CINCINNATI – In the afterglow of what he agreed was probably his biggest hit yet as a Cardinal, Paul Goldschmidt agreed that it would be “awesome” if his home run Wednesday was the flashpoint of his resurgence. He cautioned how he’ll only know in hindsight.
Fortune in baseball can be as fleeting as it is fickle.
It didn’t take long for him to have an example.
Three days after his three-run homer was the decisive blow in a winning home stand, Goldschmidt continued what’s been a season-long struggle to generate such game-altering hits consistently. The rally the Cardinals had conjured routinely all week, the rally that righted their record at the expense of rivals, was again there for the taking Saturday. The hits were not. Goldschmidt went zero-for-three in chances to provide a run and the Reds edged the Cardinals, 3-2, at Great American Ball Park.
“It’s frustrating, especially when you’ve got a chance to drive guys in and lose by one,” said Goldschmidt, who is two-for-11 with seven strikeouts in the three games since the homer that defeated Pittsburgh. “I think we see that I haven’t consistently been hitting the ball hard and consistently having enough good at-bats, whether there are runners on or no runners on. Just need to try do better. Really haven’t been able to do it this entire season.”
Goldschmidt’s missed chances weren’t alone, just part of a game that the starting pitchers controlled until the brief, flickering moments they didn’t. Building on his successful start immediately after the All-Star break, Miles Mikolas didn’t allow a ball out of the infield until the double in the seventh inning that tied the game. Cincinnati starter Luis Castillo, an All-Star, matched Mikolas zero for zero until catcher Matt Wieters tagged a solo homer in the sixth for the game’s first run.
Mikolas (6-10) spent most of the game working down, down, down in the strike zone to avoid the up, up, and away dimensions of Great American Ball Park. As a result he was able to get 16 outs from the first 17 Reds he faced, and three of the first four innings he pitched included double plays. Fresh off the Cardinals’ only shutout of the season, Mikolas pushed his career-best scoreless streak to 15 innings before it came undone in three pitches. It started with a leadoff walk to Eugenio Suarez and then trouble blossomed.
Yasiel Puig drilled a game-tying double, and rookie Josh VanMeter followed two pitches later with his first major-league homer. It came in his 60th plate appearance.
“This ballpark – get the ball in the air and things happen,” Mikolas said. “Working down a lot most of the game and I think one guy you don’t want to work down to is Puig. I had been there all game and I tried to get one up, and maybe (should have) stuck in with the driving-the-ball-down mentality. Not exactly where I want that pitch.”
“Center-cut ball that he didn’t miss,” manager Mike Shildt called it.
Castillo allowed a leadoff single to Tommy Edman at the start of the game and then retired the next eight Cardinals he faced until Edman had the first of his two doubles. Edman opened the inning with a double flipped down the right-field line. A grounder got him to third. Goldschnmidt’s strikeout barred his way home. As Shildt outlined the absence of offense Saturday, he did so in terms of situational hitting. Twice Edman got to second base with one out or less. Each time he was stranded at third, including the eighth inning as the tying run. In the sixth, Mikolas followed Wieters’ homer with a double to kindle a possible crooked number. In the heat, Mikolas continued to soak his jersey with sweat by staying on second base as the top of the order failed to budge him to third, let alone home. Mikolas returned to the dugout, got a fresh jersey – his third of the game, including warmups – and pressed on till Puig.
The loss kept the Cardinals from getting five games better than .500 for the first time since May and means they must win Sunday to take the series. They also remained winless against National League teams in their new road blue uniforms. They are 1-7 in their Saturday road “victory” blues.
The top four spots in the order went zero-for-eight with a runner in scoring position. Two of those came in the eighth inning, including an RBI groundout.
Castillo calmed the sixth inning by striking out Goldschmidt for a second time.
“He made some good pitches. I think I chased a few that were a little out of the zone,” Goldschmidt said. “That’s a bad combination to try and have success with. The pitches that were in the zone when I swung at them, I didn’t hit them. If you don’t lay off, if you chase, they’re going to keep going to them.”
As a team, the Cardinals are relentlessly average when it comes to hitting with a runner in scoring position. They are close to league average with a .261 average. For Goldschmidt, the gap is wider. The six-time All-Star, who has won three of the past four Silver Slugger awards at first base, has a career average of .293 and a career OPS of .916, yet this season he’s hit .251 with a .767 OPS.
With runners in scoring position, Goldschmidt hit .315 in his career coming into this season. After Saturday’s game, his average sank to .224 (13-for-58) with 12 strikeouts.
“Look, he’s going to get pitched tough,” Shildt said. “He’s going to get pitched really tough. He’s a presence in the middle of the lineup that people are going to respect and so he’s probably one of the guys who they’re not going to let beat him.”
Whenever Goldschmidt hits he’s the epicenter of the Cardinals’ lineup, and however he hits it’s likely to set the pace for the Cardinals’ offense. The Cardinals have moved him around the lineup in part to get him more opportunities with runners on base, something he did not have often in the first third of the season. His stirring three-run homer Wednesday reversed the game on the Pirates and was the difference between winning the game, winning the series, and having a winning home stand. He called it “nice” and then insisted it offered no promises of the next day. He struck out four times the next day.
On Saturday he listed the steps where any turnaround starts, from the video he’s been watching, or the batting cage he all but pays mortgage on.
“Trying to figure it out,” Goldschmidt said. “I didn’t do a good enough job swinging at the right pitches, and then when I did, haven’t done a good enough job hitting them. That’s baseball. Try to do a better job, lay off the better pitches. Haven’t done it as much as I need to really this entire season. Just trying to find a way.”