ST. LOUIS – Timely small-ball hitting and impressive defense helped the Cardinals beat the Braves 4-1 Saturday afternoon in front of a sellout crowd of 44,981 fans at Busch Stadium.
St. Louis used two of its four bunt singles as springboards to not only rally and tie the game in the fourth, but also to take its first lead in the sixth. The Cardinals never trailed after getting the lead.
“I think today was probably the best representations of what speed can do for us,” Cardinals’ skipper Mike Matheny said. “How the guys made things happen. Getting on base and creating havoc. You could even tell at times when they (the Braves) had to be a little quicker than they normally would be. … Our guys did a nice job of making things happen today.”
Atlanta entered the series with St. Louis 14-1 when scoring first. However, that strategy is not working against the Cardinals. For the second straight day, the Braves got on the board first and lost.
Andrelton Simmons singled with two outs and pitcher Aaron Harang, batting in the eighth slot, followed up with his first hit of the year. Simmons went to third on the play and scored when Kolten Wong’s throw to third was offline.
St. Louis (22-19) tied the game in the bottom of the fourth with some help from Wong.
The Cardinals’ second baseman dropped down a bunt up the right side of the infield and beat the throw to first. He then went to third on Matt Holliday’s single. Wong then scored on a sac-fly off the bat of Yadier Molina.
“Since day one from playing baseball, I knew the bunt was a big part of my game,” Wong said. “Whether it is for a base hit or getting a guy over, I know that is my job and as long as I get on base or move the guy up, I am confident with bunting.”
The Cardinals used some stellar defense in the fifth to keep the game tied.
Atlanta (23-20) got a leadoff double from Simmons. Harang tried to sacrifice Simmons to third, but Harang’s bunt fell right in front of the plate and Molina scooped up the ball and fired over to Matt Carpenter at third who tagged Simmons for the out. Carpenter then threw over to first to double up Harang who never left the batters’ box.
“Yadi (Molina) did a good job behind the plate,” Cardinals’ starting pitcher Shelby Miller said. “The defense helped me out a lot on that big double play. They kind of got me out of some jams.”
Braves’ manager Fredie Gonzalez tried to argue that the ball bounced foul and was ejected by home plate umpire Ron Kulpa.
While Holliday was unable to come up with the catch to prevent Simmons’ fifth inning double, the Cardinals’ left fielder did make a shoe-string catch to rob Justin Upton in the sixth. The play was only fitting since Upton made a similar catch to rob Allen Craig in the second inning.
Matheny enjoyed the aggressive style of defense his team used in the field.
“We are seeing aggressive play,” Matheny said. “That is something that we need to continue. … Yadi (Molina) coming out of the box and making something happen there at third base on the bunt, those sort of things are going to kind of come as we get confidence. I love that style of play.”
In the bottom half of the sixth, Matt Carpenter was hit by a pitch to open the inning. Carpenter moved to second on Wong’s second bunt single of the game. Just like the first one, he placed the bunt right up the first base line and beat the throw. Holliday flew out, but Carpenter was able to advance to third on the play. With Craig at the plate, Wong stole second, but Evan Gattis’ throw went into centerfield allowing Carpenter to trot home, giving the Cardinals a 2-1 lead while Wong moved up to third. Craig then singled to left field allowing Wong to score and increasing St. Louis’ lead to 3-1.
Adams led off the home half of the seventh with his second triple of the year. After Jhonny Peralta struck out, the Braves threw two intentional balls to Bourjos. On the third pitch, Bourjos fouled the ball back into the stands. The speedy center fielder then dropped the Cardinals’ fourth bunt of the day right in front of the pitcher who was unable to field it. Bourjos made it safely to first and Adams scored the Cardinals’ fourth run of the day.
“That is what me and Peter (Bourjos) are here for,” Wong said. “We are here to try and get on base and try to produce runs. If it is going first to third or stealing bases or whatever it is, we need to get on base and get in scoring position for the guys behind us.”
On the mound for St. Louis, Miller threw 101 pitches as he worked seven innings. The Cardinals’ right-hander scattered five hits and two walks while striking out seven. The one run Miller allowed was unearned and he earned his six win of the year.
“I thought we did a really good job of keeping the (Atlanta) hitters off balance and getting ahead in the counts,” Miller said. “At the end of the day we try to be as efficient as possible.”
Matheny thought Miller’s performance on Saturday was one of his best of the year.
“It was one of the best outings we have seen from him, definitely this year,” Matheny said. “He had a great game plan going in. He stayed on top of the ball and worked down. … He had a real nice day.”
Miller worked at a faster pace Saturday and Matheny believed it helped with the outcome.
“A few starts ago, he was extremely slow,” Matheny said. “I don’t know if he was over-thinking his approach every time, but he was putting his defense to sleep at times too. That is something that Derek Lilliquist has brought to him and they have quickened up. But, I think he just had a good groove and he wanted to get the ball and let it eat.”
Carlos Martinez came in to pitch the eighth and the Braves tried to rally. Following a walk and a single to the first two batters, Martinez got Justin Upton to strike out. Matheny then brought in reliever Randy Choate who threw one pitch and got a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning. The double play was St. Louis’ third of the game.
Trevor Rosenthal closed out the game by pitching a scoreless ninth inning for his third save in as many days and his 13th save overall in 14 chances this year. Rosenthal struck out the final two batters of the game.
When Rosenthal struck out B.J. Upton to end the game, the punch out was Upton’s fourth of the game. It was the first time in Upton’s 12-year career that he had struck out four times in a game.
The Cardinals banged out eight hits, four of which were bunt singles. Wong and Bourjos each had a pair of bunt singles. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Cardinals are the first team to have four bunt hits in one game since the Detroit Tigers accomplished the feat on Sep. 23, 2003.
The rest of the Cardinals’ offense came from Holliday, Craig, and Adams, each 1-for-3 and Molina, 1-for-2. Adam’s triple was the only extra-base hit of the game for the Cardinals.
“It is hard to find times to bunt,” Wong said. “But I will sneak one in there once in a while.”
The Cardinals have already secured the season series win over Atlanta. The Redbirds took two of three in Atlanta and have won the first two at homer. Now St. Louis will go for the series sweep this afternoon when Jaime Garcia makes his 2014 season debut. Game time is set for 1:15 p.m.