MIAMI • Cardinals center fielder Dexter Fowler hasn’t been able to play in the field for a week now since he hurt his right shoulder diving for a fly ball. But he hasn’t exactly been inactive the last couple of days.
After singling as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning to win Tuesday night’s game, Fowler emerged as a pinch hitter again in the sixth inning Wednesday night. This time, he tripled in two runs off Miami lefthanded rookie Jarlin Garcia and then scored a third run in the inning on Kolten Wong’s sacrifice fly.
When the frame ended, the Cardinals, who trailed 4-0 after one inning, had surged into a 6-4 lead. Getting five innings of one-run relief from their bullpen, they held on for a 7-5 triumph that capped a historic 6-0 trip, with consecutive three-game sweeps at Atlanta and Marlins Park.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Cardinals never had gone undefeated on a trip of six or more games in their 126-season history.s hard to believe — for 125 years,” said manager Mike Matheny. “There’s been some great teams that have been through here. That’s an impressive statement.”
With nine wins in a row on the road — the first time that’s happened since 1970 — and posting 16 wins in their last 21 games overall after starting out 3-9, the Cardinals return home to greet the World Series champion Chicago Cubs on Friday as the first-place team in the National League Central Division.
Fowler chased home Tommy Pham and Magneuris Sierra, both of whom had singled.
“Dex ... what a bench player,” gushed Matheny.
Fowler, laughingly responded, “That’s not my new job. Let’s start this off by saying that. It’s not my new role. I formally resign.”
He is two for his last two as a pinch hitter this season and, confident of playing Friday, Fowler said, “I’ll end it on a high note.”
In the last four games, the Cardinals have led by four runs (in Atlanta) before having to win in extra innings and then, in the last two nights, rallied from early four-run deficits.
“You kind of scratch your head when you see this team continue to come back like they have,” said Matheny. “That’s not ideally how you draw it up, but when they do it, it’s something that’s special.
“I love the result when we’re able to come from behind like that,” Matheny said, “but you can’t keep doing that. That just beats everybody up. But it’s huge to have that capability because not every team does.”
Matt Carpenter, asked which he preferred, four runs ahead or four runs behind, cracked, “That’s a no-brainer. Four behind. But even when we were down four (in the first), it was still early.”
The biggest play of the game might have come in the sixth, with glove wizard Jonathan Broxton at the forefront.
After the righthander, pitching carefully, walked Marcell Ozuna to load the bases with two out, the 290-pounder jumped to snag Giancarlo Stanton’s chopper and got the out at first to keep the Cardinals in front by one run.
“He’s a sneaky good athlete,” said Matheny. “That’s a big play. That ball was hit pretty hard and he made it look a lot easier than it was.”
To Matheny’s categorization of Broxton as “sneaky athletic,” Broxton smiled and said, “I reckon you can say it like that.
“Most guys see that I’m big and say that I’m not athletic. I played basketball in high school and I was always real good with my footwork. I take pride in trying to be very athletic.”
The Cardinals recovered that run in the seventh on a run-scoring single by Aledmys Diaz and the bullpen continued to lock it down, with Seung Hwan Oh getting a double play on Stanton in the ninth. That put a runner at third and two outs, with Justin Bour, who had whacked a three-run homer off the façade in right field in the first inning, at bat.
With pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, catcher Yadier Molina and translator Eugene Koo at the mound, it was decided to walk Bour intentionally even though he represented the tying run.,
“We weren’t going to let (Bour) beat us,” said Lilliquist. Besides, the next hitter was second baseman Steve Lombardozzi, just recalled from the minors and the Marlins, who have suffered a rash of recent injuries, were out of healthy infielders, so 3,000-hit club member Ichiro Suzuki was on deck to hit for the pitcher rather than Lombardozzi.
Lombardozzi scorched a ball foul to right before tapping to Oh to end the game.
“You’re always hesitant to put that tying run on base,” said Matheny. “And we almost got burnt. Lombardozzi almost hit the line.”
Molina said, “This game is about making good moves and I’m with Mike on this one. Bour had been seeing the ball well tonight. In that situation, I would do that same thing again in a heartbeat.”
With Cardinals relievers having recorded the final 15 outs, Broxton said, “This is probably one of the most talented bullpens I’ve ever been around. Anybody down there can get outs and Mike doesn’t have to just lean on certain guys.”
Molina said, “We’re pitching well. We knew this was going to happen.”
Lefthander Kevin Siegrist, lately flashing his form of past years, struck out two in a perfect seventh, with Trevor Rosenthal also flawless in the eighth and Oh elusive in the ninth, posting his ninth save in 10 tries.
And Sam Tuivailala, who had no big-league wins when the trip began, has two now as he worked a scoreless fifth inning in relief of starter Lance Lynn, who labored through four innings and 104 pitches. Lynn allowed a 442-foot homer by Christian Yelich and Bour’s three-run shot in the first.
Miami righthander Tom Koehler, who had sailed through the first two innings, fanning four Cardinals, suddenly had a control lapse in the third.
Koehler walked Sierra, hit Wong in the right foot and walked Carpenter. Jedd Gyorko singled in two runs and Molina one and the Cardinals had life.
Lynn, though never really right, did his part in keeping the Cardinals in the game after the first. He stranded a total of five runners in the second, third and fourth.
“But I didn’t ... strand the ones I needed to in the first, so it doesn’t matter,” said Lynn, who had won his last four starts.
He said later, “It’s all about winning.” And for the last week, that’s all there has been for the Cardinals, whether they’re four runs ahead or four runs behind.
“If you want to be at the top of the league, you’ve got to win those kinds of games,” said Molina.