Cards overpower D-backs for victory No. 1
PHOENIX -- Behind a trio of home runs, a key 94-mph strike from Edward Mujica and an uplifting performance from lefty Jaime Garcia, the Cardinals snagged their first win of the 2013 season, 6-1 over the D-backs in front of 28,387 at Chase Field on Tuesday night.
Though the Cardinals created a comfortable cushion by teeing off against reliever Heath Bell in the seventh, the sixth inning served as the apex of the night for St. Louis, which entered the game attempting to avoid only its second 0-2 start in the last six years.
A tie game tipped the Cardinals' way when Matt Holliday lined an ankle-high pitch from D-backs starter Trevor Cahill over the wall in left with one on and one out in the sixth. The two-run blast, which had hardly a curve in its trajectory, stands as the team's first home run of the year and staked Garcia to a lead -- his first of the night.
"Their starting pitching these first two days has been really tough," Holliday said. "So for us to be able to kind of break through and get some runs, it was good."
It was hardly Cahill's first look at Holliday's power. The two were teammates in Oakland, and since then, Holliday has hit three home runs in nine at-bats against the right-hander.
"I threw it where I wanted to throw it, and he's just really strong," said Cahill. "He's just probably the strongest guy I've seen. If it hits the barrel, it's going to go out no matter if he's on one foot or one toe or whatever. He's just kind of a freak athlete."
Garcia, with a critical lift from the 'pen, would hold that lead, providing the lefty with a performance that should continue to foster the confidence he talked about gaining over the past few weeks. Garcia resembled the pitcher he was throughout spring, garnering several swing and misses on offspeed pitches and pitching low in the zone. One of his few mistakes up was driven by Miguel Montero for a second-inning homer.
Garcia responded by retiring 14 of the next 16 D-backs hitters he faced.
"It wasn't that he was fooling guys with a lot of pitches, he just kept changing speeds with his heater," Arizona second baseman Aaron Hill said. "You hate to tip your cap, but he did a great job tonight."
Garcia's lone speed bump came in the sixth, when he walked three straight with two outs. Manager Mike Matheny attributed the lapse to Garcia reaching a point of fatigue. Garcia countered that assessment, instead crediting Arizona for laying off several borderline pitches.
Matheny chose not to let Garcia attempt to pitch out of the jam. Mujica, the Cardinals' go-to reliever in similar spots last season, was summoned from the 'pen.
A seven-pitch at-bat by pinch-hitter Jason Kubel ensued, one that began with four straight changeups. It's a pitch Mujica favors, but also one that catcher Yadier Molina assumed Kubel would be expecting. So with the count 2-2, Molina called for the fastball, three times in a row, the last one framed the outside corner for an inning-ending strikeout.
"That was the turning point in the game," Matheny said. "No question."
"I just followed Yadi because he had [helped retire] Kubel yesterday," Mujica said. "Yadi was good behind the plate and called that fastball away. I did a pretty good job to put it in the spot. I think he was looking for something slow, like maybe my changeup. I surprised him with a fastball away."
It was the last tight spot the Cardinals would pitch in all night, and preserved the lead for Garcia, whose outing should further quell questions about the strength of his left shoulder.
"When he's pitching like that, he's as good as anyone in the league," Holliday said. "When he's got it going, he's as hard to hit as anybody."
An opportunity for the Cardinals to see how their late-inning sequence of Mujica, Trevor Rosenthal and Mitchell Boggs would fare in the first save situation sans Jason Motte was eliminated when the Cardinals pounced on Bell.
Seventh-inning homers from Pete Kozma and Jon Jay extended St. Louis' lead to five. Bell, who gave up eight runs in four appearances against the Cardinals last year, retired only one of the six batters he faced.
"He didn't locate at all," Arizona manager Kirk Gibson said. "He didn't execute his pitches very well tonight, and if you don't execute against this club, they are very good."
The Cardinals closed the win in impressive fashion, showcasing the firepower they flaunt in the back end of their 'pen. After a scoreless seventh from Mujica, Rosenthal reached 100 mph twice en route to striking out two in a perfect eighth. Boggs retired the side in order in the ninth.