CHICAGO — For those who had wondered about the effort of Cardinals right fielder Dexter Fowler, including a prominent front office executive, it must be reported that Fowler was seen jogging while running the bases Tuesday night at Guaranteed Rate Field.
From home to first, he ran hard enough. But he loped from first to second. And second to third. And third to home, with a sideways stutter step thrown in for good measure. And why not?
Fowler was celebrating the fourth grand slam of his career, a drive off Chicago White Sox lefthander Hector Santiago, the fourth pitcher Chicago employed in a seven-run, three-hit sixth inning. The White Sox cooperated handsomely by walking four hitters, and throwing a wild pitch, and their catcher contributed a passed ball in a frame that made All-Star Miles Mikolas’s path to his 10th win a lot easier in a 14-2 Cardinals romp. It was the Cardinals’ most lopsided win of a cockeyed season.
Fowler hadn’t always helped Mikolas. His first grand slam had come off the Cardinals’ righthander, who allowed his first, on Sept. 1, 2012, when Mikolas toiled for San Diego and Fowler played for Colorado.
“Miles reminds me every day,” joked Fowler.
It might be viewed as a small step, but the Cardinals have ensured themselves of a winning trip that started with contenders Arizona and San Francisco. They are 5-3 with only Wednesday night’s series finale remaining with the White Sox, who have lost 61 of their 91 games.
The Cardinals hadn’t had a winning trip covering more than one city since April, when they went 5-1 at Cincinnati and Chicago. That was during the time the Cardinals were piling up much of their 9-1 edge against the Reds, and now they are 3-0 against the White Sox with one interleague tussle left.
Mikolas (10-3) gave up just three hits over six innings, all the hits coming in succession in the third when the White Sox scored two runs. He allowed only one baserunner, on his lone walk, in his final four innings, and that pass was swallowed up in a double play.
Fowler’s home run was his first since May 6 and first all season against a lefthanded pitcher, against whom the switch hitter had been an atrocious .075 hitter this season on three hits in 40 at-bats with just two runs batted in.
“That’s something to build on,” said manager Mike Matheny, who said he might start Fowler on Wednesday night against lefthander Carlos Rodon on the basis of what he saw Tuesday.
Fowler still is hitting just .173 and Matheny said, “This is stuff where you just don’t go home and forget about (it). He’s dragging this with him all the time. Doing his part is all he’s trying to do right now and today he did it. I’m happy for him.”
Fowler admitted the feeling he had after the game was “awesome, especially when you’ve been scuffling at the plate trying to get timing. You get a pitch and you barrel it up ... it feels good. My whole career, I’ve always hit lefthanders. The at-bats obviously have been few and far between this year.”
Fowler, a natural righthanded batter, is a .290 career hitter against lefthanders and .252 against righthanders.
The Cardinals’ bench erupted when Fowler homered, and the veteran said, “They’ve been behind me since day one, and hats off to them. You want to make them proud as much as anybody since they’ve been in your corner the whole time.”
Uncomfortable in the eye of the storm recently, Fowler said, “You try to erase it and move on. People keep bringing it up and that makes it worse, but I’ve moved on.”
Kolten Wong, one of Fowler’s partners in trying to rise above the .200 Mendoza Line, has left that mythical barrier well behind him. Wong had his fourth multi-hit game in his last four starts. This one was the best as he tied a career high with four hits, including his seventh homer, boosting his average to a season-high .221. Wong, who hadn’t had four hits in a game in nearly four years, also homered for the first time this year off a lefthander.
“He’s just got confidence,” Matheny said.
“That’s a great feeling to have,” said Wong, “knowing that everything is kind of where it needs to be.”
The Cardinals, leading just 4-2, almost had a horrible misfire in the sixth before the White Sox batterymen — and Fowler — came to the rescue.
Yairo Munoz’s single to center over the head of starter Dylan Covey finished Covey in favor of lefthander Jace Fry.
Lefthanded-hitting Wong beat out a bunt single and Matt Carpenter walked, bringing on righthander Bruce Rondon, who struck out Paul DeJong and got Jose Martinez on a fly out to right too shallow to score Munoz.
Now it was two outs and still 4-2 and Matheny admitted he feared “missed opportunity. Fortunately, we took advantage of some free bases and just added on.”
With Marcell Ozuna at bat, catcher Omar Narvaez missed connections with a pitch and Munoz scrambled home, soon to be followed by Wong, who came in on Rondon’s wild pitch. Rondon, after walking Ozuna, also passed Yadier Molina and Jedd Gyorko, forcing home still another run and forcing Rondon out of the game.
And then Santiago’s sinker to Fowler didn’t sink until it cleared the wall in left-center.
Covey surrendered consecutive singles by Carpenter, DeJong, Martinez and Ozuna, with the third and fourth of those hits driving in the game’s first two runs in the Cardinals’ third.
But the White Sox quickly rallied for their two runs in their third, both driven in by former Cardinals farmhand Charlie Tilson, who singled past diving first baseman Carpenter to score Narvaez (single) and Tim Anderson (double). Mikolas stopped the bleeding by retiring the next three batters, and the lead was restored to him in the fourth.
Gyorko doubled to left and stopped at third as Fowler flared a single to left. Munoz beat out the relay on a potential double play ball to shortstop Anderson.
Martinez’s second of three hits set up another Cardinals run in the fifth. DeJong reached safely as Anderson booted his grounder. After he got to second on Martinez’s single, DeJong tagged up and advanced twice on fly balls to center by Ozuna and Molina.
Scoring 11 runs or more for the third time in two weeks, the Cardinals reached the 90-game mark at 47-43, not really in contention but not really buried, either.
“We expect a lot of ourselves but we understand it’s a 162-game season,” said Matheny before the game.
“We’re still right in the middle of this thing. Just keep playing the game and don’t get too distracted by a lot of the noise. Noise is noise and they’re not impervious to it. Very few people are.
“Part of what we do is try to create an atmosphere where we do eliminate some of the distractions. Not that we put our head in the sand but ... you’ve got almost half a season left.
“How can you start drawing conclusions with half a season (72 games) left?”