SAN DIEGO: A team is desperate need of a hit turned to the only player on its bench who hadn’t had one in more than a week.
Their shared relief sparked a release.
Jeremy Hazelbaker ended his 0-for-17 skid with a pinch-hit home run that snapped a tie, ignited the Cardinals, and sent them to a 11-2 victory Saturday night against San Diego. Hazelbaker’s three-run homer in the top of the fourth inning capped the Cardinals’ second comeback of the evening and gave them their first lead of the series. The piling on commenced. Aledmys Diaz completed his 5-for-5 day with two doubles, one each in the eighth and ninth innings.
Former Padres infielder Jedd Gyorko echoed Hazelbaker in the eighth with a three-run homer that tilted a game that for its first six innings appeared to be a continuation of the Cardinals’ offensive consternation.
The Padres took 1-0 and 2-1 leads against starter Michael Wacha and the Cardinals on sacrifice flies, and the Cardinals mostly meandered against San Diego right-hander Cesar Vargas in his major league debut. As it was Friday when the Cardinals scored a single run, their only run of the first six innings Saturday came on a home run.
Until the seventh inning Saturday, the Cardinals had gone 15 innings against San Diego with only an infield single with a runner in scoring position.
Pinch-hitters changed that.
In what was supposed to be a night off for him to reset his swing, leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter appeared to bat with two runners on and the tying run at third base. Yadier Molina had worked a leadoff walk and found his way to third on Diaz’s third of five hits. To counter Carpenter, the Padres went to Brad Hand, a lefty. Hand got ahead 0-2 on Carpenter before leaving a pitch up. Carpenter laced it to center to score Molina and tie the game, 2-2. Manager Mike Matheny sent right-handed-hitting infield Ruben Tejada to the on-deck circle, and the Padres pulled Hand in favor of right-handed pitcher Carlos Villanueva.
The rookie went 4-for-4 in the home opener and, for a stretch, led the Cardinals with three home runs. Since, he’d tumbled into a nine-day stretch without a hit. His 0-for-17 recede included eight strikeouts. Villanueva got ahead 0-2 on Hazelbaker before the rookie fouled off a slider. The next time Villanueva tried the slider, Hazelbaker sent it over the center-field wall to break the 2-2 tie and start the deluge. Hazelbaker’s homer rewarded Wacha (2-0) with the win for his six solid innings. Gyorko’s third home of the season came an inning later and a game that threatened to highlight the Cardinals’ offensive woes instead became another example of them dining on the league’s lesser pitching staffs.
Hazelbaker’s pinch-hit homer was the seventh by the Cardinals this month.