CINCINNATI -- Carlos Martinez spent a fair portion of Sunday's early, soggy afternoon on a couch inside the Cardinals clubhouse, trying to relax. Rain delays can bring stress for starting pitchers, clumping clouds an inconvenience for creatures who crave routine. So Martinez lounged, and waited, blaring music in an attempt
CINCINNATI -- Carlos Martinez spent a fair portion of Sunday's early, soggy afternoon on a couch inside the Cardinals clubhouse, trying to relax. Rain delays can bring stress for starting pitchers, clumping clouds an inconvenience for creatures who crave routine. So Martinez lounged, and waited, blaring music in an attempt to cool his nerves.
"I was trying to stay calm," Martinez said. "And not worry about it."
When Martinez finally stepped on the mound, he proved there was little reason to. Absent of his best stuff and battling wet conditions, Martinez nonetheless breezed through the better part of seven innings after a 2-hour and 35-minute delay. His 11 strikeouts highlighted a 3-2 win over the Reds that capped a four-game sweep and sent St. Louis to Chicago on a bit of a roll headed into its first series of the year against the Cubs.
The Cardinals arrived at Great American Ball Park searching for consistency in a variety of areas -- on offense, out of the bullpen and the win column. They left owners of the club's first four-game sweep in Cincinnati since 1949, a series that saw them score 27 runs and win in a variety of ways.
"We just want guys to start feeling good about this club," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, "There is every reason they should. And you need to have some success for that to happen."
Much of the offense Sunday came from rookie outfielder Harrison Bader, who clubbed a two-run home run off losing pitcher Homer Bailey. Yadier Molina added an RBI double in the seventh, which proved the difference after the Reds clawed back against two St. Louis relievers.
Billy Hamilton homered off Tyler Lyons in the eighth, then Adam Duvall hit a solo shot off Bud Norris in the ninth. A chaotic play ended with Tucker Barnhart on second base one batter later, representing the tying run, then Norris allowed the winning run to reach when he hit pinch-hitter Devin Mesoraco.
But Norris recovered to retire Hamilton for the game's final out. Before the pitch, Cardinals assistant coach Willie McGee signaled for Bader, playing left field, to shift in and toward the line. Hamilton's line drive found him perfectly, giving Norris his third save and second in place of Greg Holland, who is being eased into the closer role.
"WIllie positioned me perfectly," Bader said. "He's so humble, sometimes he apologizes for telling us to shift over. I told him, 'I trust you more than I trust myself.'"
All of which made a winner of Martinez for the second time, though he's probably deserved more. The Cardinals ace has all but answered the questions that stemmed from his strange spring and shaky debut, and now ranks among MLB's leaders in ERA through four starts. He's now held opponents to one run over his last 21 1/3 innings.
"He's going to have those runs where things don't really feel right and you have to grind through, and that's what we saw from that first start," Matheny said. "But when he's locked in, you just let him go."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Bader's blast: Starting for the second consecutive day, Bader switched out his favorite, brown glove in favor of a newer, stiffer black mitt he prefers to play with in wet conditions. His choice of bat did not change, but on Sunday it was the piece of equipment that made the biggest impact. Bader's first home run of the season opened the scoring in the second, when he opened eyes with a long opposite-field homer.
"I don't think we've seen him go oppo like that," Matheny said.
Bader called it the result of a conscious effort in his preparation to drive the ball that way better.
"During the little stint I had up here last year, you learn very quickly what guys are trying to do to you," Bader said. "Specific to me, that outer half was where I was getting beat on the most. Every day I'm doing what I can to better handle the outside corner. That ball ran back over the middle of the plate, and I stayed inside it just like we're working on."
Cardinals starters earned the win in each of the four victories this series. Martinez's victory Sunday marked the first time since 2015 that St. Louis starters have earned victories in four straight games, since Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn, Jaime Garcia, John Lackey and Martinez won five straight that August. Martinez, Miles Mikolas, Luke Weaver and Wacha all emerged victorious this series.
HE SAID IT
"Here's a guy who came up throwing 95-100 mph and today he was anywhere from 89-95, 96. It reminded me a lot of Johnny Cueto -- different arm angles, different speeds, different shapes of his breaking pitches, different movement and action. He was good. We struggled with him. We had a lot of young guys in the lineup and he was a little too much for us." -- Reds manager Bryan Price, on Martinez's dominant outing
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Reds won a 1-minute, 50-second review after challenging a wild play in the ninth, which resulted in Barnhart being awarded an extra base. Barnhart bunted against the shift with nobody out, then collided with Jose Martinez when Greg Garcia's throw pulled the Cardinals first baseman into the baseline. The replay revealed the ball ended up out-of-bounds, sending Barnhart to second as the tying run. But more concerning to the Cardinals was the health of Martinez, whose right hand took the brunt of the collision. X-rays on his wrist were negative, but Martinez was still in pain after the game, his hand wrapped in a bandage.
"Just another part of my body hurts," said Martinez, who is also playing on two bruised feet. "But I've seen so many plays like this that ended up worse."
One of the most storied rivalries in all of sports resumes Monday, when the Cardinals and Cubs match up for the first time this season. St. Louis will look to erase the memories of 2017, when it went 5-14 against Chicago. Adam Wainwright (0-2, 5.06 ERA) opposes Tyler Chatwood (0-2, 4.91) in Monday's opener, set for 6:05 pm CT from Wrigley Field.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.