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Rookies Gorman and Liberatore have a blast powering Cardinals to 8-3 win vs. Brewers

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St. Louis Cardinals V Milwaukee

St. Louis Cardinals Matthew Liberatore (52) can't stop grinning as teammates congratulate his long-time childhood friend Cardinals Nolan Gorman on his fourth inning 2RBI double against the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday May 28, 2022, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

When Nolan Gorman reached the dugout after his first big-league home run gave the Cardinals the lead in his boyhood pal Matthew Liberatore’s first big-league home start, the pitcher was waiting with open arms and a message only a lifelong friend could deliver.

“Finally,” Liberatore exhaled.

Teammates on the field and roommates away from home for more games than they can count, Gorman and Liberatore’s dovetailing careers continued to soar to new heights Saturday as they have for years — together. Gorman slugged his first homer and added a double and a single by the fourth inning. He finished with four hits and four RBIs all while his lifelong friend from Phoenix pitched five shutout innings for his first big-league win in the Cardinals’ 8-3 victory against Milwaukee at Busch Stadium.

When the Cardinals’ top power prospect and top pitching prospect arrived in the majors — their promotions announced together, on the same day — veteran Adam Wainwright pulled them aside and told them they could “be their own person.” And they will be. Eventually.

But, hey, friends share.

“It’s been a fun ride with him,” Gorman said. “It’s pretty crazy.”

“It just keeps getting crazier,” Liberatore echoed.

St. Louis Cardinals V Milwaukee

St. Louis Cardinals Nolan Gorman (16) hits a solo home run in the first inning of a baseball game between the Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday May 28, 2022, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. It was Gorman's first Major-League home run. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

The last decision manager Oliver Marmol made late Friday night about the next day’s lineup was whether Gorman would play and where the rookie would hit. After an initial flurry of hits, Gorman’s production cooled with the breeze of strikeouts. He had six in his previous nine at-bats coming into Saturday, and at least four consecutive had involved elevated fastballs. Opponents identified what the Cardinals and Gorman knew: “That was a hole for him (and) he’s going to have to make adjustments,” Marmol said. That the manager liked the matchup against Brewer right-hander Adrian Houser did more than keep Gorman in the lineup.

He moved him up to No. 2.

Gorman had made a shift of his own.

Knowing that he was going to see top-shelf fastballs until he proved he could bruise them, Gorman simplified his swing, quieted his leg kick, and in his first at-bat caught up. Houser challenged the rookie with a 95-mph fastball that wasn’t elevated enough — until, that is, Gorman got ahold of it and elevated all the way to the seats beyond the Cardinals’ bullpen in right field and 449 feet away from where he made contact.

“I haven’t seen many go over bullpens in St. Louis,” reliever Nick Wittgren said. “It looked like he was swinging a tree trunk, and the ball coming in was a beach ball.”

Wittgren helped negotiate the retrieval of the ball from the fan who caught it. The whole bullpen signed another baseball and swapped it so that Gorman could get the keepsake.

“We have been waiting on it,” Wittgren said.

A home run for Gorman in a Liberatore start was nothing new.

The distance and noise were.

“Fences were a little shorter (as kids),” Gorman said. “Cannon (blast) scared me a little bit going around second base.”

Three times, Houser (3-5) tried to sizzle a fastball past Gorman and the rookie delivered an RBI hit. His RBI single in the third inning was part of a four-run rally that seized control of the game. Gorman was at first when Paul Goldschmidt launched the decisive three-run homer, his third home run in as many games and the swing that extended his hitting streak to 19 games. With four hits, Gorman raised his batting average from .238 to .360. He became the first Cardinal to have a four-hit, four-RBI game within his first 10 career games.

St. Louis Cardinals V Milwaukee

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Matthew Liberatore (52) throws a pitch in the first inning of a baseball game between the Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday May 28, 2022, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

In the fourth inning, he fell behind 0-2 to Houser and then, on an elevated 94-mph fastball, doubled to right for his third and fourth RBIs. When he scored on Goldschmidt’s single to give the first baseman four RBIs, again Liberatore greeted him.

“Get to the big leagues and your speed doubles?” the lefty joked.

Selected by Tampa Bay three spots ahead of when the Cardinals drafted Gorman at 19th overall in 2018, Liberatore thought that might be the end of their time as teammates. Their commitments to play ball at Arizona offered a chance to reunite until pro ball made them offers they could not refuse. One to an American League organization and another to the Cardinals, they went their separate ways until the Cardinals’ January 2020 trade with the Rays did what neither expected — brought them back together. That summer they played together, ate together, roomed together, and competed against each other at the satellite camp.

They aren’t roommates in St. Louis, but Gorman noted the apartments they do not share are beside each other.

“Weird how that worked,” he said.

When Liberatore (1-0) made his major-league debut, like Gorman, in Pittsburgh, he purposefully did not look up at the stadium rising around him. On Saturday, as he prepared to throw his first pitch at home, in St. Louis, in front of a sellout, tickets-sold crowd of 45,594, he purposefully did look up. He stood there for around 10 seconds.

He wanted to feel the height of the place, the height he’d reached.

And then he struck out the first two Brewers he faced.

“On the road, I told myself not to look up,” Liberatore said. “That’s something a lot of guys will tell you, ‘Hey, don’t look up because that third deck can be intimidating.’ But for me, I think looking up gave me a sense of presence and being in the moment, and that made me feel more comfortable.”

Liberatore struck out three of the first five he faced, had six strikeouts total against two hits allowed, and none bigger than consecutive strikeouts in the fourth. The lefty pitched around Gorman’s error — and would sidestep all three committed by the Cardinals — to keep his line scoreless. He did so by striking out Keston Hiura on a sinker and then wedging a fastball inside and up on Lorenzo Cain that caught the strike zone and the right-hander looking for strike 3.

The middle finger on his pitching hand began to bleed in the fifth inning, and that limited Liberatore’s ability to pitch beyond 15 outs on 93 pitches.

By the time he left, Gorman had four RBIs, the Cardinals had an 8-0 lead, and their teammates had plans. True to tradition, both rookies were rolled into the showers for a celebratory dousing after their first win and first homer. They were soaked by whatever yogurt, beverage, chocolate sauce, or goop the other players could find, and in the best way they could imagine.

Together.

“Applesauce in my hair,” Gorman said. “I know that one.”

He did get it all out, finally.

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