No excuses: Cards earn second straight comeback win

DeJong, Arenado, Montgomery and Walker shine in return to St. Louis

June 28th, 2023

ST. LOUIS -- The excuses could have been plentiful after the Cardinals fell behind early for the third straight game Tuesday night at Busch Stadium.

Jet lag following a whirlwind trip to London and a strong Astros starting pitcher were just a couple of reasons for another potential disappointing loss that could have been used. But the Cardinals rejected them all.

For the second straight game, the Cardinals erased an early deficit. They came away with a 4-2 win over the Astros in the series opener and the beginning of a pivotal homestand.

“No one's going to care how we feel today,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “Jet lag, it doesn’t matter. You fall behind 2-0, and you got to find a way to fight back, and that's all that matters. And they were able to do that.”

Paul DeJong jumpstarted the rally with a Statcast-projected 405-foot solo home run in the third inning off Astros starter Framber Valdez (7-6), and he added a sacrifice fly in the fourth to tie the game at 2.

“Early in the game, he hung me a curveball in my first at-bat, and I was able to get the barrel to it, and then [with the] bases loaded, he attacked me with a couple of [sinkers] and didn’t try to do too much and put a good swing on one to right-center,” DeJong said.

Paul Goldschmidt worked a walk and scored on Nolan Arenado’s double in the fifth to give the Cardinals the lead. With the double, Arenado became the 16th active player to record 1,600+ career hits.

Arenado advanced to third on a throwing error and scored on a wild pitch to give St. Louis a 4-2 lead. He was originally called out at the plate, but the call was overturned after Marmol challenged the call.

“That's a credit to the coaches, making sure we’re prepared and letting us know that he doesn’t hang a lot of sliders, he will spike some, and we got to be ready for it,” Arenado said.

Jordan Montgomery turned in his fourth straight quality start, going 6 2/3 innings vs. the Astros. He allowed two runs (one earned) on six hits and one walk while striking out six.

“I just wanted to set the tone,” Montgomery said. “The guys came out swinging against a really good pitcher. So, to get to Valdez and get me four was huge.”

Montgomery (5-7) has allowed three runs or less in nine of his past 12 starts.

“Monty was really good,” Marmol said. “Everything for strikes, established that sinker, just imposing his will on those guys.”

Giovanny Gallegos escaped a bases-loaded jam in the seventh and pitched a scoreless eighth.

Jordan Hicks pitched a scoreless ninth to earn his fifth save in seven opportunities this season.

“I don't think anybody's right yet,” Arenado said. “This was a tough one for sure, showing up to the ballpark. So, for us to get a win was great.”

The comeback wasn’t all pretty.

Houston capitalized on a game-opening fielding error by Brendan Donovan and scored later in the first, and Martín Maldonado crushed a misplaced Montgomery sinker 438 feet over the Astros bullpen in left-center to make it 2-0 in the third.

The Cardinals could have put up more than just one run in the fourth after Willson Contreras led off with a double but was thrown out at third trying to advance on Jordan Walker’s infield single, which extended his hit streak to 16 games.

“I like the intent there,” Marmol said. “I think if you look at the overhead, he gives ground back to second as the shortstop is going in the hole. If he holds his ground and just keeps his feet moving and advances on the throw, then there's no play at third there.”

Those were the types of miscues that typically ended up in a loss for the Cardinals earlier in the season, and they are a reason why they entered the game 13 games under .500. But these past two games have shown a resiliency that is needed if the team is going to make a run into contention.

“Our motto right now is just keep winning series, and you know winning the first game of a series is a good start for us,” DeJong said. “We're not going to try to bite it all off with one piece. We want to just keep chipping away at it and picking each other up.”

And it couldn’t come at a better time with Tuesday’s game being the first of 13 games in 13 days leading into the All-Star break. The first 10 of those games are against the Astros, Yankees and Marlins, all of which have winning records.

“I feel like [playing] tentative got us in trouble in the first few months,” Arenado said. “So, we're just trying to be aggressive, and when you're facing good teams and great pitchers, you've got to be aggressive because that might be your only chance to get a few runs. So, that worked out today, and hopefully we can find a way to win a series tomorrow.”