It isn’t so much that the Cardinals have hit a lot of home runs — 61 in 45 games, to be precise. It’s that they have a lot of players who can hit them.
Nine Cardinals have five or more home runs, now that Matt Adams has joined the club.
After Adams, a .372 lifetime pinch hitter, belted the Cardinals’ ninth pinch homer of the season to tie the score with two out in the seventh off John Lackey on Monday night, Randal Grichuk walloped the first walk-off homer of his career with two outs in the ninth to craft a 4-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs before a sellout house of 45,008 at Busch Stadium.
The Cardinals, reversing their trend of not beating higher echelon teams in the National League, won for the third time in 13 games against the Cubs, Pittsburgh and Washington, but it was one they earned after falling behind former teammate Lackey 3-1.
“This is a team that can do damage in a hurry,” said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. “That’s something we haven’t had in the past as much, the ability for quite a few guys to feel good about getting the ball over the fence and create instant offense. Good to have in the memory bank.”
Grichuk said, “Everybody on the team can drive the ball out of the ball park at any moment. We’re never out of it, as was shown today.”
After Adams had belted his second pinch homer of the season, a two-run shot, third baseman Matt Carpenter helped preserve the tie in the ninth with a brilliant defensive play.
Eureka (Ill.) product Ben Zobrist singled for his third hit of the night, sending Dexter Fowler to third with one out. It seemed that center fielder Grichuk might have had a play if he’d gone to third but he took the safer play at second, to keep the other runner out of scoring position.
Trevor Rosenthal got Anthony Rizzo to hit a soft liner to the left side. With the shift on, Carpenter was the only Cardinals defender in the area. He dived, gloved the ball and then tagged third for the final out as Fowler, who clearly thought the ball would fall safely, had headed for home.
“I actually thought (Carpenter) was playing a little closer to the line than what he was,” said Rosenthal. “I didn’t think he was going to have to dive.”
Rosenthal, who gained his second win, said he had seen only one other play like it. “Probably just Chris Carpenter,” said Rosenthal, referring to the Cardinals pitcher diving into first base to make a play in the first game of the 2011 World Series.
Grichuk then went the other way into the Cardinals’ bullpen in right for his sixth homer to end the game against Cubs reliever Adam Warren.
The Cubs couldn’t catch it but Cardinals reliever Dean Kiekhefer did and brought it into the clubhouse where it will have suitable calligraphy denoting the performance by assistant athletic trainer Chris Conroy.
That he hit it to his non-pull side is “a good sign,” said Grichuk, recovered after a recent issue with back tightness and up to a modest .228 with his average.
“It means I’m staying on the ball. I’m not too jumpy. That’s something I felt like earlier in the year I struggled with, hooking balls.”
With his jubilant teammates crowded around the plate, there was some question whether Grichuk could get there.
“When I threw my helmet, I remember walking a couple more steps and then getting (the plate),” he said. “Then it was ‘game over.’ It was kind of a mess.”
Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright and Lackey have pitched nearly 700 big-league games between them, with Lackey exactly 100 games ahead of Wainwright at 397-297. But they never had faced each other until Monday.
Lackey replaced Wainwright as the ace of the Cardinals’ staff last year when the latter was sidelined for four months with an Achilles tendon tear. Now Wainwright is back and many Cardinals fans probably wish Lackey were back, too.
After blanking them on four hits and fanning 11 in seven innings in an April 18 win here, Lackey again was stingy, holding the Cardinals to two hits and one run over six innings.
He had almost made it through the seventh, too. Yadier Molina was still at first after a leadoff single when, with two outs, Adams planted a 407-foot drive off a curveball into the center-field greenery.
“Our bench has got the most power off the bench I’ve ever seen since I’ve been here,” said Wainwright.
Wainwright hadn’t allowed a run to the Cubs in his last 20 regular-season innings covering three starts, all at Wrigley Field.
But he was bedeviled by some control issues. He hit a batter, who scored in a two-run fourth that also featured a safety squeeze bunt by Javier Baez that went for a hit. And he walked back-to-back hitters in the fifth, preceding a broken-bat, run-scoring single by Anthony Rizzo, who had been one for 27.
Wainwright, who had walked eight in his first two games of the season, hadn’t walked more than one in any of his next seven starts.
“The two walks really burned me,” said Wainwright. “They cost me a run and almost an inning’s worth of pitches.”
But Wainwright was happy with what he brought to the party. “I had great stuff tonight. I loved my stuff,” he said.
“I’ve got to attack a little more than I did in a couple of those innings. But that’s going to play the rest of the season.”
The Cardinals got a bit of a scare in the sixth when shortstop Aledmys Diaz had his left wrist bent back as he tried tag out Addison Russell on what became a successful steal when the ball, and the glove, got away.
“That hurt,” said Diaz. “I felt pretty bad for a second. A lot of things came to my mind.
“Sometimes, you don’t feel 100 percent but you have to play. You have to help your team. I feel like I can play tomorrow.”
Now, does the Cardinals’ rousing comeback win make for a better tomorrow?
“You know my normal, boring answer is, ‘One game at a time,’” said Matheny.
“But I’ll absolutely buy into this is going to be one that we can take off from. I believe that. And it’s not pie-in-the-sky stuff — even though I have a lot of that in me.”