CHICAGO — When Albert Pujols connected on a fastball several inches above the strike zone and drove it several hundred feet into the bleachers earlier this week at Wrigley Field, Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol heard a voice nearby in the dugout marvel at the swing and its result.
“How do you even do that?”
The question belonged to Paul Goldschmidt.
So he does know how his teammates feel when he’s at the plate.
In the routine fashion that defines him, Goldschmidt took his latest significant stride toward a feat that has not been accomplished in the National League since the Gashouse Gang. Goldschmidt homered twice and drove home five RBIs in the Cardinals’ 8-3 victory Thursday against the Cubs at the Friendly Confines. Goldschmidt’s three hits fortified his lead in the batting race (.339), he took over the lead in RBIs (105), and he left Chicago with 33 home runs, two shy of leading for that last jewel of the Triple Crown after Thursday’s games.
In the past century, a Triple Crown has been won in Major League Baseball 12 times but not once in the NL since Cardinals outfielder Joe Medwick in 1937.
“If something like that happens, it would be a miracle,” Goldschmidt said. “To think that’s realistic is probably pretty far-fetched. If something like that happened, it would be amazing. To think that’s a goal for anyone — that’s kind of a crazy standard to try to meet.”
It’s becoming kind of a crazy season.
The victory Thursday completed a series win for the Cardinals in their last visit to Wrigley this year and finished a seven-day, eight-game trip with a 6-2 record. They widened their lead in the NL Central and at every stop left breadcrumbs of history for future writers to retrace. Over the weekend in Arizona, Pujols homered to surpass Stan Musial for second all time in total bases, and later, he hit his 30th career homer at Wrigley. Nolan Arenado had a barehanded play on a grounder behind the mound that will be used to define his excellence. Yadier Molina had a three-single day to move past Yogi Berra on the list of most hits as a full-time catcher and then popped down to Puerto Rico to see the basketball team he owns win a championship. Three players, including Arenado, left the team for the births of their first children.
On Monday, Jordan Montgomery threw a one-hitter for his first career complete-game shutout. On Tuesday, Corey Dickerson had a four-hit game and then on Wednesday had a four-hit game and by Thursday set a Cardinals record with 10 hits in 10 consecutive at-bats.
As they packed to leave the clubhouse Thursday, in line stood Pujols, seven shy of 700 homers; Dickerson, batting .460 since the All-Star break; and Goldschmidt. All he’s done with less than 40 games remaining is steady himself as the only NL hitter batting better than .330 while moving ahead of the Mets’ Pete Alonso in RBIs and closing the gap on Phillies slugger Kyle Schwarber in the home run column.
“It’s fun to watch, right?” said Dakota Hudson after his seven strong innings and a win Thursday. “If you’re ready to watch a great baseball game, I mean, come out and watch us play sometime. It’s a lot of fun sitting on the bench or being out there in the best seat — on the mound. It’s a great time.”
Before he did anything with his bat, Goldschmidt changed the game and Hudson’s start with his glove and the tip of his size-14 cleat.
With a run in and a two-run lead to hold, Hudson pitched in the second inning with the tying run at second base. Cubs No. 9 hitter Christopher Morel laced a pitch toward third base. Tommy Edman, spelling Arenado at third, dove to knock down the ball. He scrambled to corral the carom and had time to whip a throw to first base. His throw was off target but not out of Goldschmidt’s reach. The Gold Glove winner planted his right arm for balance, kept his toe on the base and made the catch for the out.
A hit that would have tied the game 3-3 turned into an out that ended the inning.
“I was not 100% sure I was able to stay on the bag,” he admitted.
“What he’s doing on all sides of the game is unbelievable,” Marmol said. “That game is different if he comes off the bag. If he reads the throw and just comes off and catches it like every other first baseman would do, it’s a different game. He impacts it in so many different ways that go — not unnoticed but underappreciated.”
The National League’s player of the month in May, Goldschmidt is fending off teammates Pujols and Arenado for the same award in August. But that reflects the steady temp of his season, not the ebbs and flows of hot streaks. This is his third month of the season with an OPS greater than 1.000. Goldschmidt leads the majors with seven homers this month and 27 RBIs. His two-run single in the fourth inning Thursday reclaimed a three-run lead for the Cardinals, and then he extended it with a solo homer in the sixth and a two-run shot in the eighth.
What’s been steadiest of all for Goldschmidt is not the box scores but behind the scenes, where he prepares like a metronome, getting the same swings in each day. The outcomes can fluctuate. Hitless games happen. He can control his preparation, so he does and draws confidence from that, not the results.
“That’s not where I want to live,” he said. “I want to know I did everything I can and if it’s not good enough, it’s not good enough. … (That) gives you the best chance to have success, in my mind. If you do have a bad game — which I had a couple of them in this series as well; I didn’t really do much — you know you did everything you could to prepare and you gave your best effort. You’re not going to look back with regret.”
Which brings him back to moments like Pujols’ homer on a pitch few would even try to hit or the grin he shared with Arenado after a dazzling defensive play in the desert.
His retiring teammates are living reminders.
The seasons ending their careers give his career year perspective.
“Seeing those guys, knowing it’s their last year and the fun they’re having, knowing that this isn’t going to last forever, so you try to enjoy it,” Goldschmidt said. “It’s a balance because you don’t want to have so much fun that you’re not preparing, that you’re not competitive out there. But I’m blessed to be able to play this game every day. Finding that sweet spot in there.”
And few have been as good as him this season at finding the sweet spot.
So it’s back to work on Friday.
Crowns, like kingdoms and careers, aren’t won in a day.
“I just try to go play every day, good or bad or whatever happens,” Goldschmidt said. “That’s all I can do.”
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