ST. LOUIS -- At this point, it’s probably underselling it to say the St. Louis Cardinals are undergoing a youth movement.
It’s more like their farm system has matured at just the right time, blending perfectly with a veteran-laden roster. Paul Goldschmidt hit a grand slam to drive in Lars Nootbaar, Tommy Edman and Edmundo Sosa in the 10th inning to give the Cardinals a 7-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday night in a game in which rookie Brendan Donovan and Juan Yepez once again had their footprints all over the place.
They arrived at a moment in Cardinals history when many of their Minor League teammates also have gotten their first callups due to injuries and underperformance by some veterans. Despite being far less-heralded than many of the team’s top prospects, those two rookies have made the biggest impact so far.
In just 23 Major League games, Donovan has played six positions, including right field in place of injured Dylan Carlson on Monday, while posting a 1.004 OPS and scoring 11 runs. It’s a measure of how far he has come in a short period of time that Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo elected to intentionally walk Donovan with first base open and one out in the ninth inning to get to veteran Corey Dickerson, who immediately made the move pay off by hitting into an inning-ending double play.
Donovan also made a diving catch in right field to keep the Blue Jays scoreless in the 10th, setting up the winning rally.
Yepez, who is slugging .522 in 18 games, hit the seventh-inning home run that jump-started a Cardinals offense that had been lulled to sleep by José Berríos’ lively offspeed stuff and propensity to work fast.
“It’s fun because I’ve been playing with these guys together, and we struggled in the Minor Leagues,” Yepez said. “To be able to all be here having fun and winning games for this club, it’s really amazing.”
Yepez and Donovan were teammates at Single-A Peoria and Triple-A Memphis.
“I always tell him you’re the best hitter I’ve ever known because he has such good control of the strike zone. He knows what pitches to hit, what pitches to lay off,” Yepez said of Donovan. “I remember when we got here, he was not hitting that great and he said, ‘Man, I don’t have my walks.’ I was like, ‘Wait until you start to get some hits and you’ll get your walks.’ Then he went up to .300, and he started to walk, and I said, ‘It’s like I told you. You’re the best hitter I’ve ever met.’”
Having watched several of their starting pitchers leave games early lately and having put a starter, Steven Matz, on the injured list for the first time all season earlier in the day, the Cardinals needed a strong start Monday night.
Miles Mikolas obliged, but Berríos matched him, allowing the teams to play the first six innings in just over 90 minutes.
“There were a couple innings I went down to get a drink or go to the bathroom and I came out, and it was like two outs, two strikes. I had to get my stuff and get back going again,” Mikolas said. “As much as I’d love us to score a bunch of runs, I do like not having to sit down for a long time when I’m feeling good.”
Berríos didn’t have much of a history with the Cardinals coming in. What he had all was while pitching for the Twins, and it was rather impressive. He continued his success against St. Louis by striking out the side in the first inning and adding two more whiffs in the third. By the time Donovan took a called third strike in the fourth, Berríos had accumulated 24 career strikeouts against the Cardinals in just 16 1/3 innings.
But amid his relative dominance early, Nolan Arenado led off the second inning with a single to center and then scored on Donovan’s line-drive double into the right-field corner.
The Cardinals’ only other run while Berríos was pitching came on a line drive that eked over the top of the left-field wall off the bat of Yepez in the seventh inning.
Mikolas couldn’t match Berríos’ strikeout total, but he out-did him in putting up zeros through the first five innings.
George Springer ended his shutout bid with a line-drive home run to left to lead off the sixth inning.
Mikolas has seemingly returned to his form from 2018, when -- following three dominant seasons in Japan -- he won 18 games and had a 2.83 ERA for the Cardinals to finish sixth in Cy Young balloting. Mikolas this season ranks eighth in MLB in ERA (1.96) and 11th in WHIP (0.98) despite ranking 43rd with just 41 strikeouts. He’s back to inducing poor contact and racking up ground balls.
He said he’s enjoying seeing all the young players come up and contribute to a team led by Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright and Albert Pujols, all 39 or older.
“The Tokyo Giants did a pretty good job of it. We had a lot of young guys coming up when I was there, mixing in with a lot of veterans, but I think the Cardinals might be one of the best at it,” Mikolas said.