Rookies Stephen Piscotty and Tommy Pham didn’t melt under the pressure of their first postseason appearances.
Piscotty was 2-for-4 with a double, a home run and two RBIs and Pham walloped a homer in the St. Louis Cardinals’ 4-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Friday at Busch Stadium.
Piscotty’s ground-rule double preceded Matt Holliday’s RBI single in the first that made it 1-0 against Jon Lester. Pham’s pinch-hit homer against Lester made it 2-0 in the eighth. After a walk to Matt Carpenter ended Lester’s outing, Piscotty homered against Pedro Strop to seal the outcome.
Pham became just the third Cardinals rookie to homer in his first postseason plate appearance. His drive to left on a 3-1 pitch carried 431 feet.
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“I was just expecting (Lester) to throw a strike,” Pham said. “Lester is a really good pitcher, and he has a lot of weapons, a big arsenal. I felt like tonight I saw him really well. I laid off his changeup, the ball off the plate, to put myself in that good hitter’s count, to put myself in that position. Then when the ball was released from his hand, I saw it well and I got lucky.
“It’s something I dreamed about as a little kid. And now, you know, it’s happening. It’s truly a blessing, kind of surreal. I’m happy for (Piscotty), because we came up together. For us to be on this stage, helping out the team, it’s wonderful.”
Piscotty said Pham’s homer energized a dugout that had been on edge the entire game, clinging to a 1-0 lead that could be wiped out with one swing of the bat.
“When Tommy hit his, we were so fired up when he came across, I think we broke his necklace or something,” Piscotty said. “I don’t know what happened. His home run took a tremendous amount of pressure off me in my at-bat, and who knows? Maybe I don’t hit that home run if he doesn’t come through with that one.”
Piscotty called his moment “special.” He jumped on a 1-0 curveball from Strop that sailed high over the wall in left, 406 feet from the plate.
“It’s really hard to describe,” Piscotty said. “That’s one of the things we play for here in St. Louis. The fans are tremendous, and that’s something I think both of us are going to remember for a long, long time.”
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has marveled at Piscotty’s seamless transition to the big leagues.
“Stephen has been as consistent as any young player you could ever bring into a situation where we throw him in,” he said. “Not just into the big leagues, but we throw him into a position (first base) where he hasn’t had a lot of repetition and he does a great job. ... He’s just got baseball IQ. He makes incredible adjustments for a young player.”
Pham also has impressed the manager.
“We brought him in out of necessity,” he said. “We needed a spark. And I think tonight kind of shows he has potential. He’s just been a guy that once he gets going, it’s another skill set with the speed, the defense and then the power.”
Pham, who was kept on the roster for his ability to contribute with his bat and on defense, said he had been trained to capitalize on such an opportunity.
“We’re kind of groomed to come up and and contribute right away,” Pham said. “The expectations are high for us. So when we come here, we expect to help out the team. There’s no secret about it. So we prepare and we work really hard to put ourselves in that position.”
Piscotty offers further proof of Pham’s assessment. He batted .305 with seven home runs and 39 RBIs in the regular season.
“I agree (with Pham),” Piscotty said. “We have had a tremendous support group. All up and down the minor leagues we have tremendous coaches getting us to this point. Hopefully, they’re kind of sharing this moment with us, because we couldn’t be here without them.”