Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt made a remarkable back-to-the-infield catch of a foul ball in the first inning Friday night and then speared Mike Moustakas’ line drive before it speared him to end the third on a double play. That was the first part of his game on display before a sellout paid house of 47,075 at Busch Stadium.
Then came the marquee stuff. A grand slam in the third inning. A three-run homer in the sixth. Not one, but two curtain calls. And coupled with Adam Wainwright’s six innings of two-hit shutout pitching came a 10-0 victory, the Cardinals’ ninth shutout since Aug. 1, eight of them since catcher Yadier Molina returned a month ago.
“A great addition here, man, I’ll tell ya,’” said Wainwright, who could have been referring to Molina. But, in this instance, he was talking about Goldschmidt, acquired from Arizona and then signed to a five-year extension.
“Goldy has just made this whole thing better,” said Wainwright, holding seven-month-old son Caleb in his arms. “In every situation. In the clubhouse, in the field, offense, defense, everything.
“He’s completely changed our infield defense, in my opinion. He’s completely changed the middle of our lineup. He just makes everyone around him better on both sides of the ball.
“A couple of years ago, we were leading the league in errors and maybe not making some plays we’re making now. . . that can mess with you a little bit.”
The Cardinals have not one, but two challengers to eliminate before they can claim their first division title in four years. The Chicago Cubs, remained four games behind and have the luxury, as it were, of seven games remaining with the Cardinals. But the Brewers fell back by five games and have only two more head-to-head matchups left with the Cardinals, both this weekend.
So, if you’re into magic numbers, and, of course, you are, the number is 12 for eliminating the Cubs and only 11 for disposing of the Brewers, who may be thinking more of a wild-card spot unless they can win both of their other games here.
The Brewers, who had won their past seven games but who were without star outfielder Christian Yelich (fractured kneecap) for the remainder of the season, were done in by two familiar villains.
Goldschmidt’s two homers gave him eight homers, plus 20 runs batted in, in 17 games against the Brewers this season and 18 home runs in 63 career games in which he has hit .352 against Milwaukee, with an OPS of well over 1.100.
The 38-year-old Wainwright, trotting out his vintage curveball, has 17 wins vs. Milwaukee, most by any active pitcher. He is 17-10 against Milwaukee, the team he has beaten most often in his career, and 12-9 overall this year, having allowed just one run and 12 hits in his last 20 innings.
“We made an adjustment to my pre-game routine and my last three or four outings have been dramatically different, with my energy level out on the field,” said Wainwright.
Wainwright has won seven of his past nine decisions.
“I knew it was coming,” he said.
Wainwright started and Goldschmidt finished off the big inning in the third. With one out, Wainwright doubled, at a velocity of 107.6 mph, according to Statcast, for his second two-base hit in his past two games.
“If I’m out there competing to the best of my ability, that means offensively, also,” Wainwright said. “When I go up to bat, I’m usually thinking about 450 feet to left center, which doesn’t sometimes do me good. I always think I’m better than I am when I’m up there.”
Dexter Fowler walked for the second of three times in the game — he has seven in the past three games and has been on base 11 times in those games — and Kolten Wong, who had three hits and knocked in two runs, legged out a bunt single to fill the bases. It was his league-leading 10th bunt hit of the year. Goldschmidt then reached the 30-homer plateau for the fifth time his career by lining a 2-2 Adrian Houser slider into the Brewers’ bullpen in left center and, suddenly, it was 4-0.
It required a curtain call, which Goldschmidt performed, reluctantly, it seemed.
The Cardinals roughed up two Brewers pitchers for six runs in the sixth, with Goldschmidt supplying three of those with a 422-foot homer to left center off Jimmy Nelson, once the Brewers’ ace before he messed up his shoulder diving back into first base a couple of years ago. Goldschmidt’s seven runs batted in were a single-game high for him and necessitated a second, quick curtain call, in which he also appeared hesitant to participate.
“He’s very similar to Willie (McGee),” said Wainwright, who is not quite old enough to have played with the former Cardinals great, now a coach. “They don’t like that extra attention. They like to go out and play and work. All-business attitudes.”
Goldschmidt pointed out that he also struck out twice on Friday. When he and the Cardinals played the Brewers two series in August, he was two for 23.
“You face a team that many times there’s going to be games you have success and times they get you out,” he said.
“There’s a lot more chatter around the games (now) but it’s the same game. Each game counts as one win or loss. You play every game as hard as you can starting opening day through the last one. The game you don’t think is meaningful in early June still counts the same as the game tonight or tomorrow.”
And, for the record, he doesn’t mind the curtain calls. “I like ‘em,” he said. “It means you’ve done something good. I really appreciate all the support. The fans here are great. It’s awesome.”
As for whether it was harder hitting a home run or catching a Moustakas line drive headed directly for him, Goldschmidt said, “He hit that hard, but I was ready. I knew he could put one down the line.
“Home runs are tougher.”
“When he gets going he can carry a team,” said Wong. “That’s the Paul Goldschmidt we hated when we were playing against him and now we’re growing to love.”
Manager Mike Shildt called Goldschmidt’s night “memorable. For sure.”
With 15 games remaining, Wainwright is hunting another postseason appearance — he was a reliever at the end of the 2015 season after missing most of it with a torn Achilles’ tendon suffered running out a popup in Milwaukee.
“This is why I came back,” said Wainwright. “We’re in a spot I thought we’d be in. We’re leading our division in September, playing meaningful baseball and we’ve got a chance to make a pretty good run here.
“I promise you I would not have come back if we were in a rebuilding. I’d be taking this little dude (Caleb) for his six-month shots or whatever.”