For the first time this season, the Cardinals’ lineup was complete.
With various injuries forcing everyday starters, such as Yadier Molina, Tyler O’Neill and Harrison Bader, to miss extended periods of time, Saturday’s 9-8 win over the Rockies on Saturday at Busch Stadium was the first time St. Louis’ envisioned lineup was fully intact. Molina was activated from the IL on Saturday morning, following Bader’s season debut the weekend before.
With those two players back in the fold, the Cardinals were able to trot out arguably their best lineup: O’Neill, Bader and Dylan Carlson roaming the outfield; Paul Goldschmidt, Tommy Edman, Paul DeJong and Nolan Arenado across the infield; and Molina behind the plate.
It’s really no wonder, then, that St. Louis’ lineup had one of its best all-around games of the season.
The Cardinals tied their fifth-best run total of 2021 with nine runs charged to Rockies pitchers Chi Chi González and Justin Lawrence. Each of the eight starting position players had at least one hit in St. Louis’ 12-hit day, and seven of them knocked in or scored at least one run. Every one was needed with three Cardinals pitchers getting tagged for eight runs as Colorado made its comeback attempt, but St. Louis’ lineup did enough to pull out the win in the high-scoring affair.
“We've had times where we've won and lost some low-scoring games, we've won and lost some high-scoring games, so I think anything you’ve got to do that day ... Every game is different, but it was a good overall team win,” Goldschmidt said. “There's not like some game script that you have written up. You're just trying to go out there and score as many runs as you can and give up as [few as] you can, and hopefully it's enough to win.”
“That's how this thing's designed,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “Consistent, quality at-bats throughout and everybody just relentlessly putting those at-bats on every pitcher and ready to contribute and have a good at-bat, regardless of circumstance.”
The position players did what they needed to on both sides of the ball to provide support for Cardinals starter Carlos Martínez. The ninth-year righty revealed that he had hurt his ankle celebrating St. Louis ace Jack Flaherty’s first-career home run Friday night, but rather than get scratched from his turn in the rotation, Martínez labored through his start.
Though he gave up five runs, six hits and walked five in his five innings of work, the complete lineup had his back. Every time Colorado made a push, St. Louis answered.
When the Rockies took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, the Cardinals responded with three runs in the bottom of the frame. When Martínez blew a four-run lead in the top of the fifth, St. Louis got all four runs back in the bottom, highlighted by a two-run moonshot by Goldschmidt that put his team up to stay.
“I think it just shows top to bottom our depth and the way we can score runs,” DeJong said. “Big homer by Goldy, but we also did it a few other ways, so I was really happy to see our offense come through today. We needed all those runs.”
The support didn’t only come with the bats. The Cardinals are usually considered to be among the top defenses in the Majors with multiple Gold Glove Award winners around the field, and they proved it once again on Saturday.
In the first inning, with the Cardinals already down a run, Edman made a nice play on a grounder by Rockies right fielder Charlie Blackmon to prevent a run from scoring. In the fifth, Arenado got a chopper to third with the bases loaded, but rather than attempt to turn a double play, he threw home to cut off the lead runner and ultimately help Martínez escape the inning with a tie game.
“You have to have the ability to make the play, [but] it's also the understanding of what the moment calls for,” Shildt said. “These guys are not only really good defensive players but they have really, really elite baseball IQs, and that's ultimately what we [want to] create around here.”
If this is the kind of performance the position players can put on every game, the Cardinals will surely take it.