Cards ride big 1st frame to 8th straight win

September 20th, 2021

ST. LOUIS -- As the Cardinals continue to rattle off wins and as a rare milieu of comfort in this final stretch of the 2021 season is earned, manager Mike Shildt finds himself staring at the out-of-town scoreboard with a little less frequency.

It’s not that his ballclub is complacent -- they’ve endured far too many struggles this season to dare to be so -- but that the results of their opponents, at this juncture, are mattering less and less.

At a torrid pace, the Cardinals have come from requiring help to now controlling their own destiny -- and punishing those they’re competing with along the way.

That’s how the Cardinals left Busch Stadium on Sunday afternoon, breaking out with a five-run first inning en route to an 8-7 victory over the Padres, their eighth consecutive win and 10th in their past 11 games. Eight of those wins have come against teams they are trying to fend off in the National League Wild Card chase, now riding sweeps of the Mets and Padres into a four-game set in Milwaukee starting Monday.

Since the Cardinals embarked upon this 11-game stretch, they have gone from 3 1/2 games back of the second NL Wild Card spot to three up. Meantime, the Reds have gone 3-7 in their last 10 games, falling to three games back in the race. The Phillies, losers to the Mets on Sunday night, and Padres, 2-8 in their last 10, are 3 1/2 games back.

The Cardinals wouldn’t notice those results playing out on the right-field scoreboard as much over the past couple weeks, because they have earned self-determination for the playoff push.

“Your focus is more what you're doing,” said starter , who worked past a comebacker off his right foot for four innings of three-run ball, “and you start to see your eyes wander up there a little bit less.”

If the Cardinals looked up at the video board after the first inning, they would have seen a replay of ’s game-opening catch, crashing into the wall with his back to the field in order to rob Fernando Tatis Jr. of extra bases and take the heat off Happ on the first pitch of the game.

“It was more or less a wake-up call for everybody in the field like, ‘OK, it’s time. Now we're in this, let's go do this,’” said shortstop , who contributed a pair of RBI doubles in the win.

Defense like Carlson’s dazzling play was something the Cardinals hung their hat on through the losing skid of June and the middle portion of the season. They showed Shildt that despite the losses, the processes in place and the effort were present.

Now that it comes in coordination with winning, its benefits are doubly momentum-inducing as a groundswell.

“You’re seeing a group that's on both sides of the ball -- offense, pitching -- working in concert,” Shildt said. “It’s a group that’s always been together this year but is really playing the game, playing it aggressively, playing it smart.”

How has momentum manifested? The Cardinals are 12-6 in September, working past walk-off heartbreak at the start of the month to now riding their longest winning streak of the season. They are 35-23 since the All-Star break and 28-18 since they added Happ and Jon Lester at the Trade Deadline.

They are, for the first time since 2019, 10 games over .500.

“It's been very big for us, every victory that we've had ever since that time,” Sosa said. “That's been our mindset going into this, to be able to win series and be able to win games. We're just going to continue doing what we're doing right now.”

If the Cardinals looked up at the scoreboard after got Jake Cronenworth to send a meek fly ball to center field for the game’s final out, they would have seen a different message, one the club has professed in marketing schemes at this juncture of the calendar:

“Not done yet.”