ST. LOUIS -- With the path now cleared for Tyler O'Neill and Harrison Bader to assert themselves as fixtures for the future, the outfielders parlayed an opportunity to play alongside each other into a showcase of skill sets that helped ignite a 3-2 win over the Rockies on Thursday afternoon.Using
ST. LOUIS -- With the path now cleared for Tyler O'Neill and Harrison Bader to assert themselves as fixtures for the future, the outfielders parlayed an opportunity to play alongside each other into a showcase of skill sets that helped ignite a 3-2 win over the Rockies on Thursday afternoon.
Using a pair of defensive gems and a series of productive at-bats, O'Neill bought time for the rest of the supporting cast to show up. They did so in the ninth, when consecutive hits and a timely stolen base set the stage for Jose Martinez to secure the club's ninth walk-off win of the season.
• After Martinez's walk-off hit, the Cardinals showered ... a reporter
"It feels amazing," Martinez said after the first walk-off hit of his career. "We [are] trying to keep it rolling."
Four trades and a wave of roster moves overlapped a weeklong homestand that ended with the Cardinals winning five games and consecutive series against postseason contenders. Those changes, designed to spark a stagnant club and offer a peek into the future, have created opportunities for Bader and O'Neill.
Thursday offered a glimpse of what they could offer on the field together.
"We bring that X-factor to it, if you will," said Bader.
O'Neill shined from the start, robbing Nolan Arenado of a hit in the first and then making a sliding catch to prevent the Rockies from piling on in the fourth. In between, he put the Cardinals ahead with a sacrifice fly. Since joining the team on Tuesday, O'Neill is 4-for-6.
"I definitely feel a lot more more comfortable not [being] the fifth man off the bench or the fifth outfielder," O'Neill said. "Instead of overthinking everything, I'm focusing on simpler things and doing them as consistently as possible."
Bader's spark came later. After striking out three times -- including once with the bases loaded -- he advanced the tying run to third with a one-out hit in the ninth inning. Then Bader swiped second.
"Clearly, we're not going to push in that situation if we don't think we can [be successful], because we don't need an out there," interim manager Mike Shildt said. "We felt like it was an opportunity to take a bag and get the winning run in scoring position. Then they have to make a decision to make a pitch to Martinez or the Player of the Month [Matt Carpenter] or Yadi. Pick your poison on that one."
The Rockies chose Martinez, who promptly lined a 1-2 fastball from closer Wade Davis into the right-center gap. Bader scored without a throw.
"We were up against a team that not only is good, but playing really well and came in hot, and we matched up with them really in every phase of the game," Carpenter said. "It's a big confidence booster for us and hopefully will be a stretch that we can kind of build on."
The late burst of offense helped cover the only significant blunder of Miles Mikolas' latest quality start. His throwing error had tipped things the Rockies' way in the fourth inning.
Mikolas' miscue was a costly defensive hiccup in an otherwise cleanly played defensive game by the Cardinals -- in addition to O'Neill's two superb catches, St. Louis benefited from Marcell Ozuna's team-leading fifth assist.
"Now is the time to kind of make our move," Mikolas said. "We've been waiting, almost like pacing ourselves, and waiting on the wings all year. I feel like we've got some new blood and some guys that are really hungry, and I think we're about to make a couple really good charges there."
Though Thursday was the club's ninth walk-off win of the year, it was just the second that did not end with a home run. The Cardinals are now tied for the National League lead with four wins when trailing after eight innings.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
O'Neill covered 75 feet in 4.6 seconds while retreating toward the wall to rob Arenado and make the on-the-run grab in the first. According to Statcast™, the ball had a five-percent catch probability, making it the lowest converted by a Cardinals outfielder this season.
O'Neill followed that five-star play up with four-star one in the fourth. Sprinting 83 feet in 4.6 seconds, O'Neill laid out to make a diving catch on Trevor Story's looping line drive near the right-field foul line. That ball, per Statcast™, had a 34 percent catch probability. The catch came at a critical time, too, as the Rockies had two on and no outs.
"When you get to a certain point," O'Neill said, "you just have to sell out to make the play."
One inning after recording his team-leading fifth assist of the season, Ozuna exited the game due to discomfort in one of his left toes. The club characterized the injury as day to day.
HE SAID IT
"We're playing better. That means we're playing together, we're playing more like a family. The chemistry is unbelievable. Our trust is really up right now, so we have to go out there and keep doing the same every day." -- Martinez
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
A half-inning after Carlos Gonzalez slid off second base while attempting to steal second, Paul DeJong did, too, to stall a potential eighth-inning stir by the offense. The Rockies were granted a crew-chief review after DeJong was credited with his first stolen base of the year. The two-minute, five-second review ended with confirmation that DeJong's foot had come off the base.
The Cardinals will open a nine-game road trip with a three-day stop in Pittsburgh, beginning on Friday. There they'll be greeted by the Pirates' new ace, Chris Archer, who was acquired from the Rays on Tuesday. The Cards will counter with starter John Gant. Second baseman Kolten Wong is expected to come off the disabled list during the series, possibly in time for Friday's 6:05 p.m. CT series opener.
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.