CINCINNATI – In his first two-bats of the game, both against Reds starter Tanner Roark, Cardinals rookie Tommy Edman had already been fed his recommended daily allowance of curveballs. Roark struck him out twice with a curve, and the only thing that travels faster than a spent sunflower seed through a dugout is a scouting report.
As he came to the plate in the sixth with the bases loaded, Edman believed reliever Robert Stephenson knew what Roark knew and would test him with a breaking ball or two.
Stephenson never got to throw a second one.
Edman pounced on a first-pitch slider and hammered the first grand slam of his career and the first grand slam of the Cardinals’ 2019 season. His homer snapped a tie game and elevated the Cardinals to a 7-4 victory Thursday against Cincinnati at Great American Ball Park.
“I was pretty confident that Stephenson was going to try and spin me, spin me into the ground,” Edman said. “Watching the at-bats before (mine) he was throwing tons of sliders. So I was kind of expecting that slider to be there. Fortunately for me he just left one over the plate, and I was about to put a good swing on it.”
“Huge. Big blow,” manager Mike Shildt said.
To get to the point where Edman could continue to steadying the Cardinals’ season, it took a starting pitcher shoving his way through some rocky innings and a hitter keeping his faith through a powerless month. Dakota Hudson dealt with trouble in each of his first three innings, yet stayed true to his approach and held the Reds to a 3-0 lead through his five innings. Paul DeJong had gone more than a month since his last home run, and yet he stuck with his approach, believed in his swing and delivered the two-run homer Thursday that cracked Roark’s start and rallied the Cardinals’ before the five-run sixth inning.
The Cardinals’ All-Star drove home the team’s first three runs to tie the game, 3-3. Since June 16, DeJong had gone 99 plate appearances and a home run wasn’t one before he hit a 2-2 pitch for a two-run homer in the fifth inning.
It clanged off the left-field foul pole.
“Fair pole,” DeJong said of his 14th homer. “Cool to watch that one smack the fair pole. … Just made a couple of slight adjustments in my mindset. Trying to feel my posture. Feeling connected to the ground. I trust my hands against anybody. For me, it’s about unlocking my own ability as opposed to trying to force it.”
DeJong returned from his turn in the 90th All-Star Game feeling encouraged by the break and then had a discouraging home stand. He had two hits (both singles) in 20 at-bats, did not walk, and struck out four times. His slugging percentage cratered to .423 – the lowest it had been since the first series of the season. The stoic DeJong fought the urge to make changes, to jar his swing loose with some radical adjustment – and instead of pressing, he pressed on. Shildt said it’s how “he trusts his ability that allows him to do that.” Shildt moved DeJong down in the order for the first time all season this past week “to give him a different look.”
The home run, Shildt suggested, wasn’t because of the move in the lineup, but rather how DeJong stayed with his approach.
“That kind of ignites what you’re doing,” Shildt said.
What DeJong has done over the past several weeks, Hudson did in the early innings against the listing Reds. He had thrown his 15th pitch of the game before he got a second out, and the 19th pitch he threw was put in the seats by Eugenio Suarez for his 24th homer and a 1-0 lead. In the second inning, Hudson walked the first batter he faced, hit the second batter he faced, and then got a line drive to DeJong for the snake-eyes double play. In the third, as the Reds built their 3-0 lead in bits, seven batters came to the plate. Got the second out of the inning from the sixth batter he faced.
Yet, it took a sacrifice fly to score the Reds’ second run of the inning, and Hudson minimized the impact of four hits, holding the score like the walls at Great American – within reach.
“Felt like early on I was kind of hurting myself a little bit,” said Hudson, who pitched five innings. “I’ve heard some things about pitching here and how offenses can just explode so I knew if I could keep it right there we would be in a good spot.”
It took a series of fortunate events to bring Edman to the plate with the bases loaded in the sixth. Like most messes at GABP, it began with a walk. Dexter Fowler drew it and scored on DeJong’s single to tie the game, 3-3. DeJong’s single was the second of three consecutive off Stephenson to load the bases. Pinch-hitter Yairo Munoz skied a fly ball to right field, and Yasiel Puig bounced with the eagerness to be tested by the runner at third base.
Matt Wieters opted against it.
But as he headed back to third – Puig’s throw would have beat him home by several strides – Kolten Wong was caught stretching from an uncovered first base. It became a footrace between him and Joey Votto to reach the base. Wong slid in – ahead of Votto’s reach. That kept the bases loaded with two outs and momentarily sent the inning sideways. Stephenson’s next pitch, that slider, Edman put in the right-center stands to flip the game. Giovanny Gallegos pitched 1 1/3 scoreless to hold the lead and usher it to Andrew Miller for a scoreless ninth and the second save of his season.
The rally from the team that has struggled the past few months punctuated a win earned by a pitcher who struggled for a few innings and rewarded an offense awoken by a hitter who has struggled for several weeks. It was the Cardinals’ season – and so many of the traits Shildt continues to reference – distilled into one box score.
“We’ve been having more fun this last week it seems,” DeJong said, “than like we’ve had in the last few months.”