ATLANTA • With a golden opportunity to gain ground in the wild-card race, the Cardinals’ offense only had to stay ahead of their bullpen.
On the way to an 11-6 victory Monday night against the Braves, the Cardinals hit four home runs and scored in five different innings to take a lead and then push, push, push it further along to give the relievers some margin for error. Carlos Martinez needed 32 pitches to get through the eighth inning at suburban SunTrust Park, and that kept him from getting the final six outs of the 12 asked from the bullpen. Martinez allowed a run in the eighth inning and left the bases loaded when he finished it; Yadier Molina got two runs back with a home run in the ninth. And so it went.
The game weebled and wobbled like that a few times, but the Cardinals never fell down.
Kolten Wong struck for a two-run double in the first inning, added the Cardinals’ first home run in the fourth inning, and capped a three-hit night with a single in the ninth. Miles Mikolas slogged through five innings to improve to 16-4 for the season, and the Cardinals would also get home runs from Paul DeJong and Harrison Bader, who came off the bench to slug a three-run shot in the eighth inning. That, of course, answered the one run Dakota Hudson allowed in the bottom of the seventh. Weeble. Wobble. Never fall down.
John Brebbia handled the ninth with aplomb to end the game.
Wong, Molina, and Bader each had three RBIs, and that helped the Cardinals (83-68) assure, at worst, they’ll be in a virtual tie for the second wild-card berth in the National League. By late Monday they could be back in the lead, ahold of the wheel in the race.
When the Cardinals and Dodgers parted company late Sunday night from Busch Stadium they headed in opposite directions, which is the rare opportunity offered the Cardinals this week.
While they went east to visit first-place Atlanta, LA headed west to host the Colorado Rockies for a three-game series. Regardless of who wins or loses each game in that series between NL West rivals, the Cardinals will win. All the more so if, that is, they win. The fact that the Dodgers, 82-68 entering play Monday, are playing the Rockies, 82-67, assures that one of the teams will lose – and that loser will remain in the wild-card race with the Cardinals. If the Dodgers sweep the Rockies, LA will lead the NL West by 2 ½ games, and the Rockies will slip into the wild-card race with the Cardinals.
They’ll trail if the Cardinals can win once vs. Atlanta.
Same is true if the Dodgers tumble, or they split.
While it tests the Cardinals with a run of games against playoff-chasing teams, the schedule has given the Cardinals a gift.
Mike Foltynewicz did not stop at one.
Atlanta’s power-tripping starter entered Monday’s game as, arguably, the best pitcher in the National League not chewing the scenery in the Cy Young Award conversation. Yet, there he was Monday, fourth in ERA (2.66) behind the Cy Young trio of Jacob deGrom, Aaron Nola, and Washington’s Max Scherzer. That ERA did not survive the first inning. Foltynewicz did for the Cardinals what they have not done consistently for themselves – create offense. The righthander walked three batters to load the bases and then got the hit to bring home a run when he plunked catcher Yadier Molina for the RBI, Run Bruised In.
With two outs, Wong made the inning hurt with a two-run double that sped the Cardinals’ to a 3-0 lead. Wong’s home run would push it to 4-2. And by the end of the fifth inning, Foltynewicz was no longer in the game, the Cardinals had hit a third home run, and their lead had widened to four runs.
In his previous 42 innings, Foltynewicz had allowed one home run. The Cardinals tagged him for two, in successive innings. The six runs the Cardinals scored against him on five hits and four walks were as many as he allowed in his previous three starts, combined. Not since his first start of May had the righthander allowed as many as six runs in a game, and the four walks tied a season-high. At the same time the Cardinals were frolicking against Foltynewicz, the Braves were tenderizing Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas.
It took Mikolas 39 pitches to get through Atlanta’s order the first time, and all he had to show for it was six outs. He allowed two singles and hit a batter, but then traipsed out of trouble with a key strikeout in each of the first two innings. It took Mikolas 75 pitches to get through three innings. On a 2-2 pitch, Freddie Freeman hit his 22nd home run to cut into the Cardinals’ lead, and take advantage of the walk that preceded him. The pitch count kept climbing for Mikolas, who was on the verge of bringing in the bullpen before he could qualify for the win.
