The Cardinals have only 23 home runs this season, the fewest in the major leagues. But there's more than one way to skin a cat, and more than one way to score runs in baseball.
In a 4-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves at Busch Stadium III on Saturday, the Cardinals demonstrated as much. Using four bunt singles, and using the kind off running speed they envisioned having when the season began, the Cardinals generated enough offense to back starting pitcher Shelby Miller (6-2).
The display was reminiscent of Cardinals teams in the 1980s. Kolten Wong and Peter Bourjos, who have been in and out of the regular lineup in the early going, collected two bunt singles each.
Three of the hits figured in scoring rallies, while Wong played a key role in manufacturing three of the four Cardinals runs with his speed. Wong scored from third on a shallow fly ball caught by Atlanta second baseman Tyler Pastornicky in the fourth.
In the sixth, Wong reached base with a bunt single, then drew a wild throw from Braves catcher Evan Gattis on a steal attempt that chased home a run. After advancing to third on the same play, Wong scored an additional run on Allen Craig's single.
The Cardinals even got running prowess from unexpected places, with stout Matt Adams tripling off the left-field wall in the seventh inning. Moments later, Adams dashed home on a squeeze-bunt single by Bourjos to pad the club's margin.
In between, Miller struck out seven and scattered five hits to win his fifth consecutive start. The bullpen made it stick with the help of Randy Choate, who rescued Carlos Martinez in the eighth by inducing a double-play grounder.
Trevor Roesenthal pitched a flawless ninth, striking out two, to get his 13th save in 14 opportunities. The win was the fourth in succession for the Cardinals (23-20), matching their most prolific stretch of the season.
Wong at is again
Resurgent second baseman Kolten Wong was at it again in the sixth inning, using his speed to help the Cardinals get a 3-1 lead over the visiting Atlanta Braves at Busch Stadium.
After leadoff man Matt Carpenter was hit by an Aaron Harang pitch, Wong beat out a bunt single, advancing runners to first and second. Carpenter moved up to third on a fly out by Matt Holliday.
Moments later, Wong took off to steal second base and the throw from catcher Evan Gattis sailed into center field. Carpenter scored to give the Cardinals 2-1 lead, as Wong proceeded to third.
The steal was a team-leading fifth of the season for Wong, his second in two days. Allen Craig then followed with a sharp single to chase home Wong with the second run of the inning and give starter Shelby Miller a 3-1 lead.
Aided by a sliding catch from Holliday in the top of the sixth, Miller took the game through seven innings, limiting the Braves to five hits and striking out seven.
Braves manager ejected
The umpiring crew working the Cardinals-Braves series has not exactly been low profile.
On Friday night, home plate umpire Sean Barber frustrated both benches with a creative strike zone. Then in the fourth inning, Barber appeared to pursue Peter Bourjos after his strikeout and toss the center fielder when he responded.
Moments later, Barber ejected Cardinals manager Mike Matheny as well.
Well, this is Saturday, i.e. another day, another ejection.
In the top of the fifth inning of Game 2 of the series, the umpires struck again. This time, Braves pitcher Aaron Harang was attempting to sacrifice Andrelton Simmons to third base after Simmons started the inning with a double.
Harang bounced a bunt attempt, which replays clearly indicated hit in the dirt behind home plate. Assuming nothing, catcher Yadier Molina grabbed the bouncer and threw to third, where shortstop Jhonny Peralta tagged a sliding Simmons.
As Harang still stood at the plate, Peralta relayed across for a force out at first base. Home plate umpire Ron Kulpa ruled Harang's bunt fair, Simmons was ruled out at third and Harang was out at first for a Cardinals double play.
When Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez came out to protest, he was engaged aggressively by Kulpa and promptly ejected - the crew's third ejection in 15 innings.
The lesson in all of this - whatever you do, don't take on major league umpires.
Cards tie it on Wong's legs
Kolten Wong gave the Braves a run with a wild throw to third in the second inning. He took it back with his legs in the fourth.
With the Cardinals trailing 1-0, Wong started the frame with a bunt single. He advanced to third on a single by Matt Holliday. With one out, Yadier Molina lifted a pop fly to shallow right field. For some reason, backtracking second baseman Tyler Pastornicky elected to make the catch, rather than allow right fielder Jason Heyward to make the play coming forward.
Wong tagged up and scored ahead of Pastornicky's throw to tie the score 1-1 and give Molina one of the shortest sacrifice fly RBIs you might ever see.
Upton goes down again
Recent reports have indicated the combined heating effect of human-emitted, long-lived greenhouse gases currently in the atmosphere have increased by 1.5 percent in a year, and 34 percent since 1990.
You're probably wondering what happens more frequently. Well, how about a B. J. Upton strikeout?
The Atlanta Braves outfielder, batting. 209 at the start of play, has fanned his first two times at the plate this afternoon. That gives Upton a league-leading 54 strikeouts in 157 at-bats this season.
