ST. LOUIS — Considering the way he’s pounding the ball, fielding his position at a typically golden standard and playing at an MVP level, Cardinals star Nolan Arenado is rarely wrong these days — and it pays to listen when he talks.
So when Arenado recently espoused the feeling 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 that time, and they had 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 pervasive following the franchise’s first sweep of the almighty Yankees in its storied history, and Arenado looks like a wise sage. Of course, those prognostications tend to look a lot better when Arenado, the hitter, is in the middle of the lineup, smashing three-run home runs and carrying his teammates along with his fiery personality.
“We’re playing good baseball, complete baseball,” said Arenado, who racked up three hits, four RBIs and his 22nd home run of the season in St. Louis’ 12-9 throttling of the Yankees. “The way we’re playing lately, we really weren’t able to do that the whole first half, but now we’re hitting, pitching and playing defense. I remember saying that we hadn’t put it all together yet, but in this homestand, we put it all together.”
Did they ever put it all together. After rallying to beat the Yankees on Friday on Paul DeJong’s go-ahead double and hanging on for a 1-0 victory on Saturday thanks to strong pitching and defense, the Cardinals’ bats came alive in the series finale.
DeJong, who is back following 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 mashed six Yankees pitchers for 11 hits and eight walks over the course of 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 have won seven in a row overall.
“Beating teams and putting up numbers like we all can shows we have a great squad here. We’re committed and we showed how willing we are to fight this series,” said DeJong, who has three home runs, three doubles and 10 RBIs 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 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 in the sweltering day. Again, when the Yankees scored two in the top of the fifth on Aaron Judge’s double off the center-field wall, St. Louis responded with three runs to push the lead back out to a comfortable margin.
“It was a big homer, and it was just great to see us answer back after they took the lead,” said Arenado, who gave a fiery fist pump to the crowd after being summoned for a curtain call following his 22nd home run. “I feel like in the first half … we would have [had] trouble rallying there. It’s just great to see us fighting and working at-bats against great pitchers over there. I just got fired up to take the lead. We needed that and it was a lot of fun.”
No one is having more fun than DeJong, who has personified the Cardinals’ comeback spirit and resiliency with the way he’s played after being reinstated as the starting shortstop. His teammates greeted him with cheers and hugs last week in D.C. when he walked back into the clubhouse, and they were on the top step cheering him throughout this weekend.
Unusually reserved with his emotions — likely because he knows better than anyone how quickly fortunes can change — DeJong admitted following Sunday’s victory that he’s having the time of his life. New acquisitions José Quintana and Jordan Montgomery have steadied 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.”