ST. LOUIS — Considering how he hits the ball, takes his position at a typically gold standard and plays at an MVP level, a Cardinals star Nolan Arenado is rarely wrong these days — and it’s worth listening when he talks.
So when Arenado recently espoused the sentiment that the Cards were close to putting it all together and making themselves worthy of being mentioned among baseball’s upper-crust teams, it raised more than a few eyebrows. After all, the Cardinals were woefully short on reliable starting pitching at the time, and they mostly wilted against winning teams to the tune of a forgettable 18-27 record.
Now, fast forward to Sunday night, when music blared inside the Cardinals’ clubhouse and smiles were spread after the franchise’s first sweep of the almighty Yankees in its storied history, and Arenado looks like a wise sage. Of course, those predictions tend to look a lot better when Arenado, the hitter, is in the middle of the lineup, smashing three-run homers and carrying his teammates along with his fiery personality.
“We’re playing good baseball, complete baseball,” said Arenado, who had three hits, four RBIs and his 22nd home run of the season in St. Louis. 12-9 strangulation of the Yankees. “The last time we’ve been playing, we really couldn’t do that the whole first half, but now we’re hitting, pitching and playing defense. I remember saying that we haven’t put it all together yet, but in this home we have put it all together.”
Did they ever put it all together. After rallying to beat the Yankees on Friday on Paul DeJong’s double and hanging on for a 1-0 win on Saturday thanks to strong pitching and defense, the Cardinals’ bats came alive in the series finale.
DeJong, who returned from a 2 1/2-month stint at Triple-A Memphis, had two hits, two walks, three runs scored and four RBIs, including a three-run homer in the eighth. Dylan Carlson also had two hits for a Cardinals team that retired six Yankees pitchers for 11 hits and eight walks during a four-hour, 25-minute marathon that was MLB’s longest nine-inning game of the season. Put it all together and the Cards swept their six-game homestand and won seven in a row overall.
“Beating teams and putting up numbers like we all can shows that we have a great squad here. We’re committed and we’ve shown how ready we are to fight this series,” said DeJong, who has three home runs, three doubles and 10 RBI. ing in his eight days since returning to the MLB level.
Added New York’s Josh Donaldson: “They did a good job offensively, taking advantage, getting guys on base, working counts, controlling the strike zone. They’re a pretty good team.”
Showing a resilience that was lacking for long stretches early in the season, the Cardinals put together a five-run second inning to rally from a 4-1 deficit after veteran pitcher Adam Wainwright struggled early on the sweltering day. Again, when the Yankees scored two in the top of the fifth on Aaron Judge’s double off the centerfield wall, St. Louis answered with three runs to push the lead back out to a comfortable margin.
“It was a big home run, and it was great to see us respond after they took the lead,” said Arenado, who gave a fiery fist pump to the crowd after being called for a curtain call after his 22nd homer. “I feel like in the first half… we would have [had] problems to gather there. It’s great to see us battle and work the batting lineup against great pitchers out there. I had just been fired to take over. We needed that and it was a lot of fun.”
No one is having more fun than DeJong, who personified the Cardinals’ comeback spirit and resilience with the way he played after being reinstated as the starting shortstop. His teammates greeted him with cheers and hugs last week in DC when he walked back into the clubhouse, and they were on the top step cheering him on this weekend.
Unusually reserved with his emotions — probably because he knows better than anyone how quickly fortunes can change — DeJong admitted after Sunday’s win that he’s having the time of his life. New acquisitions José Quintana and Jordan Montgomery have stabilized the pitching staff, and the team is undefeated since veteran catcher Yadier Molina returned from the injured list. But it’s DeJong who embodies the squad’s new fighting spirit.
“That was one of the most memorable games I’ve ever played here,” DeJong said. “It’s been so much fun since I’ve been back, and I’m enjoying every day here.”