St. Louis Cardinals: Carlos Martinez shines as bats join in easy win

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 29: Carlos Martinez
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 29: Carlos Martinez /

After their historic, stinging loss Tuesday night against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park, the St. Louis Cardinals were no doubt seeking  to avoid further drama in the series finale.

With what should have been a complete game shutout start from a brilliant Carlos Martinez and a full deployment of effective bats, the St. Louis Cardinals delivered a 6-0 win and headed to St. Louis for their home Opening Day at Busch Stadium.

Tuesday brought the Cards a heartbreaking loss when the Brew Crew blasted back-to-back homers after two outs and two strikes in the ninth inning off de facto closer Dominic Leone to nail a 5-4 victory. As the Cards had similarly started the game with consecutive homers, it was the first game in MLB history to be so bookended with double dingers.

On Wednesday, CMart and the lineup left little to last-inning chance. Only a one-out error in the ninth inning by Cards third baseman Yairo Munoz, which cost Martinez a double play and complete game, created mild anxiety and a bases-loaded situation that resolved with a Bud Norris-induced twin killing.

The offense did its part by plating runs in four of the first six innings. Other than a solo, upper-deck blast by Yadier Molina in the fourth, the Cards strung together hits and outs to manufacture two runs in both the sixth and third innings.

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The latter couple resulted from a Molina sacrifice fly that drove in Marcell Ozuna, and a Kolten Wong infield single that sent Paul DeJong to third and then home after an errant Jonathan Villar throw.

The third inning runs were scratched out from a Matt Carpenter ground out that plated Dexter Fowler as Tommy Pham advanced to third. Ozuna then drove Pham in with a single to left field.

The initial Cardinal run in the first was also scored by Fowler, on a ground out from Pham. Fowler had started the season very slowly, but Wednesday night a walk and a hit put him in position to score two of the team’s six runs.

While Brewers’ starter Jhoulys Chacin and his three-error defense were failing to keep the Cards at bay, Martinez survived a tough early going to hold Milwaukee scoreless.

The first was again a challenge for Carlos, but the difference this time was his ability to throw strikes and let his stuff keep the Brewers in check. He surrendered a single to Eric Thames, who was erased by a Christian Yelich double-play grounder. After Lorenzo Cain walked, Travis Shaw flied to center to end the inning.

The second posed Martinez’ biggest threat. He hit Domingo Santana to start the inning, then Villar singled. But a lineout and two strikeouts quashed the Brewers’ charge, and those were the first three of 16 consecutive outs induced by the Cardinals starter.

The major keys for Martinez, especially after those tough two initial frames, were first-strike throwing and overall control. He delivered an opening strike to 20 of 29 batters he faced, and whiffed 10 against only two walks. Even when he was ultimately pulled in the ninth, well over the century mark in pitches, he looked  strong and capable.

In short, he looked nothing like the rather befuddled Opening Day starter from the previous Thursday, and a lot like the CMart we saw so often in his superlative 2015 and 2016 seasons.

Next: Holland improves outlook

After some hand-wringing following two losses in New York to start the year, the Cardinals come home to face the Arizona Diamondbacks with a very respectable .500 road record against two teams expected to contend for wild-card spots.