PHOENIX — By the time the scoreboard had calmed, the crowds’ ovations had quieted, and the overstuffed box score had been printed, the Cardinals’ victory Saturday night at Chase Field had featured a whirlwind of events.
Displays of power? Check.
Sublime defense? Check.
Pitching intrigue? Check.
Late-game pitching intrigue? Check.
Rallies? Check. And check again. And check again.
A young player in full flight? Check.
A hometown kid getting booed without doing anything? Check.
A slump-crunching grand slam? You bet.
An MVP homer and 100th RBI? But, of course.
But shining above all that frenzy as the Cardinals romped in Arizona for an 16-7 victory and won their sixth consecutive game – to the surprise of no one who has been watching the calendar unfold into legend – was Albert Pujols.
The Cardinals’ designated hitter cracked two home runs, finished with four hits, and along the way surpassed a record once owned by Stan Musial. His 10 total bases gave him 6,143 for his career, nine more than Musial and second only to Hank Aaron in major-league history. With his 691st and 692nd home runs, both of Madison Bumgarner, Pujols moved within eight of a mark first reached by Babe Ruth. And, in the sixth inning, he lined a ball off the left-field wall that could have left the ballpark if it didn’t singe a few hats with its low launch angle.
He became the oldest player in major-league history to have four hits and two home runs in the same game, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
And it took two of the youngest players on the team to build on Pujols’ singular performance and give the Cardinals a win.
Lars Nootbaar, born 3 ½ years before Pujols’ debut, had a tie-breaking, two-out triple in the sixth inning to crack a 4-4 tie and race the Cardinals to their 14th victory of the month. That sent the Cardinals toward a four-run lead that was under siege in the eighth inning. Pinch-hitting for Pujols in the ninth inning, Arizona kid Nolan Gorman walked up to the plate for his big-league debut in his hometown and was greeted by boos. The crowd wanted Pujols to take a crack at a third homer or fifth hit. Instead, Gorman lashed a single for his first career hit and first career RBI as a major-leaguer in Phoenix.
There at the dugout railing cheering for Gorman and mashing his hands together like a peppermill – the Cardinals’ sign for “grinding it out” – was Pujols.
And they weren’t done.
After Arizona narrowed the Cardinals lead to one run in the eighth inning, the Cardinals unloaded again. Paul DeJong had the decisive swing with a grand slam in the ninth inning. DeJong’s third career grand slam ended a zero-for-20 skid. DeJong’s homer meant nine of the 10 batters the Cardinals used scored a run, nine of the 10 batters in the box score had at least a hit, and every spot in the lineup reached base.
Paul Goldschmidt added the punctuation to an eight-run ninth inning with a three-run shot that landed beyond the right-field fence. His 31st homer of the season gave him 100 RBIs for the first time as a Cardinal and fourth time in his career.
The Cardinals had watched earlier in the day as the Cubs rallied to beat Milwaukee and give the first-place Cardinals a chance to open up a 5-game lead in the NL Central.
With no Helsley to save them, eight inning teeters
The outburst of homers from DeJong and Goldschmidt swamped what had become a tense game because of the Jordan Hicks’ wobbles in the eighth inning. The Cardinals are spending the weekend without All-Star closer Ryan Helsley as he attended the birth of a daughter, opening up late-and-close assignments for other relievers.
This one was late, but it was not supposed to be so close.
The Cardinals had a four-run lead when Hicks took over, and he promptly did not retire a batter. Appearing for the second time in as many games, Hicks allowed all four batters he faced to reach. One homered. Three total got hits, one walked, and eventually three would score. Giovanny Gallegos inherited a one-run game from Hicks, the tying run on base, and all three outs to get in the eighth inning. He did, stranding that runner and keeping the Cardinals ahead before they blasted away in the ninth.
In return to rotation, Hudson tested, not bested
Arizona greeted Cardinals right-hander Dakota Hudson with six left-handed batters in his lineup, giving the sinkerballer an immediate chance to show the previous week of work away from games would yield better results in games.
It did and didn’t, in equal measure.
Hudson, skipped this past week in the rotation, spent time improving the command of his pitches, particularly against left-handed pitchers. He had put himself in bind after bind this season by walking batters and then seeing groundball singles slip through and ignite rallies. In the first inning Saturday, Hudson walked two batters to fuel a two-run innings by the Diamondbacks. He walked the first right-handed batter he faced, and three batters later walked a left-handed batter to give Arizona a chance to expand its lead. Hudson struck out switch-hitter Sergio Alcantara to defuse the inning.
Twice in his 4 1/3 innings, Hudson walked one of the first two batters he faced. The leadoff hitter reached base in in his final three innings. He complicated his outing with three walks total and a hit batter, but he also limited what the Diamondbacks could do with it by relying on grounders to get outs with traffic on the bases.
Arizona did him a solid with a sacrifice bunt to slow the fourth inning.
“This will be a good test because there’s no way around – they’ve got six lefties in the lineup,” manager Oliver Marmol said. “We’ll see real quick what he’s got for them. I think introducing some soft contact and pounding the zone, expanding when needed.”
That’s about how it went. He got seven groundouts. The one fly ball he got was a sacrifice fly. And, in the first, third, and fourth innings he expanded the zone to get strikeouts, the last one coming immediately after the sacrifice bunt.
Hudson allowed four runs on five hits. Three of those runs were driven home by Arizona catcher Carson Kelly, a former Cardinal. He had an RBI single off Hudson in the first inning and then a two-out, two-run single to tag the right-hander in the third inning.
Kelly’s third inning single gave Arizona a 4-2 lead.
Hudson left the game to the bullpen after the Cardinals had tied it, 4-4.
Nootbaar shatters tie with 360-foot dash
In the middle of rallies to help the Cardinals tie the game and then break that tie was No. 9 hitter Nootbaar. The 24-year-old right fielder has emerged this month as the team’s starter in right, leadoff hitter against right-handed batters, and increasingly more.
He drew a walk in the third inning that, with help from Goldschmidt, became the Cardinals’ tying run for a 2-2 game. In the fourth, Nootbaar singled home Andrew Knizner to tie the game, 4-4.
For one of the few times in the game, the score stalled there for an inning or two.
That’s where Nootbaar found it in the sixth inning. The Cardinals had bounced Bumgarner from the game after a walk, and Knizner’s walk would put two runners on base. Nootbaar stung a pitch from reliever Noe Ramirez into the right-field corner. He dashed for a triple – his third of the season. When the ball misplayed in right, Nootbaar had a chance to cruise home to add a run to his two tiebreaking RBIs.
Who needs a Gold Glove? Arenado barehand play dazzles
There was no time for Cardinals’ third baseman and nine-time Gold Glove winner Nolan Arenado to mess with trying to reach the ball with that decorated glove of his.
In the sixth inning, Arizona center fielder Alek Thomas chopped a grounder that bounded high over the head of the pitcher and toward the back of the mound. Charging from his spot at third base, Arenado only had time to catch the rainbow on its way down and throw in the same motion.
He barely had time to get a proper grip.
Arenado timed his arm swing so that his hand grabbed the baseball out of the air, and he continued the throwing motion toward first base. The throw was low, but in time for Goldschmidt to snare it and get Thomas by a step. Expect to see the play in November as Arenado is fitted for a 10th consecutive Gold Glove, even though it had no part in this highlight.
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