C-Mart wins, vows 'Tsunami is coming again'

April 28th, 2021

didn’t want to do it, but he felt like he maybe had to. There was little else he needed to provide his team, himself and his fans almost three years out from a night like this.

As he departed the mound following a one-out walk in the eighth inning of Tuesday’s 5-2 win over the Phillies, he received a raucous uproar from the 12,895 fans at Busch Stadium. Riding the wave of emotion -- a night full of it, working through tough counts, tough at-bats and some tough luck -- Martínez had one thought to share following his first win as a starter since July 7, 2018:

“I think the Tsunami is coming again.”

That’s the type of confidence the two-time All-Star exudes now, harkening back to his nickname as he has returned to the rotation after years of turbulence -- on the field with injuries, as well as incidents off of it. In his best two-start stretch in almost three years, Martínez has thrown 13 1/3 innings, allowing just six hits, two earned runs and three walks while striking out seven.

Tuesday was his first win as a starter under manager Mike Shildt, who was given the position on an interim basis exactly one week following Martínez’s seven innings of one-run ball against the Giants on that July 7 afternoon. The two go back far before that, winning the Texas League championship in 2012, Martínez then a 20-year-old Double-A pitcher and Shildt in his second managerial role within the organization.

Wins may be a finicky stat in 21st century baseball. For Shildt, seeing the turbulence and evolution of the Tsunami, he knows they still matter.

“The win for the pitcher has been minimized, but let's not kid ourselves, for pitchers it matters,” Shildt said. “... I'm sure he feels good, he should feel good. We feel good about the fact he went out, he did really well, and we were able to bring it home with him. …

“It’s just good to see him be Carlos.”

Two moments stuck out in particular.

The first was a leadoff fielding error by right fielder Justin Williams in the fourth inning, which allowed J.T. Realmuto to breeze into second. Moments like those have haunted Martínez at the outset of the season, with such so-called “blow-up” frames derailing his first several starts.

Working with Andrew Knizner -- now the starting catcher with Yadier Molina on the injured list -- the young backstop met Martínez on the mound to equalize the moment. Realmuto ultimately scored on a groundout, but Martínez retired 13 consecutive batters following the miscue.

“He’s got the reset button going,” Shildt said. “... Didn’t make it bigger than it was.”

One of those outs was a battle with Bryce Harper in the sixth. An 0-2 count quickly became full on three consecutive balls. But Martínez, who said he studied the battles between Adam Wainwright and Harper on Monday night, realized Harper seemed to be sitting on a breaking ball in a two-strike count.

So Martínez blew a 95.2 mph high fastball by him -- his fourth-fastest pitch of the night.

“I don't scare,” Martínez said.

Tuesday was a team effort. Buoyed by stellar infield defense -- including a gem from Nolan Arenado -- Martínez would not fall victim to a tough-luck night like Wainwright did on Monday, tossing a complete game and still getting tagged with the loss. Paul Goldschmidt and Arenado -- scuffling at the plate over the past week-plus -- joined Tommy Edman in lacing the run-scoring hits, the biggest of which came via Goldschmidt’s two-run double in the seventh for much-needed insurance.

Ultimately, Martínez didn’t need as much support, able to avoid any such blow-up frames. Take out one frame in particular this season -- a six-run second inning against the Phillies on April 16, when he was hurt by defensive miscues -- and Martínez’s ERA would sit at 2.96. Instead, it’s 4.76.

“He was ahead in the count the whole night,” said Phillies manager Joe Girardi. “That’s the difference. We got him in long counts [last series]. They gave us a few extra opportunities the last time, two or three, he hit some people. He didn’t do any of that tonight. He was ahead in the count. He seemed to have pretty good command with all his stuff.”

The Cardinals believe Martínez can still be the pitcher who posted a 3.22 ERA from 2015-18, years after toiling with his mechanics and himself. The crests of such a turnaround have been roiling; two consecutive starts have shown just that.

“It’s been on the horizon,” Shildt said. “And it’s coming ashore.”