KANSAS CITY • A stroll through the dugout as much as a step to the plate revealed to rookie Patrick Wisdom the vibe he walked into this week with the Cardinals.
He overheard a couple of teammates talking about the Brewers’ loss Sunday. Another group pointed out how the Dodgers were on their way to a loss. This wasn’t idle chatter between pitches.
This was chase talk.
Its urgency caught his ear.
“It’s really my first taste of being aware of that,” Wisdom said. “Everyone is chitchatting about that. That’s right! There are teams you’ve got to worry about. You’re playing to win up here. So, you fall right in line and keep it going. Do your part.”
Two players who weren’t with the Cardinals at the start of this trip, Wisdom and pitcher Tyson Ross, made their debuts for the team Sunday and helped feed that conversation with an 8-2 victory and an interleague series sweep of the feeble Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
Wisdom, promoted from the minors Saturday, tied the score with his first major-league RBI. Ross, acquired off waivers last week, pitched six innings as a sudden substitute for starter Luke Weaver and claimed his first win as a Cardinal. It was as if they boarded a speeding train and decided to steer, too.
The Cardinals tied a season best with their fifth consecutive victory and, as the scoreboard din in the dugout noted, gained a game on the Brewers and Dodgers in the wild-card standings. At 63-55, eight games better than .500 for the first time since May 11, the Cardinals are tied in losses with LA and Colorado and are 2½ games behind Milwaukee.
The Cardinals and manager Mike Shildt return to Busch Stadium on Monday a different team, a buoyant team, after a 7-2 trip redefined their place in the playoff race.
“It’s exciting. It’s a lot of young players, high energy,” said Ross, a San Diego starter nine days ago. “These guys are out here pulling together. There have only been a lot of wins since I got here. Good timing on my part. It seems like it’s always an organization you hear about that has guys stepping up with big at-bats or pitchers coming out of nowhere with a big outing for them.”
On Sunday, he was that pitcher he heard about.
Ross left Kauffman on Saturday aware that he might start Sunday if a cut on Weaver’s index finger did not respond to treatment. Weaver sliced his finger opening the aluminum lid on some food during Saturday’s game. Super glue was applied, but it didn’t stick by the time Weaver readied to start the next day.
Rather than open the gash more by having him pitch, the Cardinals opted to skip one start for Weaver and put Ross in the role he was acquired to fill. It was a costly cut for the Cardinals because Ross’ contract requires a $200,000 bonus for every start he makes for them this season.
The righthander almost got short-changed in the first inning when the Royals’ first run scored on an error by Wisdom at first base. Ross invited trouble with two walks and a single. He steadied from there. Harrison Bader threw a runner out at the plate to end the third inning, and Ross (7-9) retired the final nine batters he faced.
The Cardinals took the lead just as he left, in the top of the seventh.
Wisdom’s first big-league hit was an infield single that led to a tied game, 1-1, briefly. His second hit was a single up the middle that scored Jedd Gyorko and knotted the game again, 2-2.
That tie was also fleeting. Two batters later, catcher Yadier Molina, in his 20th consecutive game started, roped a two-run single up the middle that put the Cardinals ahead for good. By the end of the seventh inning of his first major-league game, Wisdom had two hits, two runs, a game-tying RBI and a spot as the first Cardinals rookie with that box score in his debut since Ken Reitz in 1972.
“There were quite a few firsts,” said Wisdom, who had his wife and about 12 other friends and family members present. They posed for photos with him on the field before the game. “I got my first error, which was right off the get-go. I think that kind of loosened me up.”
The Cardinals expanded their lead with four more runs over the next two innings, capped by a double from Marcell Ozuna and a homer from Paul DeJong.
Like the team, both appear to be gathering momentum headed back to St. Louis. DeJong had three homers in the final five games of the trip and slugged .625 overall while Ozuna was 12 for 39 (.308) on the trip.
The Cardinals, overall, hit .292 on the three-city tour with a .318 (34 for 107) batting average with runners in scoring position. They outscored opponents 50-22, outhit opponents 97-59 and averaged 5.6 runs a game.
Twenty-one of the final 30 runs they scored on the trip came with two outs.
“Passing the baton,” Wisdom said. “Like we were doing in Memphis.”
The timeliness of the offense augmented the ruthlessness of the Cardinals’ reworked bullpen. While starters, including Ross, provided six quality starts on the trip, those turned into wins because the bullpen had a 0.96 ERA and held opponents to a .165 batting average. The Cardinals’ relievers had nearly as many strikeouts (21) as baserunners allowed (26) in 28 innings.
After DeJong’s homer pushed the lead in the ninth, the Cardinals turned to lefty Tyler Webb to finish . He got two strikeouts before a curious ejection from home-plate umpire Adam Hamari.
Royals pitchers hit four Cardinals in the game, including Matt Carpenter and Molina, and Hamari got itchy when Webb threw inside on Jorge Bonifacio and bruised him. Shildt said he paused at first because the ejection didn’t make sense.
No warning had been issued, Webb and Shildt said.
“That’s a pretty big assumption right there,” Shildt said. “I took it personally to our club. He’s making an assumption to something I don’t even know what he’d think it’d be.”
Bud Norris entered and ended the game by retiring the only batter he faced. The bullpen completed the sweep of KC having allowed one run in its nine innings of work.
Throughout the trip Shildt and the team have talked about closing out series but not being closed out of counts, closed out of innings, or closed out of games. Two strikes is not a strikeout. Two outs is not the end of the inning. Press on.
Seven weeks left to prove these aren’t the final standings.
More than just new players are headed home.
“Ultimately it’s all about competition,” Shildt said. “That’s what we’ve signed up for, and that is one thing that everyone has. You get there and you’ve got to compete to stay here, and you’ve got to compete against the people coming after you. Our guys embrace the competition. Two strikes or two outs? Let’s go. Let’s keep this going. This is an opportunity.”