CINCINNATI -- Shortly after he was named the Cardinals interim manager, Mike Shildt made one of his primary objectives clear. He called William Fowler into his office, sat the struggling outfielder down and revealed his plan to reassert him regularly in the Cardinals starting lineup.Shildt didn't have much of a
CINCINNATI -- Shortly after he was named the Cardinals interim manager, Mike Shildt made one of his primary objectives clear. He called William Fowler into his office, sat the struggling outfielder down and revealed his plan to reassert him regularly in the Cardinals starting lineup.
Shildt didn't have much of a choice. The Cardinals remain heavily committed to Fowler, whose contract and feeble first half would've made him largely unmovable by next week's non-waiver Trade Deadline. Fowler was disgruntled in his new part-time role, the discord between him and Mike Matheny swelling in the weeks leading up to Matheny's dismissal. In Shildt's mind, the key to turning Fowler's season around laid in mending those wounds.
His goal was ultimately seeing more nights like Tuesday, when Fowler's two-run homer sent the Cardinals to a 4-2 win in 11 innings over the Reds at Great American Ball Park.
"We've seen him being a good player, and we've seen him being a winning player," Shildt said. "He brings a lot to the table, on the field and in the clubhouse. We had to get him going again, see that million-dollar smile again."
To do that, Shildt has given Fowler what he'd repeatedly lobbied for as his grasp on the starting lineup slipped last month: consistent at-bats. Shildt's lineups have featured Fowler all but once in his eight games at the helm, over which Fowler has shown flashes of his former self. He entered play Tuesday hitting .200/.222/.400 in those contests, and still just .177/.266/.296 for the year.
But behind the scenes, Fowler has told club officials he feels different, that change was palpable. "If you're in a relaxed state of mind, you know you're in there everyday, you know you're going to get your reps, that helps," said Fowler, who added two walks and a stolen base Tuesday. "Stuff is starting to click, and that's a good sign. I felt [before] like it was Spring Training, when you try to make adjustments during the game, and that's tough.
"It's awesome having Shildty behind me. He told me he's going to have me out there. He said relax, have fun, and just be me."
Fowler was not the only Cardinals veteran to hear a similar message. Shildt has kept Marcell Ozuna rooted in the cleanup spot despite his homerless July. He'd recommitted to Kolten Wong as the club's everyday second baseman before Wong landed on the disabled list Monday. The hope being those veterans can buoy a second-half during which the Cards will rely on a largely inexperienced starting rotation.
Tuesday provided an immediate example, when Fowler's heroics salvaged another night a St. Louis rookie starter spent flirting with history. This time it was Austin Gomber, who followed Daniel Poncedeleon's seven no-hit innings Monday with 6 1/3 more of his own.
Spotted a two-run lead, Gomber didn't bend until Eugenio Suarez's game-tying homer in the seventh, which followed Joey Votto's clean single to right a batter before to break up his no-hit bid. Gomber and Poncedeleon became the first pair of rookie teammates to carry consecutive no-hitters into the seventh since 1964.
"Pretty cool, huh?" Gomber said. "I was talking to Ponce about it, and he said, 'Go do it.' I said, 'I'm probably not going to take a no-hitter into the sixth.'"
After Bud Norris spoiled Poncedeleon's debut a night before, the Cards typically leaky 'pen wiggled through 4 2/3 scoreless frames to ensure Gomber's effort didn't go for naught. Fowler followed Tommy Pham's one-out single in the 11th with a line-drive shot into the bleachers in right off Amir Garrett. It was Fowler's second of the year as a right-handed batter and first to the opposite field from either side. Norris rebounded to notch his 19th save, putting the Cardinals back a game above .500.
"Especially after last night, it's a boost for the morale of this squad," Fowler said. "Guys have been battling, and we've been looking for that big hit. It's awesome to be able to get it."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
A perfectly-executed bunt play kept the Cardinals alive in the 10th, after Sam Tuivailala allowed the first two batter to reach to open the frame. That set up a sacrifice bunt situation for Reds catcher Curt Casali, who bounced Tuivailala's offering off the plate and into a charging Yairo Munoz's glove. Following Yadier Molina's aggressive call, Munoz spun without hesitation to get the lead runner at third. Two harmless flyouts defused the scoring threat soon after.
"Phenomenal play," Shildt said. "I told him after the game. I said, 'You won that game on that bunt play.'"
Even when he'd produced consistently from the right side of the plate during his career, Fowler's power rarely went to the opposite field. His home run Tuesday marked his first to right field as a right-handed batter since Aug. 19, 2015, when he took Daniel Norris deep as a member of the Cubs.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Gomber lost his no-hit bid shortly after a bizarre interruption delayed the start of the seventh inning. In the middle of his Gomber's warmup pitches, a malfunction in one of Great American Ball Park's smoke detector units caused the stadium's fire alarms to accidentally go off. Sirens sounded and hazard lights flashed throughout the stadium, halting play for 7 1/2 minutes. Gomber retired his first hitter when play resumed, but allowed Votto's hit a batter later. The next hitter, Suarez, erased the Cards' lead.
"It wasn't a very favorable thing to have happen and at a very inconvenient time. Young, old, inexperienced, experienced, it breaks up the rhythm," Shildt said. "It was probably just one of those things, but pretty odd timing."
"I'm not going to blame giving up a home run on a delay," Gomber said.
HE SAID IT
"He's not on our Christmas card list right now." -- Shildt, on Suarez, who has hit game-tying home runs in both games of this series
The Cardinals will match some interesting history when they tab Jack Flaherty (4-4, 3.15 ERA) to start Wednesday's 11:35 a.m. CT finale from Great American Ball Park. Flaherty will become the Cards' third rookie starter in this three-game set. Wednesday will mark the first time they've used exclusively rookie starters in a three-game series since 1997, and the first time before rosters expand in September since 1959. Sal Romano (5-8, 5.19) will oppose for the Reds.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.