Fans, media and, notably, manager Cardinals Mike Matheny had been searching for the key to unlock that door to where Matt Carpenter’s offensive skills mostly had lain dormant since the first month of the season.
Carpenter had been ordered to rest after he had driven himself into a state of exhaustion, accompanied by an accelerated heartbeat. He had tried to re-define his swing when he was dropped down in the order. He had hit .216 for the last three months and had struck out a career-high four times at Colorado the day after Matt Holliday had been hurt the last time, which was the real start of his free-fall, which dropped him into the low .250s.
Having seen his team held to no runs over the last 22 innings of a series against the Cincinnati Reds, Matheny decided to go with something new and something true in his lineup Thursday night against the Colorado Rockies.
With Holliday sidelined probably for a month or more, Kolten Wong would hit third for the first time as a Cardinal. And Carpenter would hit first where he was a scourge for two-plus seasons.
Off early returns, Carpenter — and the Cardinals’ offense — are much healthier. After singling and scoring in the first inning, he ripped a 423-foot, three-run homer in the second, a 413-foot leadoff homer in the fifth and a double that bounced into the stands in the ninth.
The Cardinals jumped to a big early lead, fell behind, rallied to go ahead, dropped behind another time and finally overcame the Rockies 9-8 at Busch Stadium with a three-run surge in the ninth inning, sparked by Carpenter’s double, in a game they seemed destined to lose because of sloppy play.
“It didn’t look good but we found a way to win it,” Carpenter said.
After Carpenter’s fourth hit, Randal Grichuk drew a rare walk. Wong singled off former Cardinals righthander John Axford.
Jhonny Peralta’s two-run single tied the score and, later, with the bases loaded and one out, Greg Garcia, just recalled from Memphis earlier in the day, drew a game-winning walk. Earlier this season, Garcia had a game-tying homer and last year he had a game-winning hit by pitch.
“It was just one of those things where you try to keep your emotions in check,” said Garcia.
“You want to win the game on a home run. You want to hit it over the stadium. It was one of those things where you take a deep breath, understand the moment, understand who you are as a player and try and do your job.”
Colorado broke a 6-6 tie in the eighth against Kevin Siegrist, whose two throwing errors cost him two runs as Siegrist was scored on for just the sixth time in 52 games.
Grichuk also made some throws from center during the game which were either too high or two low.
“I felt like I couldn’t make a good throw,” said Grichuk. “That was unbelievable. I don’t know what got into me tonight.”
“We had some sloppy defense at times today,” said Matheny. “Let’s be honest with that.”
Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez, who often can use his emotions to his advantage, veered off the track as he allowed five runs and a career-high 10 hits through five innings in addition to stirring some invective from the opposition after he hit DJ LeMahieu with a pitch in the fifth inning.
“He hit me on purpose,” said LeMahieu, who said Martinez had been upset by LeMahieu’s singling through the box in his previous at-bat.
Warnings were issued but there was no ejection later when Colorado lefthander Christian Friedrich hit Wong in the back in the seventh, which stirred Matheny’s ire.
For the first time in his career, he said, Martinez allowed a homer to a pitcher — a two-run drive in the fourth — by Chris Rusin. But his worst offense came as he exited the field after he threw an inning-ending double play ball to Ben Paulsen to end the fifth.
Martinez slammed his glove to the ground in ecstasy, beat his chest and glared at the Colorado dugout. Meanwhile, Paulsen slammed his helmet to the ground, cracking it. Nolan Arenado, who had arrived at home, but not safely, and catcher Yadier Molina had a brief but somewhat animated meeting.
Then, Martinez, as he approached the Cardinals’ dugout, fired off an obscene gesture toward the Rockies’ dugout, which he apologized for after the game through translator Kleininger Teran.
Martinez said he had heard something from the Rockies’ dugout. “I’m sorry about that,” said Martinez via Teran.
“I respect this game. I don’t want to do something bad to anybody. I apologize for what happened. Somebody was saying something to me and that’s why I went like that.
“I’m not that kind of person. I just try to do my job and respect the game and respect everybody in the game.
“Sometimes the emotions are hard to control,” said the 23-year-old Martinez. “Tonight was a hard night. I didn’t try to do bad things to anybody or anything.”
Veteran pitcher Adam Wainwright was among those who tried to calm Martinez after he had come to the dugout.
“I’m not going to take emotion out of these guys,” said Matheny, who called Martinez’s brand of emotion “a double-edged sword.
“But part of our job as a staff is to teach them what kind of emotions we should be displaying.”
Martinez had his streak of quality starts snipped at 11.
After his four-hit night, Carpenter is hitting .370 as a leadoff man and only .225 as a No. 2 batter.
“I think I might have bought myself another game (at leadoff), at least,” said Carpenter, with a smile.
“I know I was better in the ‘one hole’ to start the year, and then in the ‘two hole,’ I haven’t been as good. I don’t want to say that’s the reason but it certainly looks like it. There’s definitely a comfort level there.
“But that’s not to say I can’t hit in other positions. I’m not a guy who’s going to believe I’m a leadoff hitter and that’s the only place in the lineup I can produce from. I don’t think that’s realistic.”
Carpenter said he had felt good in the two weeks since the All-Star break. “I knew it was just a matter of time,” he said.
“I don’t mind saying that, making it sound cocky. But I really, truly believe that. I know I can hit.”
Carpenter, playing first base later, made an outstanding play to help take the Cardinals out of trouble in the ninth. He gloved Nick Hundley’s bunt and fired to second for a double play.
“If they get that bunt down, it’s second and third with one out, as opposed to a double play. It’s a different game,” said Carpenter.
“That kind of started it. We had looked at the film and (saw) that Axford’s been going through a tough patch.”
Axford’s blown save was his fifth in his last nine opportunities.