ST. LOUIS -- When Tommy Edman tucked his three-run double just inside the right-field line in the sixth inning, Cardinals fans stood up in elation Friday night. It was a moment they had long waited for -- not just in this nimble pitcher’s duel at Busch Stadium, but in this long and winding season.
As the calendar soon flips into August, late moments like Edman's in a 5-1 win over the Twins have not come quite enough. But it’s hoped around St. Louis that they can come with far more frequency in the campaign’s final stretch.
That’s the attitude around the Cardinals and baseball en masse with just over two months left in the season. St. Louis added a pair of veteran left-handed starters ahead of Friday’s Trade Deadline because it did not want to break the bank in 2021, but rather keep itself above water with the hopes of a bounce-back '22 season.
“We felt like we took a couple of steps forward without having to sacrifice our future,” president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said. “We still want to compete. Hopefully, we can get on that run and make a little noise still in the Central.”
To do so, the Cardinals have a lot of ground to make up. They are 9 1/2 games back of the first-place Brewers and 2 1/2 of the Reds in the National League Central. Neither team has conceded much, if any, ground, despite St. Louis' improvements in July.
Nights like Friday help, aided by 5 2/3 frames of one-run ball from Wade LeBlanc, who is suddenly finding himself one of four lefties in a rotation that boasts four pitchers 36 years and older.
With the Trade Deadline come and gone, though, the Cardinals hope that they can enhance the baseball that they have featured in July, modestly competitive for a run at the postseason, but drastically better than what they featured in June.
“We just never put it all together at one time,” Edman said, “and it seems like those couple series leading into the All-Star break, and then since the All-Star break, we've been playing with a lot more confidence and everyone's kind of gelling together a little bit better.”
That gelling was integral to the Cardinals playing winner Friday. They stole two bases -- including Edman’s team-leading 18th in the second inning -- and scored their first run on a manufactured sequence that included a Tyler O’Neill stolen base and two flyouts to the outfield that ultimately advanced him home.
Three runners crossed the plate on Edman’s bases-clearing double in the sixth, with the Cardinals later adding insurance on an RBI single from Nolan Arenado in the seventh.
It was this brand of baseball that has handed the Cardinals 20 winning seasons this millenium -- and one they hope to recapture to at least make it 21 by this campaign’s end.
“We have a lot of confidence in the group that we have here, so we weren't really expecting too much out of the Trade Deadline,” Edman said. “We're very confident in our squad, and it's kind of nice knowing the team that we're going to have going forward again.”
Reinforcements will soon arrive in the form of Jon Lester and J.A. Happ, adding 37- and 38-year-old left-handers, respectively, to a rotation that has a 33-year-old Kwang Hyun Kim as its youngest member (after 24-year-old Jake Woodford will likely be optioned to Triple-A following his start Saturday). They’ll also join a 39-year-old Adam Wainwright, as well as the groundwork for Friday’s victory, a 36-year-old Wade LeBlanc, who is turning 37 on Aug. 7 -- and soon resembling the second-youngest starter of the bunch.
“The last three years, I've been the oldest guy on the team,” LeBlanc said. “So I'll take it.”
LeBlanc has allowed one run or fewer in four of his six starts for St. Louis this season, though he has no wins to show for it.
But the average age will drop when reinforcements show out more forcefully in the form of Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas over the course of the next month, each of whom are working their way through rehab stints with Triple-A Memphis. The good vibes will truly return then, with the Cardinals, mercifully, at essentially full strength for the first time this season.
Until then, they will search for more nights like Friday.
“We knew that we were capable of [this] the whole year, but we just had never really put it together,” Edman said, “and we know we can keep this up for the rest of the year.”