Welcome to the big leagues, Alex Mejia
It was a game of milestones Saturday for the St. Louis Cardinals as they defeated the Washington Nationals 2-1 in a heart-stopper at Busch Stadium.
Manager Mike Matheny won his 500th career game. Second baseman Alex Mejia had his first major-league hit, his first career home run and his first curtain call. Matt Bowman posted his first big-league save. And pitcher Michael Wacha collected his 500th career strikeout on his 26th birthday.
Mejia drove in both runs with an RBI single in the second against Gio Gonzalez, and his line-drive homer to left against Sammy Solis in the eighth made it 2-0 and proved to be the difference in the game before 43,614.
“The first hit, you want to get that out of the way,” said the 26-year-old Mejia, who joined the Cardinals on Thursday when they optioned Aledmys Diaz to Class AAA Memphis. “It was nice to get the ribbies to help the team out. (The curtain call) was pretty cool. That was a really neat feeling, actually, having that many fans support you.”
Mejia was able to retrieve both balls, but he’s not into collecting, so he said his parents probably will end up with both of them.
“I don’t care much for that,” said Mejia, who traded a regular baseball for his home-run ball. “I went out there (to left field) and met the guy. He was a very nice guy — he and his parents.”
Mejia said the perks of being in the major leagues are amazing.
“I’ve been asked by family and friends how it is,” he said. “The game itself hasn’t really changed for me. Obviously, the fans make a huge difference. But I want to say everything around it — the clubhouse, the food, the plane — that stuff is all kind of cool to me.”
It was a white-knuckle ninth for the fans, who spent several minutes on their feet in nervous anxiety as the National mounted a rally against Trevor Rosenthal.
Rosenthal allowed an RBI single to Stephen Drew that made it 2-1, then walked .135-hitting Jose Lobaton on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases.
Bowman relieved and quickly jumped ahead 0-2 against pinch-hitter Adrian Sanchez, taking his first career at-bat. Sanchez worked the count to 3-2 before Bowman’s fastball was called a strike by plate umpire Manny Gonzalez.
“That was definitely something,” Bowman said. “I went into a pretty deep count. He battled pretty well. After the first swing he took, I thought we might that pitch (a two-seamer) over and over again, but he definitely made an adjustment. I was impressed.”
Bowman had three saves in the minor league, but this one was more pressure-packed.
“I didn’t try to treat it any differently,” Bowman said. “It’s just one out; I was trying to get one out there.”
Matheny became the second-fastest Cardinals manager to reach 500 wins. He accomplished the feat in his 890th game. Billy Southworth won No. 500 in his 766th game.
“I haven’t even thought about the odds of me being around long enough to win 500,” Matheny said. “They were probably pretty low when I started this gig (in 2012). I’m humbled and grateful. I’ve been blessed with some amazing talent in the clubhouse, both on the field and with the staff and the support.
“As I think on that a little bit more, it’s impressive to be a part of this organization from this seat long enough to make that happen. It seemed like such an unlikely position for me to be in at the beginning. I didn’t want to overthink it.”
Wacha (5-3) was sharp from the get-go when he struck out two in the first inning. He worked six innings, allowed no runs on four hits, walked one and struck out a season-high nine. Wacha and Hall of Famer Steve Carlton recorded their 500th strikeouts in their 106th career games, trailing only Lance Lynn, who reached 500 in his 101st game.
“I felt like I was able to command the baseball the way I wanted to tonight,” Wacha said. “Me and Yadi (Molina) got on a nice little track there and were able to mix it up and keep them guessing, for the most part. I was able to make some pitches. I felt good and I’ve been feeling good. It’s good to get some results.”
David Wilhelm: @DavidMWilhelm