In other words, he is striking out 34.3 percent of the time, which is a bit faster rate than we can emit greenhouse gasses.
Braves get unearned run
Manager Mike Matheny complimented his team's "all-around game" on Friday night, before the Cardinals played the Atlanta Braves on Saturday afternoon.
The jinx was in.
It didn't take long for the Cardinals to distinguish themselves in a different manner in the second game of the series. The Cardinals defense got a little overzealous in the second inning and it cost them.
With two outs and Andrelton Simmons on first, pitcher Aaron Harang singled to center off starter Shelby Miller.
Center fielder Peter Bourjos smartly threw behind Simmons, catching the runner rounding the base too far. Busted, Simmons had no choice but to try for third - and he should have been out. But second baseman Kolten Wong rushed his throw and fired past third baseman Matt Carpenter. Wong was charged with the error and Simmons trotted home with an unearned run to give the Braves a 1-0 lead.
There were more fundamental shenanigans to come. In the second, Yadier Molina was credited with a single when Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman essentially waved at his bouncer through the right side.
In the bottom of the third, Bourjos reached base on a bunt single when Freeman dropped third baseman Chris Johnson's throw. But Bourjos couldn't stand the prosperity. Moments later, he was picked off base by Harang.
Aaron it out
Braves starter Aaron Harang, previously long with the Cincinnati Reds, has made the second most starts (26) against the Cardinals among active pitchers.
Only "Then Came Bronson" Arroyo has made more with 36. Since 2004, Harang has 275 starts in the National League, or most of any pitcher in that span.
And beyond all of that, let's face it - if you have "Aaron" in your name and you're going to play for the Braves, it's probably best it be your first name than last.
In Atlanta, "Aaron" as a last name is a tough act to follow.
Molina back in lineup
The Cardinals have a 1:15 start today after beating the Atlanta Braves 5-2 on Friday night. Such a quick turnaround sometimes spells "day off" for regulars in need.
Catcher Yadier Molina is not in need, and he's right in the lineup at Busch Stadium.
"He's had more days off, I imagine, this year already than he had maybe the whole first half last year," manager Mike Matheny said. "So we're timing him as he feels he needs them, as it looks like he needs a day.
"Today isn't one of them, even though a day-game after night-game thing tends to lean that way. He's feeling good at the plate, feeling good behind it. His body is rebounding. We have a day off in a couple of days."
The Cardinals are off on Monday before opening a series with Tony LaRussa's Arizona Diamondbacks.
Molina has played in 37 of the team's 42 games to date. He will be behind the plate to work with Miller and try to extend a recent surge. Molina has a five game hitting streak going and has hit safely in 14 of 15 home games, going 24 for 59 at home (.407).
Moreover, the Cardinals entire lineup from Friday night is unchanged, with the exception of Shelby Miller pitching and batting ninth.
First ejection for Bourjos
When Peter Bourjos was tossed out of the game by home plate umpire Sean Barber in the fourth inning of the Cardinals' 5-2 win on Friday, it was a first.
That is, it was the first ejection for Bourjos in his 386th major league game.
"I was walking away and then he said something and then, obviously, l turned around and at that point I think I was ejected," Bourjos said. "I probably should have just kept walking. There was nothing that he said, really, that should have provoked me more. But I was pretty upset."
Bourjos struck out swinging to end the fourth. But he was still steaming from being called out in his previous at-bat. He absorbed another strike he wasn't happy about in the fourth, then struck out. He started to walk away, but when Barber said something, Bourjos responded.
That said, the "Barber of Severe" was just getting warmed up. Moments after running Bourjos, he ejected Matheny, who demonstratively protested Bourjos' dismissal.
For Bourjos, it was not just his first ejection in the major leagues, it was his first ejection ever, at any level of baseball.
"I didn't know what to do," he said. "I just kind of sat in the video room and watched the game. It was kind of weird. Hopefully, it never happens again."
Matheny has more experience with early showers. His ejection was his first of the season but his seventh career boot as a manager. He also was ejected twice as a player.
Some accounts suggested Matheny might have bumped Barber in a particularly heated moment. But the skipper has not heard from MLB about the incident and doesn't expect to.
"Somebody's trying to stir it up that I bumped the guy," Matheny said. "I lost it couple of times, but I didn't see it that way."
Kolten Wong stole his fourth base of the season on Friday night. Despite the fact Wong recently spent some three weeks at Memphis, that total leads the club ... The Cardinals have won 11 of their last 15 games against the Braves at Busch Stadium III .... Coming into this afternoon's tilt with the Braves, Jhonny Peralta - aka "Jhonny Shortstop" - has reached base safely in 19 consecutive games ... Matt Holliday has reached safely in all 16 home games this season. Holliday is batting .322 at Busch with a .438 on-base percentage and .525 slugging percentage; he is batting .235 on the road with a .312 OBP and .286 SP.