homer to give the Cardinals a series win, 6-5, at Busch Stadium.

O’Neill has been an anchor to the lineup during the Cardinals six-game homestand out of the All-Star break. He hit his fourth home run in his last five days, Wednesday’s a 411-foot solo shot to left field. In those five games, O’Neill is 10-for-19 with 11 RBIs.

Box score

“When there’s a presence to [the lineup], it just allows everybody else to freeze them up a little bit more,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “Helps us on the scoreboard, get some leads, extend some leads, get back in the game. Know we’re a swing away with the right guys on base. It’s a presence.”

O’Neill drove in Goldschmidt five times over the last five games, and Goldschmidt broke out, too, over the homestand. The Cardinals first baseman had two home runs and six RBIs, while scoring seven runs, in the last five games.

“[O’Neill has] been a force in the middle of the lineup,” Goldschmidt added. “It’s been nice hitting in front of him. You don’t have to do too much, you can think, ‘Hey, if I get on base, he might drive me in.’”

Daniel Ponce de Leon only made it through 3 2/3 innings, allowing four runs on eight hits. But the Cardinals bullpen -- well-rested after Cardinals starters have gone deep in the five games prior to Wednesday -- kept the Pirates in check, not allowing a baserunner from the fourth until the top of the ninth.

One of the biggest outs was when Dominic Leone relieved Ponce de Leon after the Pirates took the lead and had runners on first and second. Leone got Starling Marte to ground out and limited the damage.

“Momentum could have swung totally in their favor, and it could have ended up being a big inning,” Leone said. “The only thing I focused on is going in and executing my pitch. If I do that, we get out of the inning, keep the team in the game, still early, we’ve got a lot of baseball left.”

It was the Cardinals’ second series win in a row and their fourth win in the six games out of the All-Star break.

Monday’s win was one over a key divisional opponent creeping up in the standings. But the Cardinals separated the gap between them and the fourth-place Pirates in the National League Central and kept pace with the division leaders. St. Louis sits three games behind the Cubs in first, and a half game behind the Brewers in second.

“The guys showed up and answered the bell,” Shildt said. “It was about digging in and keep fighting.”

The next two weeks leading up to the July 31 Trade Deadline -- the hard deadline this year to make in-season moves -- is crucial for the Cardinals and just about every team in the division. The Central is the closest race out of every division in the Majors, and what happens leading up July 31 will determine what teams are buyers and what teams are sellers.

The Cardinals are making the case to be buyers. Now sitting at 48-46, the Cardinals face the Reds for four games this weekend and the Pirates again next week in Pittsburgh.

“This division is up for grabs,” Leone said. “Any win is huge, but we have an opportunity right now to continue to play good baseball, attack, grind and separate ourselves from teams in the division. Any time you win a series against a team and you turn around and play them again right away, that lingers. They know we beat them. We’ll take that momentum.”

Anne Rogers covers the Cardinals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @anne__rogers and on Facebook.