He righted the start by retiring eight consecutive batters after Freeman’s home run. With his 90th pitch, Mikolas bent a curveball past Dansby Swanson to end the fourth inning. He got three outs on seven pitches in the fifth to complete his night.
That brought in the bullpen and began the tango to a finish. The Braves got two runs off the bullpen in the sixth thanks to two errors in the inning from center fielder Yairo Munoz. Manager Mike Shildt said he played the infielder in center to keep his bat in the lineup and because he’d played the position as a younger player and shown well in a recent start there at Detroit. Munoz allowed an extra base to Ender Inciarte when he missed fielding a single. Munoz’s wild throw to third on a sacrifice fly then allowed Inciarte to score the Braves’ fourth run.
For a moment, Atlanta trailed by two runs.
In the seventh, they whittled that down to a run when Nick Markakis doubled off Hudson. The Cardinals answered with three in the eighth. Atlanta scored one in the eight. The Cardinals scored two in the ninth.
Molina's home run was the 144th of his career, tying his brother Bengie Molina for the family lead.
Cardinals can gain ground on someone, as long as they win in Atlanta
With the Los Angeles Dodgers out of the way, the Cardinals can now either turn to them for help or hope they struggle against the Colorado Rockies in the coming days.
Either way, the Cardinals are in a win-win scenario this week.
As long as they win.
The Cardinals' wild-card chase shifts to SunTrust Park in suburban Atlanta for a three-game series against the first-place Braves. At the same time, the Rockies meet the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium for a series that starts Monday night. That three-game series has more than the NL West at stake. The loser of each game can also lose ground in the wild-card race -- if the Cardinals can apply the pressure with wins in Atlanta.
And there will be a loser.
In effect, the Rockies-Dodgers series assures the Cardinals they cannot lose ground in the wild-card race for three days. They can gain it.
Every win in Atlanta gains ground on some team the Cardinals are jousting with for a playoff berth.
It was at Atlanta's new ballpark a year ago that the Cardinals got a jolt of energy from Magneuris Sierra and Tommy Pham, both of whom showed up as promotions during a road trip that did not include a loss for the Cardinals.
This time, Sierra and Pham have both been traded and the Cardinals are looking for that spark from someone. Marcell Ozuna has flexed some of his power in recent games, and Yadier Molina and Jedd Gyorko both benefited Sunday night by motion-plays put on by the dugout.
Atlanta has a 6½-game lead in the NL East.
The Cardinals are planning to check out former closer Bud Norris before Monday's game to determine how severe the blister is on his finger and what that means for his availability in the coming series, week, and back stretch to the season. Check back for an update on the digit.
This is the lineup:
- Matt Carpenter, 1B
- Jose Martinez, RF
- Paul DeJong, SS
- Marcell Ozuna, LF
- Jedd Gyorko, 3B
- Yadier Molina, C
- Kolten Wong, 2B
- Yairo Munoz, CF
- Miles Mikolas, P
The Cardinals had an early-morning arrival to nearby Buckhead, and thus they have pushed back some of the bus times to the ballpark.
20. Vince Coleman and the tarp
Vince Coleman was nearly swallowed by the automatic tarpaulin at Busch on Oct. 13, 1985. He missed the rest of the NLCS as the Cardinals beat the Los Angeles Dodgers but he was missed sorely as the Cardinals were upended by Kansas City in the World Series.
19. Laga leaves the park
Journeyman Cardinals first baseman Mike Laga hit the only ball to leave Busch Stadium, on Sept. 15, 1986. He fouled a ball high on the first-base side, and the ball went out of the park and into a flower bed below.
18. Remembering Jack Buck and Darryl Kile
Solemn occasions became stadium landmarks in June 2002, when Busch was the site of funerals for Jack Buck and pitcher Darryl Kile, who died within four days of each other.
17. McGwire goes 545-feet
McGwire knocked a 545-foot homer off Florida's Livan Hernandez on May 16, 1998, and dented the Post-Dispatch sign well above the center-field wall. A huge Band-Aid adorned the sign the next day and for the rest of the season.
16. Oquendo takes the mound
Current Cardinals coach Jose Oquendo became the first position player in 20 years to have a pitching decision when he worked four innings and suffered a 7-5 loss in 19 innings to the Atlanta Braves on May 14, 1988. The game lasted so long after midnight that fans came from bars that had closed to get a nightcap at Busch. Supersub Oquendo barely could raise his arm the next day but was afraid to tell manager Whitey Herzog that he couldn't play center field.
