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Martinez powers Cards to win over D-backs

Offense backs sturdy performance from Wacha after early hiccups
MLB.com @JoeTrezz

ST. LOUIS -- It's rarely 37 degrees in Venezuela, where Jose Martinez is from, or Texas, where Michael Wacha grew up. And it's even rarer in St. Louis when baseball is being played. Before Saturday it had never been that cold during a major league game, at least not at first pitch and not on record.

Which is why to discuss the Cardinals' 5-3 over the D-backs without mention of the windchill would be to ignore the theme of the day, and turn a blind eye to the elements that factored into every pitch.

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ST. LOUIS -- It's rarely 37 degrees in Venezuela, where Jose Martinez is from, or Texas, where Michael Wacha grew up. And it's even rarer in St. Louis when baseball is being played. Before Saturday it had never been that cold during a major league game, at least not at first pitch and not on record.

Which is why to discuss the Cardinals' 5-3 over the D-backs without mention of the windchill would be to ignore the theme of the day, and turn a blind eye to the elements that factored into every pitch.

View Full Game Coverage

Wacha battled them on his way to his first win, and the control issues they contributed to. Martinez swung through them, hoodie on and ears flapped, to sock a three-run home run in the third. Martinez's second blast of the season proved to be the difference against losing pitcher Zack Greinke, and unthawed a hardy Busch Stadium crowd on the coldest day in the ballpark's history.

"I thought it was going to hit the concourse, and it barely got over the wall," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "With this cold weather, I think you can anticipate the ball isn't going to carry as much. He had to get all of it for a ball to get out of that part of the park on a day like this."

Martinez brought in the Cardinals' first run with an RBI single in the first, and finished with two hits and four RBIs. All of which continued a hot start from Martinez that's quelled any doubt about his importance to the Cardinals lineup, and squashed questions about how often he'll be in it.

"I knew I got it, but everybody kept asking me if I got all of it," Martinez said when asked about the home run. "I told them, that's all I got right there. I got nothing more!"

The Cardinals wondered at times this spring how they'd find enough at-bats for Martinez following his breakout 2017 campaign.

"He's continuing to show us that he's a legitimate force and offensive weapon," Matheny said.

With Jedd Gyorko on the disabled list, Martinez has been the No. 5 hitter for all eight games this season. Fewer openings in the outfield have resulted in the Cardinals using Martinez solely at first base. He is hitting .357/.452/.516 on the season.

"The goal is to stay here for the whole year," Martinez said. "I hope I'm not taken out of the lineup. I just want to be out there. I just want to help the team win any way I can, like last year."

On this day, his bat helped erase some early struggles of Wacha, who turned in a serviceable start despite matching a career high with five walks. Wacha battled the elements and danced out of multiple jams to limit the Diamondbacks to two runs.

"It was one I just had to grind through. There were far too many walks," Wacha said. "It was fun watching the offense pick me up, for sure."

Greinke didn't walk any, but allowed nine hits (seven singles) to a St. Louis lineup already facing its fourth All-Star starter of the season. The Cardinals got to Greinke by solving some of the contact problems that plagued them against Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom in New York, and Robbie Ray earlier this week.

The Cardinals' offense still finished with nine strikeouts, but also benefited from several key two-strike hits. Eight of St. Louis' hits came with two-strikes, including all five during its third-inning rally.

"I lost track of how many two-strike hits we had," Matheny said. "It's something we've talked about, and we'll continue to talk about it because it's a game-changer."

Four Cardinals relievers closed the game in single-inning intervals, beginning with Dominic Leone and ending with Bud Norris, who struck out the side to earn his first save after recording 19 with the Angels in 2017. He fanned D-backs No. 3 hitter Paul Goldschmidt, representing the tying run, looking to end the game.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Hicks tested amid bullpen shuffle: With newly-signed closer Greg Holland set to join the team Monday, the bullpen alignment in front of him is beginning to take shape. The order Matheny deployed them in on Saturday was notable. Leone pitched the sixth for the second straight appearance and Norris proved again he can handle the ninth if Holland struggles.

Matheny also tasked rookie Jordan Hicks with his most high-leverage situation yet, to face the heart of the Arizona order in the eighth and hold a three-run lead. The 21-year-old allowed the first run of his career -- an unearned one -- and walked two hitters to load the bases with two outs. But he escaped the jam without further trouble.

Choke up, and rally: Over breakfast Saturday morning, Martinez and Yadier Molina spoke, addressing concerns about the Cardinals' two-strike approach. St. Louis hitters entered play with the third most punchouts in the National League.

"[Molina] said he was really mad about that because we weren't putting the ball in play," Martinez said. "Today, we got the idea."

Nowhere was that more true than during the club's third-inning rally, when five of the first six hitters reached against Greinke. Dexter Fowler started it with a two-strike double, then Matt Carpenter's sac fly followed a two-strike Tommy Pham single. Marcell Ozuna lined a two-strike single in front of Martinez, and Molina added a two-strike single behind him. Martinez's homer came on an 0-2 pitch.

QUOTABLE
"I'm from Texas. I don't pitch in this type of weather too often." -- Wacha

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
In a moment that may have spoken to the uncomfortable weather conditions, Wacha issued a rare balk with one out in the second inning. The physical error did not lead to any runs, but it was notable in its occurence alone. The balk was the Cardinals' first of the season, and first in 206 games dating back to Aug. 23, 2016. St. Louis was the only team not to issue a balk last season, its first without one since 1968.

WHAT'S NEXT
The weather isn't supposed to get much better for the series finale Sunday, with cold showers forecasted for the late afternoon. Luke Weaver (1-0, 1.80 ERA), will try to squeeze his second start of the season in before they arrive.

Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.