CHICAGO — The Cardinals have twisted and bent and explored every nook and cranny of their roster in recent weeks hoping that from their trade origami, enough pitches would emerge to cover the needed innings.
They’ve promoted, demoted, debuted and repurposed, and they’ll do it again on Saturday for a doubleheader at Wrigley Field. They went to great lengths to come up with short fixes when a way to allay their concern was obvious from the start, and that’s since the manager started trumpeting it during spring training.
The offense might take them a bit.
In a game at Wrigley, the Cardinals used the versatility and power of their rookie-infused roster and outright beat the Cubs, 14-5, on Friday afternoon. They made a comeback, extended their lead and got a hit from Paul Goldschmidt to extend his hitting streak to 25 games. The Cardinals stole three bases, hit five homers and top three rosters combined for six runs late in the sixth inning. Corey Dickerson hit his first home run of the season, then went five full innings before hitting his second.
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They didn’t wait and relied on the three-run homer, but they also got two. The second ran 420 feet into the right-field bleachers and went off rookie Nolan Gorman’s bat when he returned to the lineup due to back stiffness.
“There were a lot of different ways to score,” manager Oliver Marmol said. “Even with two outs…we still take advantage of the 90 feet when it’s there with stolen bases. We hit home runs. This is what it will take because there are certain days when the circuits will not be there. You have to make series, and we do. There are days when the circuits are there – and you chain yourself.
“We have the staff for that.
The 15-hit swell gave Miles Mikolas the win despite five sluggish innings and allowed the Cardinals to cover the remaining four innings with rookie Zack Thompson on his major league debut. Thompson struck out three to earn the first stoppage of three or more innings by a Cardinal in his debut since Brad Thompson in May 2005. Using two pitchers to cover nine innings sets the Cardinals up for Saturday’s doubleheader with a roster full of relievers – a wealth of depth the team will experience with rookie André Pallante starting for one game.
A three-run deficit at the end of the first inning had turned into a five-run lead at the end of four innings, and it grew to eight by the time Thompson took over. Mikolas pitched with a career-high 11 points of support.
“It was big. It was huge,” repeated Marmol. they did was the key to keeping our “pen fresh”.
The Cardinals entered the season confident that the cornerstones of their game would be a gold defense and consistent throwing that capitalized on those defenders. Injuries and inconsistencies have eroded the pitching staff — three starters are on the disabled list — but the defense is still there to help, as Mikolas illustrated Friday. At least three times, third baseman Nolan Arenado nearly missed an incredible play. He turned a potential double into a single with a dive.
In the fifth inning, as Mikolas (4-3) managed to get through to the win and leave no damage for anyone else, he had the bases loaded with no outs. He punched Patrick Wisdom to find a clear path, then followed his defense out of the thicket. Jason Heyward hit a flare caught in the wind and blown into shallow right field. Brendan Donovan caught him there and turned to see the runner, in a five-run game, leaving the safety of third base.
Donovan kicked him out for a double play on Mikolas’ last pitch.
“Just the intention and the attitude – nothing escapes us,” Mikolas said of the defence. “It means a lot to me as a pitcher to bring the bats to life so I can dig in and try to get us through. They don’t just give away wins. To have that kind of a lead and not be able to go past five, you have to tighten up your bet and say, “I’m fine.” Grit your teeth and have fun.
The Cubs pounced on Mikolas for a three-run lead late in the first — all three runs coming on Wisdom’s two-out homer. The Cardinals responded with a run late in the second, then took their first lead in the third. Minutes after being named NL Player of the Month for his .404 GAA, .817 slugging percentage and club-record 23 extra hits, Goldschmidt continued his fast start on June’s honor. Goldschmidt hit a three-run homer and two outs for a 4-3 lead.
In the fourth, birthday boy Harrison Bader turned a two-out single into a runner in scoring position by stealing the second. Nine-hole hitter Andrew Knizner hit the single to score Bader, and the Cardinals never trailed. It helped that two batters later, Gorman threw a 3-2 pitch high in the air.
It fell several rows before ricocheting off Sheffield Avenue.
“When we’re good,” Goldschmidt said, “the inning where we had two outs, stole (on) the first pitch, and we end up (with) Gorman hitting the homer — for me, that was something that we have to do. Some days we’re not going to hit home runs. Find a way to score. When you score a bunch, it looks good.
Gorman’s arrival in the majors and move to No. 2 in the roster was part of the roster’s pulse quickening. The same goes for Donovan’s patience. Whether he’s batting lower in the order or fifth, Donovan’s ability to get on the base has helped spread threats across the lineup. He climbs on the base. Gorman, the first Cardinal rookie to have 10 RBIs in his first 11 games since Albert Pujols, erases them. A left-handed batting rookie starts a rally. The other punctuates a twisted number. Lars Nootbaar added the Cardinals’ fifth homer of the game in the ninth when the Cubs turned to designated hitter Frank Schwindel to pitch.
Marmol insisted the roster would be “dynamic” and, during spring training, said she was ready to lead the league after three straight seasons of poor slugging and production. Without their first day one hitter and their third hitter, the Cardinals start the weekend in the top five runs scored in the majors. The result is what Marmol predicted. The route, with rookie contributions, is not.
“I believe with the guys we have, we have the ability to do that,” Marmol said. “We’re playing guys that none of us would have thought would be here today with the kind of years they have. We’ve got the staff. And we’ve got the depth.