NEW YORK -- With his bat in hand, Cardinals starter Daniel Ponce de Leon was ready to hit in the top of the fifth inning of Friday night’s game against the Mets. But when second baseman Tommy Edman got on base, putting runners on first and second with one out. Ponce de Leon was called back into the dugout.
Jose Martinez was perched on the top step and went to the plate instead.
The decision worked. Martinez hit a pinch-hit three-run homer, gave the Cardinals a lead and sparked a homer-happy club to a 9-5 victory in the second game of the four-game series at Citi Field.
“One hundred percent I could have gone more, but [manager Mike] Shildt made the decision and it was the decision of the game,” Ponce de Leon said. “Great decision by him. That’s why he’s the manager.”
With Paul DeJong’s solo shot to tie the game again in the eighth inning, Dexter Fowler’s go-ahead three-run shot later that frame and Kolten Wong's insurance home run off the right-field foul pole in the ninth, it was the fifth time this season the Cardinals have hit four home runs in a game, and they’re 5-0 in those games.
Martinez’s homer -- which he celebrated by dancing through the dugout -- brought his career pinch-hitting batting average to .362, the highest in MLB history since 1974 (min. 75 plate appearances).
The decision to pinch-hit for Ponce de Leon was based on a few factors. The first was the situation. With the game tied at 1, Mets left-hander Steven Matz walked Fowler and Edman reached first base on an error by Mets third baseman Todd Frazier.
The second was Martinez. He’s been clutch in pinch-hit situations before, but he’s also been clutch against lefties. This season, he’s hitting .382 and slugging .706 against left-handers (13-for-34).
“He’s always been a guy that can hit, but he’s fed on lefties,” Shildt said. “If we get a chance to do damage on a lefty, and it makes sense for everything, we’ll give him that shot.”
The third factor was Ponce de Leon. Replacing an injured Adam Wainwright (left hamstring strain), Ponce de Leon threw 71 pitches in four innings. Thirty-six of those pitches came in the first. The right-hander didn’t have a feel for his breaking ball, so he relied on his fastball -- which he threw 34 times in the first inning and struggled to keep down in the zone.
“One time I started aiming in the dirt and still was missing up,” Ponce de Leon said. “I haven’t felt this good in a long time, it just felt my arm was flying. I couldn’t stop it.”
But Ponce de Leon settled in after the first inning, found his cutter and seemed to be in a groove that could have continued at least into the fifth. Shildt said that made the decision harder, but it was an offensive-oriented call -- and Martinez rewarded the skipper.
The Cardinals turned to the bullpen to carry them through the rest of the game.
The Cardinals wanted to avoid using Carlos Martinez for the second time Friday -- when Thursday’s suspended game resumed on Friday, Martinez was the one who started the bottom of the ninth inning -- so Shildt used a mound visit in the ninth inning to give Gant a breather before finishing off the Mets.
Gant (6-0) has filled multiple roles in the Cardinals’ bullpen this season. Friday’s decision to keep him in for three full innings was further proof of that.
“Swiss Army knife,” Shildt said. “Can do it in a lot of different ways, and he wants to do it. Extended him a little bit more tonight with the first game, second game the way it went. Twenty pitches after two, and he was hungry to finish it out.”