During the video tribute Sunday to his late friend, whose No. 18 he wears on his back and whose initials he has on his sleeve, Cardinals righthander Carlos Martinez was so overcome by emotion he had to halt his warmup.
Moments from Oscar Taveras’ brief career as a Cardinal played on the scoreboard above Martinez as he readied for the game in the bullpen. Taveras’ parents, visiting Busch Stadium from the Dominican Republic and Canada for the first time since their son’s death in October, stood at home plate watching the video.
Many of Martinez’s teammates lined the dugout as the team marked the year anniversary of Taveras’ major-league debut by showing highlights that included the homer he hit in his second big-league at-bat and that grin he gave during his first curtain call.
Martinez stopped throwing and wondered if he was too sad to start.
“There are a lot of emotions going on right there,” said pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, who was standing nearby. “Did he have tears? Yes. He also had a responsibility.”
Whether fueled by those emotions or focused by them — or both — Martinez had his finest game yet as a starter, throwing seven shutout innings and elevating the Cardinals to a 3-1 victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Martinez struck out eight and held LA to one hit. The 23-year-old righthander extended his scoreless streak to 20 1/3 innings over three starts — the longest streak in the National League this season.
Jhonny Peralta, a close mentor to Martinez and Taveras, provided all three of the Cardinals’ runs. His two-run homer in the first inning supported Martinez (5-2) and an RBI single in the eighth answered LA’s only offense, a homer by Joc Pederson.
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In front of 45,285 fans — the 10th sellout of the season — the win improved the Cardinals to 20-6 at home and 33-17. Their current winning percentage would result in a 107-win season.
“The guys who were probably the two closest to Oscar were the two guys who really shined,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “This was a very tough test for (Martinez) all the way around. I think this should be one of those benchmark days that you say, ‘This is how I should go about it.’ It was obvious he had a very clear plan in his head.”
That he did.
“Oscar’s family was here,” he said. “I wanted a gift for them, too.”
Before Sunday’s game, Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., president Bill DeWitt III, general manager John Mozeliak and Matheny met Taveras’ mother and father behind home plate as part of the club’s planned tribute.
The Cardinals invited Oscar’s father, Francisco Taveras, his mother, Maricela Cabrera, and two of Oscar’s brothers to attend Sunday’s game, 365 days after Oscar reached the majors. The club officials presented four bound volumes the team made and filled with photos from Taveras’ time with the Cardinals, from age 16 to 22. Two went to his parents, one will go to his son Oscar Yadier Taveras, and one is for the team’s Hall of Fame, an official said.
While the presentation took place, Martinez loosened his arm for his 11th start of the season. No Cardinal was closer to Taveras. They grew up in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, and played against each other until they played with each other as teenagers in the Cardinals’ system.
When Taveras and his girlfriend, Edilia Arvelo, were killed in an alcohol-related car accident on Oct. 26 in which Taveras was driving, it was Martinez who was one of the first to learn of the deaths. It took a rainout earlier this season to align Martinez’s start with Taveras’ debut anniversary, and Matheny found the coincidence both fitting and a cause for concern.
“On the personal side, it’s perfect. On the baseball side, it’s going to be difficult for him because we know how tough the situation has been,” Matheny said before the game. “We’re always concerned for Carlos trying to overdo it. He could do something extremely special. But it’s going to take a great deal of conscious effort just to stay in the moment.”
Once he settled himself after the pause in the bullpen, Martinez walked to the dugout and it was there, he said, that he decided “this is the opportunity to get a win for Oscar.”
Martinez struck out the first two batters he faced. Peralta, batting third in place of Matt Holliday as the left fielder's illness persisted Sunday, staked him to a 2-0 lead with his 401-foot homer on the first pitch he saw from LA lefty Brett Anderson (2-3) in the first inning.
After the game, Peralta recalled what he remembered of Taveras' debut. It wasn't the hype or the rain that started to fall during the game -- a lot like each of the games this season. It was the home run.
“He hit a home run," Peralta said. "I think it was good for me to hit a home run, too. Give it to him.”
Martinez got better as he got deeper into the game. He had not allowed a runner to reach second base by the end of the fifth inning.
The sixth inning defined his game. Two walks put the tying run on base and brought .331-hitter Adrian Gonzalez to the plate. Martinez tested him with the sharpest changeup he’s had this season, before getting Gonzalez to strike out on the off-speed pitch. Martinez struck out cleanup hitter Howie Kendrick on a curve to end the inning.
“He got into the big situation and realized he needed to make a better pitch,” Matheny said, “not necessarily a harder pitch.”
Taveras’ family arrived Saturday in time to see some of that night’s game and to spend several hours after it at Martinez’s St. Louis home. The Cardinals had a suite for the family for Sunday’s game, but during the game they asked to see it with the crowd. The owner gave them his seats, so they watched Martinez from the front row nearest the home dugout.
Before handing the game to the bullpen and closer Trevor Rosenthal for his 15th save, Martinez threw a career-high 108 pitches.
Only one of the final 15 batters he faced got the ball out of the infield. The last pitch he threw was a curve for a called strike three. Catcher Yadier Molina took the ball and on his way to the dugout flipped it to one of Taveras’ brothers.
A gift, from Martinez.
“He told me before the game that he wanted to do well and win this game for Oscar,” Peralta said. “He controlled his emotions and I think what he did he did for him.”
• Photos: Cardinals beat Dodgers in rubber match