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Gyorko's 1st '19 HR comes at just the right time

Pinch-hit blast caps four-run, eighth-inning comeback
@LangoschMLB
May 25, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- Jedd Gyorko wasn’t the only one to speak up when players gathered Saturday afternoon to address the month-long nosedive that had brought the Cardinals, owners of baseball’s best record on the first day of May, all the way back to .500. His message to teammates was both

ST. LOUIS -- Jedd Gyorko wasn’t the only one to speak up when players gathered Saturday afternoon to address the month-long nosedive that had brought the Cardinals, owners of baseball’s best record on the first day of May, all the way back to .500.

His message to teammates was both simple and direct. This wasn’t the sort of drought defined by poor play or riddled with mistakes, as had been the case in past seasons. Stay the course, he urged the group, and improved results will follow.

Hours later, his swing ensured as much.

Box score

A most unlikely source to cap the club’s frenzied eighth-inning comeback, Gyorko delivered a three-run homer off the bench to lift the Cardinals to a 6-3 win over the Braves in front of a sellout crowd at Busch Stadium. The homer was Gyorko’s first this season and his first as a pinch-hitter since 2015.

“We needed that win,” Gyorko said afterward. “That’s a big win for us. We’ve been struggling. This has been a tough month. And to have a lead and then give it up and then get that win, hopefully that kind of jumpstarts things. Hopefully, we can look later in this month and going into next month, and maybe that’s a win that kind of got us going.”

He’d like to be able to say the same for himself.

With a static starting infield, Gyorko has spent the first two months of the season figuring out how to best stay sharp in a part-time role. It’s been a trying task. He entered Saturday 1-for-16 with no RBIs and seven strikeouts as a pinch-hitter.

As a team, the Cardinals had tallied only one other pinch-hit blast this season.

Gyorko was summoned to hit as the club pieced together a rally against Braves reliever Dan Winkler. A successful replay challenge negated a double play, setting the stage for Matt Carpenter to deliver his second game-tying RBI single of the night. Gyorko followed with a 435-foot blast into the left-center-field seats.

"It was a cutter that didn’t move, right down the middle,” Winkler said of the 0-1 pitch. “I tried to make it a nastier one. I made a good one, and then I was trying to make an even better one, instead of just making the same pitch. It just spun and stayed middle.”

“It was maybe a little microcosm of us,” manager Mike Shildt added. “Just a big relief.”

Making only six starts through the team’s first 51 games hasn’t afforded Gyorko much opportunity to build upon at-bats. That’s left an infielder who had accrued at least 400 plate appearances in his previous six Major League seasons workshopping various routines to find the one that can best keep him sharp.

His latest one? Cutting down on the number of swings he takes early in the day and instead “waiting until later in the game to crank things up.” Gyorko has felt the quality of his at-bats improve as a result.

“To finally put a good swing on it and drive in a couple guys is big,” said Gyorko, who knocked in more runs with that swing than he had previously this season. “That’s a good start. Let’s start right there.”

He was speaking of himself but might as well been referring to the entire group around him, too.

Gyorko’s swing reaped a reward for a team that, as Carpenter described afterward, “checked off all the boxes” to even its series against Atlanta. And those boxes were many.

Dakota Hudson laid the foundation with a quality start that, at 6 1/3 innings, was also the longest of his career. The performance allowed Shildt to set up his bullpen, which, even with a hiccup from Carlos Martinez, course corrected in time. The night ended with Jordan Hicks converting his first save opportunity since April.

In between Hudson’s first pitch and Hicks’ last, the Cardinals capitalized with timely hits from key contributors. Paul Goldschmidt tallied his first hit with a runner in scoring position since May 9, and Carpenter registered a multi-RBI game in his second night as the team’s five-hole hitter.

“That was a representation of we put it all together,” Shildt said. “And it’s pretty special when you see it.”

Hudson, who contends that he predicted Gyorko’s eighth-inning blast while winding down his day on the exercise bike, ended the day with one final forecast.

“Maybe that gets us going a little bit,” he said. “I feel like this is a team win if you’ve ever seen one. I feel like everybody leaves today knowing they were locked on.”

Jenifer Langosch is a senior content manager at MLB.com. She previously covered the Pirates (2007-11) and Cardinals (2012-19). Follow her on Twitter.