ST. LOUIS – All Manny Machado could do -- after one of the young season's most riveting showdowns between a batter and a pitcher -- was tip his cap.
Or, technically, his helmet.
"Just power on power," Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer would later say.
Hicks punctuated the at-bat with a nasty 3-2 slider off the outside corner. Machado, representing the tying run, swung through it.
As Hicks hopped off the mound and headed for the dugout, Machado removed his helmet and tipped it in the direction of the 22-year-old right-hander. Game recognize game.
"That was fun, man," said Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright. "Machado, I’ll tell you what, he is a tough out."
"One really good arm and one really good hitter, going face to face," said Padres manager Andy Green.
Machado has been red-hot lately, having reached base in 14 of 27 plate appearances during his current six-game hitting streak. He strode to the plate as the tying run with Ian Kinsler on first base and a similarly scorching Hunter Renfroe on deck. The Cardinals called for their closer Hicks with two outs in the eighth.
"We had a big at-bat with Machado in the eighth that we felt was important," Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. "That was an opportunity to get him multiple innings, though that’s not something we want to do on a consistent basis."
“He’s an unbelievable talent,” said Hicks, who didn’t notice Machado’s cap-tip at the time. “But at the same time, I know I’m good as well. I just have to go get him out.”
With each offering from Hicks, the drama built at Busch Stadium. After his first-pitch fastball came inside, he dropped a slider at the knees. Machado took it for strike one.
Hicks went back to the heat -- 101, 101, 102 and 101 with his next four pitches. Machado fouled the last of those fastballs straight back. He circled the batters' box knowing he'd just missed one.
"A lot of good foul balls, and Manny took some good passes," Green said. "There was one real good [swing] on one right down the middle there. It was just a classic battle."
With Machado suddenly on top of the fastball, Hicks went back to the slider. He threw one inside, and Machado was out in front. He fouled it into the left-field seats.
Then came Hicks' hardest pitch of the day, a 2-2 heater at Machado's eye level clocked at 102.1 mph. Machado laid off, but it set up Hicks' 3-2 breaking ball perfectly.
"I’m more confident in [my slider]," Hicks said. "I found it toward the end of the year last year, and it was a mission for me in the offseason not to lose it. So I just kept working on it."
Clearly, he hasn’t lost it.
"He went from 103 to really one of the best sliders I think he's thrown,” Hosmer said. “There's really nothing you can do at that point. It was just an epic battle for these fans to see."
It left them tipping their caps, right along with Machado.