ATLANTA — The Cardinals apologized en masse to Jack Flaherty on Tuesday night.
After leaving the righthander on the short end of the stick by not scoring in either of his previous two starts, the Cardinals assaulted Atlanta pitching for 11 runs in the first five innings. Home runs by Marcell Ozuna, Dexter Fowler and Yadier Molina accounted for seven of those runs and Flaherty drove in one himself before Kolten Wong added a third three-run homer in the ninth as the Cardinals delivered a 14-3 tomahawk chop to the Braves at SunTrust Field.
“You don’t get runs, you’re not going to win,” said Molina of Flaherty’s previous outings. Not that Flaherty needed all that much.
Flaherty, throwing his fastball as high as 96 mph, pitched no-hit ball for four innings before a succession of three soft hits by the Braves led to three runs in the fifth inning. He walked a season-high five and fanned six over six innings, throwing a total of 109 pitches, as he gained his fourth win.
But Atlanta righthander Mike Foltynewicz (0-3) now has given up 28 earned runs to the Cardinals in 27 innings, 27 of the runs coming in Atlanta as opposed to just one in two starts in St. Louis.
“That is pretty interesting,” said Cardinals manager Mike Shildt. “But that’s out of my grasp.”
Foltynewicz, who was on the injured list with a right elbow bone spur this spring, was tagged for eight runs, including three homers in the first five innings. Molina knocked Foltynewicz out of the game in the fifth with a three-run bomb, the 150th homer of his career, to deep center to highlight a six-run frame.
“Our offense was really, really good night,” said Flaherty. “It was fun to watch. We got three runs (in the first). And we didn’t stop going.”
Ozuna predicted, “I think we’re going to be good for the rest of the season.”
Before Tuesday, Ozuna had been four for 20 with nine strikeouts against Foltynewicz. But Ozuna inhaled a 2-1 hanging slider and exhaled it over the left-field wall and suddenly the Cardinals had a 3-0 lead.
“We saw him in the video and saw what he did to me,” said Ozuna, “and I think I got him pretty good today.”
Matt Carpenter walked and Paul DeJong had a bloop single before Ozuna cracked his 12th home run, running his runs batted in total to 37, ranking him fourth in the National League. It was Ozuna’s fifth three-run homer of the season.
Later in the inning, Molina doubled, tying him with Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby for fifth on the Cardinals’ career list at 367. “It’s a great honor,” said Molina.
“I’m going to enjoy it for now, but tomorrow’s going to be another day and, hopefully, I can pass him.”
“Rogers Hornsby. That’s a pretty good name,” Shildt said.
And Shildt said so is Yadier Molina.
“I always appreciate everybody that’s always looking for continual improvement,” said Shildt. “It’s a personal mantra of my own. I strive for it. I won’t say I always get it.
“You’re talking about a guy who’s been in the league since 2004 and who’s been to four World Series and won two. Nine Gold Gloves and he’s cemented himself as one of the best players in the game and rightfully made a good amount of money and there’s no satisfaction in anything that he does. He wants more. He’s hungry and loves the game. Great player.”
Molina has 30 RBIs (eighth in the NL) in 42 games, his best start in that department in his career and one behind Ted Simmons in 1975 for best RBI start by a Cardinals catcher.
Ozuna almost had two more RBIs in the third when he hit a ball even farther than he did in the first but it went just foul to left. “I think it was a home run,” Ozuna said. “I don’t know why they called that.”
Fowler’s second homer of the season came in the fourth and was his first in 86 at-bats in his hometown. “I didn’t know that,” said Fowler, who probably did know.
Wong’s homer gave the Cardinals three three-run homers in a game for the first time April 15, 2016 when Matt Holliday, Aledmys Diaz and Brandon Moss homered at Cincinnati, also in a 14-3 win.
Hall of Famer Earl Weaver, who managed Shildt’s favorite team, the Baltimore Orioles for a long time, always spoke of the joy of three-run homers, especially three of them. “You ain’t wrong,” said Shildt, smiling.
Flaherty’s six-inning stint marked the season-high fourth consecutive game in which the Cardinals’ starter had gone at least six innings and had allowed three or fewer earned runs. That is considered a “quality start” in the trade lingo, but Flaherty said, “It’s crazy if that’s considered a quality start.”
He was referring, in part, to the fact that he again gave up three or more runs in an inning, which has happened in eight of his past 11 starts over the last two seasons. The pattern in this one was similar to his previous start, a 5-0 loss to Philadelphia.
He pitched four no-hit innings, then walked the leadoff hitter in the fifth and the inning became a “crooked number” inning.
“A leadoff walk is never helpful,” Flaherty. “You want to make them earn it.”
Flaherty gave up four runs in the fifth in the Philadelphia game and three in the fifth on Tuesday night although the Braves hardly battered him.
“He had one ball struck hard,” said Shildt. “He pitched well.”