Pham, Piscotty join Cardinals' rookie lore
Pinch-hitter homers in first postseason at-bat; first baseman/outfielder goes deep in first playoff game
ST. LOUIS -- Bigger stage? No big deal for these Cardinals rookies.
Once Baby Birds, Stephen Piscotty and Tommy Pham are now postseason tested, proving Friday that they were not intimidated by the scope of their first postseason games. Both were huge in the eighth inning of Game 1 of the National League Division Series, each hitting home runs in a 4-0 victory over the Cubs.
"In the Minor Leagues we're kind of groomed to come up here and contribute right away," Pham said. "The expectations are high for us. So when we come here, we expect to help out the team. There is no secret about it. So we prepare and we work really hard to put ourselves in this position."
It was a 1-0 game when Pham tattooed a 3-1 cutter for a pinch-hit solo shot into the left-field seats off Jon Lester. According to Statcast™, the ball left Pham's bat at 110 mph and landed a projected 431 feet away.
"Lester is a really good pitcher, and he has a lot of weapons, big arsenal, and I felt like tonight I saw him really well," Pham said. "I laid off his changeup, the ball off the plate, you know, to put myself in that good hitter's count, to put myself into that position. Then when the ball was released from his hands, I just saw it well and I got lucky."
Lester's final batter, Matt Carpenter, drew a walk, before reliever Pedro Strop went to a 1-0 count and surrendered a two-run homer to left field by Piscotty to ice the game at 4-0. The drive had an exit velocity of 105 mph and landed a projected 406 feet away.
"When Tommy hit his, we were so fired up when he came across, I think we broke his necklace or something," Piscotty said. "I don't know what happened. His home run took a tremendous amount of pressure off me in my at-bat, and who knows? Maybe I don't hit that home run if he doesn't come through with that one."
The homers added to the Cardinals' tapestry of postseason excellence.
• The duo joined George Watkins (1930), Mike Shannon (1964) and Randal Grichuk (2014) as Cardinals rookies to homer in their first postseason game.
• Overall, seven St. Louis players have homered in their first postseason game.
• Pham joined Watkins and Grichuk as Cards rookies to homer in their first postseason at-bat.
• Also, Pham provided the first pinch-hit homer for the Cardinals in the postseason since Game 2 of the NL Championship Series last season, when the late Oscar Taveras went deep vs. the Giants' Sergio Romo.
Pham and Piscotty had different paths to reaching the Majors. Pham, 27, was a 16th-round pick in 2006 who spent most of 10 seasons in the Minors.
"You know, you talk about young players that sometimes you wonder how they're going to respond when you put 'em on a stage like this, but not with Tommy," manager Mike Matheny said. "You know he's going to be there. He's been looking forward to this for a long time, and tonight he did a great job with it."
The 24-year-old Piscotty was a first-rounder in the 2012 Draft, a compensation pick for free-agent departure Albert Pujols. He made his big league debut on July 21.
Piscotty also delivered a ground-rule double to right field in the first inning and scored the game's first run. It was his second game back since suffering a concussion during a nasty collision that knocked him unconscious on Sept. 28 vs. the Pirates.
"Stephen has been as consistent as any young player you could ever bring into a situation where we throw him in," Matheny said. "Not just into the big leagues, but we throw him in a position where he hasn't had a lot of reputation and he does a great job and just the consistency and the way he goes about his business. He's got great baseball IQ."
Grichuk, who hit his first postseason homer in Game 1 of last year's NLCS off Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw, understood what Pham and Piscotty were feeling and offered pregame advice.
"Just kind of breathe," Grichuk said. "It was the same stuff everybody told me last year. Just breathe, enjoy the moment and don't let the moment and pressure get to you."
Clearly that advice was heeded when it mattered most on Friday night.