Battling back in Britain: Cards rally to take London finale

June 25th, 2023

LONDON -- Considering the manner their disappointing season had played out to this point, few would have been surprised had a Cardinals team that fell on Saturday and was down four runs after a half-inning on Sunday eventually succumbed in the London Series finale.

Instead, the Cardinals responded to a daunting deficit with the kind of grit and resolve that has them still believing that a second-half surge is possible, one that might slingshot them back into the playoffs.

Down four runs before the game was even three outs old, the Cardinals responded with seven unanswered runs over a four-inning stretch and got some timely relief pitching from to surge past the Cubs, 7-5, for a jolly, good time in the final game of the MLB London Series from London Stadium. It marked the first time St. Louis won a game after trailing 4-0 in the first inning since Sept. 23, 2021, at Milwaukee.

“We do believe we have a chance at this, but in reality, if we’re talking about doing something sustainable, we’re going to have to pitch better and we’re going to have to continue to do what we can do offensively,” manager Oliver Marmol said. “Giving up four [runs] in the first, and some of the [defensive] miscues, those things can’t happen.”

had four hits and scored twice against his former team and five different players drove in runs for the Cardinals, who rebounded nicely from Saturday’s 9-1 loss to their NL Central rivals. As much as 16 games below .500 following a recent swoon, St. Louis still believes it has the talent and experience to get back to the playoffs for a fifth straight year and author a winning season for a 16th straight year.

“When we lost last night, it was a tough game for us, but today we came with a different mindset even though we started down 4-0,” said Contreras, who is 7-for-19 (.368) in five games against the Cubs. “We never gave up, and the mindset was different. We were having good at-bats and putting the ball in play, and the results came. The bullpen shut everything down, and it was good for us to win a game coming from behind.”

Woodford proved to be a savior for the Cardinals with more exceptional work out of the bullpen. After throwing 1 2/3 scoreless innings of relief on Saturday, Woodford came on for struggling starter Matthew Liberatore two batters into the third inning. Woodford, a starter to begin the season when Adam Wainwright missed time with a groin injury, went 2 1/3 scoreless innings on Sunday, allowing just one hit and steadying the team as it was surging offensively.

Woodford’s work sparked a Cardinals bullpen that held the Cubs to one run over the final 6 2/3 frames and kept Chicago quiet a day after it smashed 14 hits.

“MVP of the series, because he really locked it down and he saved us in the bullpen in the other game," said closer Jordan Hicks, who had the save a day after suffering from a high fever, muscle pain and nausea. "And today, coming out with more good innings and sacrificing his arm for us. I called [Woodford] the MVP after the game, and that’s what he is. If we played every series in London, he’d probably be the Cy Young or something.”

A crowd of 55,565 saw the Cardinals win for the fifth time in eight games on their three-city road trip through New York, Washington, D.C. and London. The two-game London Series, which will return in 2024 with the Mets and Phillies, drew a combined 110,227 fans.

“For a lot of us, this is our first time in Europe and baseball isn’t the main sport here, so for us to have big crowds and get the crowd excited, it’s good for the game,” said Lars Nootbaar, whose sacrifice fly scored the Cards' sixth run of the day off Cubs starter Marcus Stroman, who had entered with a sterling 2.28 ERA. “Hopefully [the fans] leave today and we inspired some kids to go out and buy a glove, buy a bat and go in the backyard and play a little bit.”

Much like the Cardinals' disjointed season, Hicks’ future was uncertain after slogging through an uneven first 2 1/2 months. But he saved four of the team’s five wins on this road trip, and he has locked down the closer’s job with Ryan Helsley out injured. Now, he thinks the Cardinals might have a similar surge in them.

“Today, we battled back with the bats, and it shows what we’re really about,” said Hicks, who struck out Yan Gomes with a 103-mph fastball. “We’ve done that a couple of times on this trip -- battling back. We have the grit to win even when we’re behind. We’re just trying to keep winning games.”