ST. LOUIS -- Whenever a team is losing games at a relentless pace, one of the easiest criticisms to level is that it appears lifeless, lacking in the vital energy needed to snap out of its listless ways.
First baseman Paul Goldschmidt had a retort to that line of thinking. When players are jumping around because they just succeeded on the field, it creates energy in the building, not the other way around.
“Energy doesn’t solve it,” Goldschmidt said. “Playing well does, getting hits, scoring runs, not giving up runs. That’s really what equates to winning.”
Well, either way, the Cardinals finally brought some happy vigor to Busch Stadium on this homestand, snapping their eight-game losing streak with a 12-6 win over the Tigers on Sunday, powered by three Goldschmidt home runs. Goldschmidt’s three-homer game was the first by a Cardinal at home since Albert Pujols did it on Sept. 3, 2006, vs. Pittsburgh.
The Cardinals appeared to be going down a familiar and grim road as their early lead slipped away in the middle innings, but they got to Detroit’s bullpen, as well as its defense, with seven runs in the sixth inning to avoid another of the gut-punching losses on the homestand.
Left fielder Brendan Donovan’s clutch three-run homer put the Cardinals ahead for good, while Goldschmidt’s third career three-home run game -- which nearly doubled his season home run total -- played a big part as well.
“I’ll tell you what, we finally gave our crowd something to cheer about,” manager Oliver Marmol said. “And I’ll tell you that they feed off of that. It’s needed right now.”
One of the few consistent producers in the Cardinals’ lineup this season, Goldschmidt has been particularly dangerous when down in the count. All three of his home runs came with two strikes. His first-inning home run off Alex Faedo came on an 0-2 pitch. It was Goldschmidt’s 13th career home run on an 0-and-2 count and made him 4-for-11 (.364) in that count this season, the least-favorable for a hitter.
Sunday’s dramatic comeback snapped the eight-game skid, and helped the Cardinals avoid their longest losing streak since 2007.
The Cardinals were in a delicate spot with left-hander Steven Matz on Sunday, just as they were with Willson Contreras the day before amid this frustrating season. Reduced to two effective pitches due to a misfiring curveball, Matz entered Sunday’s game with a 6.39 ERA, fourth-worst among qualified starters in MLB this season.
Asked before the game whether Matz was pitching for his spot on the pitching staff, Marmol essentially answered with a flat no. He wasn’t so adamant about whether Matz -- who has yet to show much effectiveness in the second year of his four-year, $44 million contract -- will remain in the rotation or be moved into a long-relief role if his performance doesn’t improve.
“At some point you’d sit down and figure out what’s best,” Marmol said. “We’re going to be more patient than probably most people would be, especially if we’re seeing some stuff that we think will play.”
Cardinals management has started to make the kind of roster-churning moves underachieving teams normally can expect by early May.
Sunday’s win over the Tigers gave the Cardinals at least one day to catch their breath and avoid any further team upheavals. Marmol said it will buy Matz at least one more start, which figures to come next weekend at Fenway Park in Boston.
For Matz, it had to feel good to walk off the mound to applause in the sixth inning after he had pitched 5 ⅓ innings, allowing just one run on five hits while striking out two. One of those two strikeouts, by the way, came on a 77.7 mph curveball to Riley Greene in the first inning.
“Well, a lot of soft contact, which was good,” said Matz. "The defense played well and made some really good plays behind me. [Catcher Andrew] Knizner called a great game and worked fast. You know, I still think there’s a lot of room for improvement for me.”