Paul Goldschmidt wears size 14 cleats. If he wore size 13 1/2, it’s possible that the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves would still be playing game one of the National League Division Series.
Instead, the Cardinals overcame two errors and a misplay with an offensive explosion in the eighth and ninth innings which allowed them to wipe away the damage from an erratic ninth inning by Carlos Martínez and secure a wild 7-6 victory.
Entering the postseason, the Cardinals expected that their tendency toward run prevention would have to carry an offense that was below league average in most categories this season. Their defense, which became the first unit in Major League history to go from worst to first in errors over a two-year stretch, has been the backbone of that success.
“Let’s don’t kid ourselves, we want to score,” said Cardinals manager Mike Shildt. “We want some good at-bats. We can hang our hat on (pitching and defense) and keep us in games, but we don’t feel obligated to being two dimensional.”
On Thursday night, a rock hard and lightning quick Cobb County infield sent the ball careening wildly around the dirt. In the ninth, after a walk to Billy Hamilton and a two-run home run by Ronald Acuña Jr. which cut the lead in half, Ozzie Albies hit a chopper into the shift which was fielded by Tommy Edman at third base. He threw high to first, but Goldschmidt stretched and a review by the Braves could not prove that he lifted off the bag.
That stretch and call were essential, as Freddie Freeman homered as the next batter. Rather than tying the game, the Cardinals kept the lead. Martínez settled down and got Josh Donaldson to bounce out to Kolten Wong (forcing Goldschmidt to scoop another low throw) and struck out Nick Markakis to secure the win.
“The guys bounced back,” Goldschmidt said. “The play Tommy made in the ninth, and Kolten, too. Pauly (DeJong) made some good plays. It’s just baseball.”
Goldschmidt made only five errors at first base this year after the Cardinals bumbled their way to 20 at the position in 2018. His sure hands and calming presence have helped to assure a roster of athletic players that they can sell out to their full effort, taking countless runs off the board for opponents.
“Goldy made a couple great plays at first and then Kolten on that ball to the middle,” Edman said. “I think that’s just the defense that we’ve shown all year. I think the rest was kind of out of the ordinary.”
Critical Cardinals errors
Wong was charged with an error in the first inning after he fielded a Josh Donaldson grounder and fumbled the ball out of his glove while attempting to turn a double play. Albies scored on the play and forced the Cardinals to play from behind until they tied the game in the fifth. Harrison Bader reached on an infield single, Miles Mikolas placed a sacrifice bunt, and Bader stole third before Dexter Fowler drove him in on an RBI groundout. After an Edman double, Atlanta starter Dallas Keuchel was chased from the game.
In the sixth, Tyler Webb hit Donaldson with a pitch. Nick Markakis supplied a bloop double, and Adam Duvall was walked to load the bases with one out. Dansby Swanson hit a hard, bouncing ball to third which struck Edman in the chest and deflected to DeJong, who threw low to Wong. The ball bounced into left field and two runs scored to give the Braves their last lead of the night.
“It was just kind of an in between hop,” Edman said of Swanson’s grounder. “I probably should’ve stepped back on it instead of kind of trying to square up to it. The way it bounced was just a little bit different than I’m used to, but that’s a ball that I should’ve gotten.”
“You know, some weird plays,” Wong said. “Obviously you expect anything to happen defensively, but we were just put in some tough situations.”
“That first error I made, that was really the only play I had. Donaldson off the bat was going down the line pretty good. And I caught the ball in front of second base, I just tried to flip it, couldn’t get a good handle on it.”
Thursday was Wong’s first game back in the lineup since suffering a hamstring strain two weeks ago in Chicago. In the interim, Edman played only one game at third base and the rest at second. He said Thursday he felt prepared to transition back thanks to his pregame work and the reps he took at third during the Cardinals’ workout day Wednesday.
Goldschmidt stoic after St. Louis wins opener
By virtue of swiping a game from the Braves in Atlanta, the Cardinals now take control of a series which could feature two games at Busch Stadium and two starts by Jack Flaherty. In their first postseason game in four years, they squeezed in every bit of excitement and drama that’s been missing in the interim. Goldschmidt, after his St. Louis playoff debut, was typically unfazed.
“We’re either gonna win or lose the first one, so we’re better than if we lost,” Goldschmidt said dryly.
His boss was a little more impressed. Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt, Jr. stood in the hallway outside the Cardinals’ clubhouse greeting the family of players and members of the media. One word stood out in its repetition — “intense.”