During the handshake and hand-slap line on the field that only goes to the victors, Cardinals center fielder Harrison Bader repeated the same phrase Sunday to teammates.
“We earned that one,” he said.
“We earned that one.”
After falling behind twice because Arizona continued to do what it so often had not this season, the Cardinals socked two home runs in the seventh inning to rally and overtake the Diamondbacks for a 7-5 victory at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals had gone more than two weeks without hitting two home runs in a game before Bader and Nolan Arenado each hit one over the left-field wall in the span of six pitches.
Bader’s two-run, two-strike jolt was his first homer of the season and flipped a game that featured two rallies started by Andrew Knizner, an encouraging start from Jordan Hicks and Ryan Helsley’s super-powered, six-out save.
People are also reading…
“It was one of those games where we were kind of behind the entire time,” Bader said. “Put up a run, and they came back with another solo shot. They kept applying the pressure. We stuck to our plan. That was just a win that we earned as a team, collectively.”
The Diamondbacks hit four solo home runs to construct a 5-3 lead going into the bottom of the seventh inning. Before the Cardinals could get their fifth extra-base hit of the four-game series, Arizona had 15. Shortstop Nick Ahmed hit his second homer in as many days to break a 2-2 tie and give him twice as many homers in the span of three plate appearances as the Cardinals had in their previous 360 at-bats. Jordan Luplow entered the day with a .091 average and by the end could measure his Sunday in feet — 363 feet to right for a homer, 405 to left-center for a homer. His second home run of the day put Arizona ahead 5-3.
The Cardinals’ home ballpark had been less hospitable to its residents. Shoulders, like so many fly balls, slumped, dropping shy of the wall and short of changing the game.
Two swings changed the trend and reversed the game.
Against Arizona reliever Keynan Middleton, Bader fell behind in the count, nicked a 98-mph fastball to keep the at-bat alive and then drilled a 97-mph fastball to turn a one-run deficit into a one-run lead. Arenado hit his sixth homer two batters later for “the icing,” Knizner said.
“Seeing some homers was fun,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said.
The rallies that got the Cardinals back in the game started more modestly. Shortstop Paul DeJong, who scored two runs Sunday, said the phrase tossed around the cages to describe a rally is: “a bloop and a blast.” Knizner, a chatterbox outside the batter’s box, introduced a new twist to that familiar alliteration. He told tells teammates, “Flares become fires.”
“Playing at Raleigh, N. C., we’ve got a lot of sayings,” Knizner said of college at North Carolina State. “I brought it to the team.”
He brought it to two innings, too.
Knizner flipped a single to center in the third inning, and the Cardinals spun gold out of that one base hit. With help from a walk and an error, Knizner’s “flare” became a two-run inning that briefly gave the Cardinals the lead. In the seventh, Knizner lofted a single over the head of Ahmed to put another inning in motion for the Cardinals. DeJong followed with a double that put Knizner on third. Brandon Donovan got his first big-league RBI when Knizner scored on his groundout, and that brought Bader up with the tying run on base. Bader rounded them as the go-ahead run. Another flare, another fire.
“Flares start fires, exactly right,” Knizner said. “When you’ve got two strikes on the leadoff guy and he’s able to drop it in for a leadoff hit, it’s just like a small cut. It’s still going to bleed. It’s as simple as a little flare starts a fire.”
“Of course he said that when he starts it going with a little bloop,” Bader said.
The power from the lineup the Cardinals have been waiting and waiting to arrive backed the power on the pitching staff they have been eager to let loose, looking to maximize.
Showing the bruised wrist from his second start did not slow him, Hicks closed in on the desired workload with 63 pitches, but he could not complete the fourth inning. The second homer against him and the second walk he allowed chased him from the game in the middle of the fourth inning. Christian Walker tied the game on a 432-foot homer to center that Hicks said he invited by throwing “four or five sliders the at-bat before.” Hicks’ fastball sizzled at 100 mph when necessary, but to prosper starter he’ll need efficiency and versatility.
During the start, he toyed with a new changeup grip Miles Mikolas showed him, one that shifts the split-finger changeup he’s featured to a circle-change. He’s borrowing the idea from another right-hander power starter, Miami’s Sandy Alcantara, and mixing it into his options.
“People say you learn every start and grow from it,” Hicks said. “One of the things I’m going to be focused on is, ‘What did I do the at-bat before?’ Don’t double up.”
The pair of homers gave Helsley a two-run lead to hold in the eighth, and then save in the ninth after a six-pitch inning. Helsley struck out Ketel Marte with a 103.1-mph fastball that is the fastest pitch thrown in the majors so far this season. He then struck out the side in the ninth for his first save of the season.
After the handshakes and hand-slaps and on-field interview, Bader headed for the team’s new sauna. He did stop by a screen to watch the replay of his homer.
He wanted to check one thing.
How much did his head move?
As he’s worked on his swing and mechanics, the Cardinals’ center fielder has simplified what he’s trying to do — and that’s keep his head steady, because he believes that’s a trait hitters such as Albert Pujols, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado share, and he wants. On the homer he saw “minimal movement.” The result was maximum impact, the kind they’ve been expecting.
“It’s kind of like a blind trust, honestly,” Bader said. “Blind in the sense that you never know what it’s going to come, but you know at some point you’re going to grab onto it, and it’s there. … One swing can be the difference up here. The level of focus to fight back and continue to push, push, push and split that series was huge for us. That’s the makeup of this club.”