ST. LOUIS -- Hours before his 1,000th regular-season game as Cardinals manager, Mike Matheny huddled with Matt Carpenter and club officials in the bowels of Busch Stadium. The data they were presented was revealing, the conclusion drawn from it compelling. Simply put, few offensive units underperformed their batted-ball metrics more than the Cardinals over the season's first month, when well-struck drives routinely resulted in outs.
This was no truer for any hitter, maybe across baseball, than Carpenter. Mired in a slump on the surface, Carpenter solicited advice from the club's analytic department to determine why. They returned with reams of numbers, assuring Carpenter his fortunes appeared prime to return in time, perhaps with the warmer weather.
"Is there anything glaring that you're seeing that I'm not seeing?" Carpenter asked. "Their response was the exact opposite. They said if you just keep doing what you're doing, it'll eventually even out."
On Tuesday, it did for Carpenter and another duo of slumping Cardinals hitters. Stymied for much of the night, St. Louis rallied to capture a 3-2 walk-off win over the White Sox, ending Matheny's milestone game in celebration on a balmy night at Busch Stadium. Carpenter's solo home run tied the game off Joakim Soria, before Yadier Molina's game-winning single scored Marcell Ozuna to snap the Cardinals' losing streak at three.
"Right on time," Matheny said. "It's been a little slow here getting the offense going. It's good to see the guys get going who we know are going to get going."
Cardinals hitters had hit .155 over their last 37 innings prior to the ninth. On Tuesday, they managed just a Tommy Pham home run over six innings against James Shields, then wasted rallies against two White Sox relievers before Carpenter's shot. In the same breath, Matheny and his players will speak excitedly about the potential of this offense, then frustratingly about its inability to operate on all cylinders.
"We had a good month, but we didn't really click," Carpenter said. "And that's a good thing because we're still in a good spot."
Much of that potential could be seen in the numbers presented in Tuesday's meeting. By the Statcast™ metric barrels, which measures balls struck with the desired combination of exit velocity and launch angle, no club recorded more outs on balls that typically fall for extra-base hits.
"The guys who can hit, will," Matheny said. "Carp is one of them. He's going to take off and get to where he normally would be. You can say the same thing about Dexter Fowler and Ozuna."
But it was Carpenter who went seeking the numbers, and they apply most adamantly to him. He entered play with a .155/.305/.274 slash line that he called "ugly," and one of the sport's widest gaps between expected outcomes and actual results. Club officials pointed Carpenter to the 141-point difference in his expected weighted on-base average compared to his actual weighted-on-base average, an advanced metric meant to measure total offense. Due to a combination of tough luck and the infield shift, Carpenter also lost 97 points in batting average.
"They reassured me that I was going through a really unlucky stretch, and that felt good to hear," Carpenter said. "By the law of averages, it's gonna work out. And just so happened that today was a good day right afterward."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Molina walks it off: Molina notched the sixth walk-off hit of his career when he rifled a Soria splitter to the wall in left-center, scoring Ozuna. Matheny hasn't written any player's name into the lineup card over his seven-year managerial career more often than that of Molina, who replaced Matheny as the club's primary catcher back in 2005.
"There is poetry in the fact that you get to do this for 1,000 games because you have really good players around you," Matheny said. "And he's one really special player."
Pham gets things started: The first leadoff homer of Pham's career was also the longest he has hit, measuring in at 454 feet, as tracked by Statcast™.
Matheny became the fourth Cardinals manager to pilot at least 1,000 games with the club, joining Tony La Russa, Red Schoendienst and Whitey Herzog. President of baseball operations John Mozeliak described the company as "fairly rarified air," and it's not difficult to see why; La Russa, Schoendienst and Herzog are all in the Hall of Fame. Matheny's .560 winning percentage is the best of that group through 1,000 games, and the fifth-best in baseball since 1976.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Usurped as the game's hardest thrower for just a day, rookie reliever Jordan Hicks reclaimed his crown Tuesday during a scoreless inning of work. Hicks threw the two hardest pitches of the season while facing White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson in the seventh, topping out with a 102 mph sinker that Anderson swung at and missed. Hicks had owned a handful of the hardest pitches tracked this season by Statcast™ until Sunday, when Marlins righty Tayron Guerrero eclipsed it.
"I can think of specifically three or four balls I thought were homers. Not only were they homers, but they were outs. That's deflating," Carpenter said. "You can only hear it so many times, from your coaches and your teammates and your family members, but when you see it on paper, hey, this is what it actually looks like, that can be a boost of confidence."
Given the extra off-days built into the early schedule, the Cardinals could've chosen to push Carlos Martinez back to face the Cubs this weekend. Instead, he'll start Wednesday against Lucas Giolito (1-3, 7.71) and the White Sox to wrap their truncated two-game set. Martinez (2-1, 1.43) has allowed just two earned runs over his last 33 1/3 innings.