BALTIMORE • When Paul DeJong first came to the majors late last month, everything was “eye-opening,” from the size of the stadiums to the luxury of the hotels, the break of the sliders, the politics of the clubhouse, the comfort of the charter … deep inhale … to the paycheck, the demands, the meetings, the meals.
“Whirlwind would be a good word,” he said Friday.
A demotion, however brief, allowed him to catch his breath.
“Now I take the field, and I’m not amazed by The Show or amazed by the venues or the stadiums or how we get there,” DeJong said. “This is how I would like to think about it: Now it’s down to business.”
Business is good.
DeJong had three hits and one of the Cardinals’ season-high five home runs as they bombarded Baltimore for an 11-2 victory at Camden Yards. Talk about a whirlwind. The meandering Cardinals, losers of 10 of their previous 14, ran into a Baltimore club struggling just like them, lost in a wilderness of disappointments and road losses — and they pounced. Carlos Martinez flummoxed the Orioles for eight strikeouts in six innings. Five Cardinals hit a homer and every spot in the Cardinals’ designated hitter-infused lineup had at least one hit except for Stephen Piscotty. He drove home DeJong with a sacrifice fly.
Back after just two games at Class AAA Memphis, DeJong became the first No. 9 hitter for the Cardinals with at least three hits, three RBIs and three runs in the same game since Bob Gibson. Only Gibson, DeJong and Dizzy Dean have had a game like that from the last spot.
“I didn’t throw a pitch,” DeJong said. “Tried to have a good night at the plate.”
Teams like the Orioles, a recent pledge to the under-.500 club, have become a harbor in the tempest for the Cardinals. On their last road trip, they lost seven consecutive against winning clubs, only to steady themselves briefly with a sweep of the Phillies. The Cardinals followed winning the opener, then losing three consecutive to the first-place Brewers, and now can try to steady themselves against the reeling Orioles. Once the owners of the best record in baseball, Baltimore has lost eight of its past nine, 24 of its past 34. Every phase of the Orioles’ game has fractured. They’ve allowed at least five runs in 12 consecutive games.
The Cardinals have seen the parts of their game seesaw – pitching up, offense down; offense up, pitching down – though they arrived at cozy 25-year-old Oriole Park and greeted Baltimore’s accommodating pitching staff on their best offense jag of the season.
It began Friday at the bottom.
The final three hitters in the Cardinals’ lineup combined to go seven for 13, and it was back-to-back singles by Jose Martinez and DeJong that ignited the first rally. Matt Carpenter extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a single to load the bases, and Dexter Fowler put the Cardinals ahead 1-0 with a bases-loaded walk. No. 7 hitter Tommy Pham, who would homer in the seventh, singled in the fourth and scored on DeJong’s homer. In the sixth, a familiar foursome turned the game into a rout.
Jose Martinez worked a 10-pitch at-bat that resulted in a two-out double. That ejected starter Kevin Gausman (3-6) from the game and forced the Orioles to one of their newest relievers, Gabriel Ynoa.
“Keep the inning alive,” Martinez said.
DeJong did that with a single to score Martinez, and then Carpenter and Fowler followed with back-to-back home runs. It was the first time since May 1 that the Cardinals had hit back-to-back home runs and only the second time this season.
“It was just those relentless at-bats,” manager Mike Matheny said. “When we’ve got things clicking that’s what we should look like.”
Orioles manager Buck Showalter did his part to alert his American League club and anyone around it what Martinez (6-5) would look like. In his first start since the first shutout of his career, Martinez cleaned up an early walk with a double play. He minimized the damage by a double in the third inning, and by the time the Cardinals had opened up a 4-0 lead for him he was cruising.
“You seen this kid pitch?” Showalter asked Baltimore reporters before Friday’s game. “He’s got some kind of arm.”
Ask his hitters.
Martinez sped through the Orioles’ lineup, and the only run he allowed was on a sacrifice fly. That same inning, Martinez neutralized any chance the Orioles had of a rally when he blistered a 100 mph fastball past Adam Jones for a strikeout. Martinez started the game by bending a breaking ball past leadoff hitter Seth Smith for a called strike three. He ended the fourth inning with an 88 mph offspeed pitch that got Jonathan Schoop swinging, and he brought Manny Machado to a knee going after an 87 mph slider. Machado had seen “this kid” pitch while playing with him in the World Baseball Classic for the Dominican Republic’s team. And still Machado couldn’t catch up with Martinez’s mix of 99 mph fastballs and high-80s slider.
That’s because the slider didn’t always dance the same. Sometimes its wiggled inside and stayed on the plate. And sometimes it veered out, like the one that caught Machado fishing.
“Like he does with the movement on his sinker, he’ll do that with his slider,” Matheny said. “He’ll throw one that just kind of spins and it will stay on the inside part of the plate to a righty or hug on the backside to a lefty, and then he’ll throw one that sweeps across the plate. He throws one that bites down. Manipulating the ball and movement.”
DeJong can empathize with the slider.
That first go-round in the majors left him spinning. When Kolten Wong returned, DeJong got his first break from daily starts, and he said he used that time to audit everything he had seen. That meant everything from the flights to the new cities, the ballparks to the breaking balls. By the time he was demoted last week to Triple-A Memphis he had a welcome “mental reset,” he said. He homered in both games he played for the Redbirds before Wong’s second injury brought DeJong quickly back.
“I kind of ran out of steam my first stint here,” DeJong said. “It wore me down. To come out there and get a good result (in the first at-bat) that really set the tone for me. OK, I can breathe now. Let’s go.”