15. Seat cushion night
Tom Herr hit a 10th-inning, game-winning grand slam to beat the "Pond-scum Mets" on April 18, 1987. It was Seat Cushion Night, and for obvious reasons after the sellout house celebrated this moment -- the last Seat Cushion Night at Busch.
14. Roger Freed's grand slam
Roger Freed, who had been reported headed to Class AAA by this scribe, belted a pinch-hit grand slam off Houston's Joe Sambito to erase a three-run lead in the 11th inning on May 1, 1979. Said Freed: "Tell Rich Hummel that home run was not in Springfield."
13. Brummer steals home
Glenn "Tractor Head" Brummer stole home -- with two outs and an astonished third-base coach watching -- to win a 12-inning game with the San Francisco Giants on Aug. 22, 1982. The pitch probably would have been strike three to batter David Green if the catcher had waited to catch the ball behind the plate and if umpire Dave Pallone hadn't abandoned his post to get a better angle on the slide.
12. Carlton whiffs 19 Mets
Lefthander Steve Carlton, who unfortunately gained most of his 300-plus victories with the Phillies, set a major league record in a Cardinals loss on Sept. 15, 1969. He fanned 19 New York Mets, but Ron Swoboda hit two two-run homers in a 4-3 victory by the eventual world champions.
11. 1966 All-Star Game
The 1966 All-Star Game. Gibson, one of the pitchers selected to the NL squad, stayed at the hotel and relaxed in the pool as he rested a sore arm. The other All-Stars played on in 100-degree-plus heat in the only All-Star Game staged at the stadium.
10. Forsch fires a no-hitter
Bob Forsch threw the first of his two no-hitters, against Philadelphia on April 16, 1978. The no-hitter was the first tossed at Busch Stadium. Forsch's second, in 1983 against Montreal, was the last.
9. Brock swipes 105
Brock swiped bases Nos. 104 and 105, breaking Maury Wills' single-season record, on Sept. 10, 1974, against Philadelphia. He would motor his way to 118 before the season ended.
8. Gibby sets a World Series record
Gibson set the World Series record of 17 strikeouts in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series against the Detroit Tigers.
7. No. 3,000 for Gibson
Bob Gibson's 3,000th strikeout came against Cincinnati's Cesar Geronimo on July 17, 1974. Gibson, the second pitcher to reach this plateau, ranks this one ahead of No. 8 on the list "because I knew I was going to get to 3,000. I didn't know I'd get 17."
6. and 3,000 for Brock
Lou Brock's 3,000th hit, on Aug. 13, 1979, off Chicago's Dennis Lamp. Brock's Hall of Fame candidacy hardly needed validation, but 3,000 hits to go with his 900-plus steals punched his ticket.
5. Big Mac hits 70
McGwire's 70th homer, on Sept. 28, 1998, capped a two-homer day and gave him a record that would stand for three years. Ultimately, it would be challenged amid the steroids controversy.
4. ... but first he hit No. 62
Mark McGwire's 62nd homer, breaking Roger Maris' mark, on Sept. 8, 1998. At the time, with Sammy Sosa chasing him, no one knew that McGwire would even win the home run title.
3. Edmonds' walk off
Jim Edmonds' combo of Games 6 and 7 in the 2004 NLCS. He won the sixth game with an extra-inning homer. He turned around the seventh with a diving catch in center field that saved two runs and led the Cardinals into the World Series for the first time in 17 years.
2. Ozzie's shot
"Go crazy, folks, go crazy." That was the late, great Jack Buck's exhortation following Ozzie Smith's memorable, game-ending homer against the Dodgers in Game 5 of the 1985 National League Championship Series.
1. 1982 World Series
Since the World Series is the pinnacle of this sport, the only time the Cardinals clinched the Series on their home turf at the current Busch Stadium (1982), ranks first. Bruce Sutter fanned Milwaukee's Gorman Thomas on a high fastball to end a World Series championship drought of 15 years.
With the tough series against the Los Angeles Dodgers out of the way, the Cardinals can now either turn to them for help or hope they struggle against the Colorado Rockies. Either way, the Cardinals are in a win-win scenario this week as the wild-card race plays out.
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