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Cards cruise to victory in I-70 Series opener

Carpenter clubs 32nd homer; rookie Gomber hurls 5 scoreless frames
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

KANSAS CITY -- They filed into the manager's office at Kauffman Stadium on Friday afternoon as they now do before each game, ready to revisit and reinforce the characteristics that the offense desires to exude.

Together, they complimented, shared, listened and viewed before taking those reminders out onto the field and translating it into an offensive approach that helped key a 7-0 win over the Royals to open their I-70 Interleague Series.

View Full Game Coverage

KANSAS CITY -- They filed into the manager's office at Kauffman Stadium on Friday afternoon as they now do before each game, ready to revisit and reinforce the characteristics that the offense desires to exude.

Together, they complimented, shared, listened and viewed before taking those reminders out onto the field and translating it into an offensive approach that helped key a 7-0 win over the Royals to open their I-70 Interleague Series.

View Full Game Coverage

"It gives us an opportunity to be prepared, but it also gives everyone a voice," said Matt Carpenter, who homered for the sixth time on this road trip. "Finding an edge to help us win the game that day."

These daily sessions, implemented by Mike Shildt when he took over as manager, are forums in which the staff highlights little things done well -- situational hitting, two-strike approach, two-out success -- by cueing up video from the night before. They talk, too, about the approach they'll carry into the upcoming game.

It's a way to reward and reiterate the approach that new hitting coaches Mark Budaska and George Greer have implemented. Players have bought in.

"The chemistry here," Jose Martinez said, "is unbelievable."

Video: STL@KC: Shildt on Carpenter's hitting, Gomber's start

A more balanced offense has blossomed as a result, and it continues to be showcased on this road trip. On Friday, the Cardinals grabbed momentum by scoring five times in the second inning to chase starter Burch Smith.

Paul DeJong opened the inning with a solo homer, and Carpenter punctuated it with a two-run blast, his National League-leading 32nd home run this season. Both DeJong and Martinez delivered RBI hits on two-strike offspeed offerings.

Martinez's knock was one of four consecutive two-out hits by the Cardinals, who scored five of their seven runs on Friday with two outs.

Video: STL@KC: DeJong slugs a solo homer in the 2nd inning

"I use the word relentless," said Shildt, whose team has had at least one runner on base in 49 of 63 innings on this road trip. "You look at the at-bats. Boom. Boom. Just wearing guys out. Not giving them a quarter. It's fun to watch."

What was too often an all-or-nothing, homer-happy, strikeout-heavy unit earlier in the year has become more patient and potent as of late. They've shown an ability to function with or without the long ball -- evidenced by the fact that they are averaging more runs per game under Shildt despite a decrease in home run rate.

Since the managerial changeover, the Cardinals rank in the top quarter of all Major League teams in plate appearances per strikeout (5.54), pitches per plate appearance (3.96) and plate appearances per walk (10.42). All of those numbers have improved since the first half.

"I think the message is just to grind out at-bats," Carpenter said. "Really put the pressure on the starting pitcher. Put the pressure on their pitch count. Make it a priority to really get that number up and do a good job. Guys have really executed that well."

Rookie Austin Gomber took that early 5-0 lead and carried it through five scoreless innings for his second win of the year. The victory bumped the Cardinals six games above .500 for the first time since June 26. With 10 wins in their last 14 games, the Cardinals have pulled to within 3 1/2 games of the second NL Wild Card spot.

"As a pitching staff, we understand that we're in a good place offensively and we're just trying to do our part," Gomber said. "Quick innings, and getting us back in to hit."

Video: STL@KC: Gomber silences Royals' bats over 5 frames

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Carpenter turned a two-run lead into a four-run cushion with his second-inning homer off Smith. The blast was Carpenter's sixth in seven games on this road trip and his Major League-best 13th since the All-Star break. The home run, which, at 425 feet, was Carpenter's second-longest of the season, also extended his on-base streak to 28 games.

"Clearly, he's a special player, a special guy," Shildt said. "I'm just happy for him. He's put a lot of time and energy into his career and he's always looking to grow from the previous version of Matt Carpenter." More >

Video: STL@KC: Carpenter belts 32nd homer in the 2nd

SOUND SMART
Before this season, no catcher age 35 or older had ever started more than eight consecutive games. Yadier Molina, 36, blew by that benchmark a while ago and, with Friday's start, has now been behind the plate for 18 straight games. The previous record had been held by Molina's brother, Bengie.

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
With a four-star catch, center fielder Harrison Bader helped Gomber work around a leadoff triple in the third. Bader tracked down Whit Merrifield's fly ball -- which had a catch probability of 39 percent -- by covering 75 feet in 4.3 seconds, according to Statcast™. It was Bader's 12th four- or five-star catch this season, tied for second most in the Majors.

"Bader is an elite center fielder," Gomber said. "We know that. He runs down balls pretty routinely for us now. It's something we're fortunate to have behind us."

Adalberto Mondesi did not test Bader by trying to score from third, either. Bader lasered a 98-mph strike to the plate, tying him with Tyler O'Neill for the hardest throw from an outfielder that Statcast™ has tracked this season.

Video: STL@KC: Bader's range, 98-mph throw prevents a run

INJURY REPORT
Yairo Munoz, who started in right field on Friday, exited the game during his sixth-inning at-bat due to a right wrist sprain. Munoz injured his wrist while swinging through a 94-mph pitch from reliever Glenn Sparkman. He is scheduled to undergo additional evaluation on that wrist Saturday. More >

Video: STL@KC: Munoz leaves the game with apparent injury

HE SAID IT
"I think things happen for a reason. Of course, people tell me you should be playing every day, blah, blah, blah. I think I feel great here. This is a great group of guys. The chemistry that we have is unbelievable. I'm happy to be here. I'm going to show up and try to do my thing." -- Martinez, on embracing his evolving role

UP NEXT
Rookie Jack Flaherty will make his first career appearance against the Royals on Saturday when the I-70 Series continues with a 6:15 p.m. CT game at Kauffman Stadium. Flaherty, who leads all NL pitchers with 31 strikeouts since the All-Star break, is coming off an outing in Pittsburgh where he threw six scoreless innings.

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.

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