NEW YORK — When the Cardinals were at their best before April became May and May became a mess, they had an offense that was nimble, creative, and capable of flexing as many various strengths as CrossFit. They could score early, they would score late and they had power, opportunism, and just a dash of baserunning, if needed.
And the Pauls. They had the Pauls.
During a reassuring weekend in Queens, the Cardinals concluded a series victory against the Mets by showing they still know jacks. Home runs by Paul Goldschmidt and Paul DeJong bookended a 4-3 victory Sunday at Citi Field that left the Cardinals with more runs than hits.
Goldschmidt’s two-run homer in the first started the Cardinals, and DeJong’s solo homer in the eighth finished the Mets to give the Cardinals three hits total in the game and send them home from their longest trip of the season with a 5-5 record. To take three of four from the Mets and win five of the final seven on the trip, the Cardinals had to use the Pauls’ power to compensate for the paucity of hits.
“Talk about resilience. That’s it,” manager Mike Shildt said. “We have talked from the beginning about different ways we beat people. (This) was indicative of that. The series was indicative of that.”
Starter Dakota Hudson sidestepped eight hits from the Mets to carry a 3-3 tie through his seventh consecutive quality start. The Cardinals loaded the bases without a hit in the fourth inning and then tied the game at three when Goldschmidt scored on a double play.
When Hudson turned the game over to the bullpen, the Cardinals had the Mets right where they wanted them — in the late innings. Since Thursday’s suspended game, the Cardinals had filleted the Mets’ bullpen each night, scoring a total of 13 runs after the seventh inning, 10 in the eighth or later.
In driving rain they scored two runs in the ninth late Thursday to tie the game and force it to resume the next day. They won it in the 10th. On Saturday they got within a few feet of tying the game in the ninth when Jack Flaherty, representing the tying run, was thrown out at home. DeJong saw his go-ahead homer Sunday in the eighth — his third homer of the series — as a continuation of that trend, the trend the Cardinals want to be their hallmark.
“The way we started winning two (games) in that one day kind of just solidified for us that no lead is insurmountable,” DeJong said. “We kept fighting all the way to the end. They had to make an amazing play to end the game (Saturday). For us, it’s kind of an on-to-the-next-one approach. Battling to the end on every game.”
On Sunday, Father’s Day, TOPPS baseball cards released a card featuring DeJong and his father, Keith. The company plans to print a few for the family. Paul provided the photo, which was taken during a college summer league’s home run derby that also featured Mets rookie Pete Alonso. Both DeJongs are wearing pinstriped baseball pants as Paul had Keith throw to him. Both of them got a hit in the event.
Paul hit one home run.
Keith hit his son with one pitch.
He should have tugged on a Mets cap.
With Keith in the Father’s Day crowd at Citi Field, DeJong hit his fifth go-ahead homer of the season and his sixth in 46 career at-bats in Queens. He has nine homers in 20 games against the Mets, and his 1.200 career OPS vs. New York’s NL team is the highest of any hitter, ever, with at least 80 plate appearances.
“He likes the big city,” Shildt suggested.
As much as Goldschmidt can propel the Cardinals’ lineup, DeJong could personify it. Shildt called his two Pauls “interchangeable” in the lineup, and he’s flipped them between Nos. 2 and 3 this season.
DeJong took a walk ahead of Goldschmidt’s homer in the first inning, and Goldschmidt was on deck as a deterrent in the eighth when DeJong homered. Goldschmidt’s homer was his fifth extra-base hit since the end of April. In April he had 12 extra-base hits and an .866 OPS, stacking neatly with .607 slugging and 1.010 OPS in April.
They haven’t both been thriving at the same time since, and that’s contributed to the Cardinals loitering around .500.
“When you’re in some tight games there late, we’ll take runs any time you can get them,” Goldschmidt said. “Just have opportunities to score. The previous games there were guys on base a lot of those innings. When guys are on base it’s going to take that one it — it doesn’t even have to be an extra-base hit — to score guys. Find a way to get on.”
The Mets did that 11 times against Hudson, and yet the righthander cooled them each time. Hudson allowed hits and a run to the first two Mets he faced, and in the third inning, the Mets got two runs off three hits. With hit after hit and a lack of his best grip, Hudson called it “a boxing match out there.”
The next two innings ended with double plays.
In the fifth, Hudson had allowed back-to-back singles to Michael Conforto and Alonso and had to face $240-million man Robinson Cano, a lefthanded hitter. Hudson had turned again and again to his sinker in tight spots, but this time, to the lefty, he unleashed a four-seam fastball. It cut, as planned, and Cano skipped into a double play.
“He gave up some hits, but he’s two pitches away from getting out of the inning,” Shildt said. “With one out, he’s one pitch away. He knows what he is.”
The Cardinals still are trying to prove who they are.
When they left Busch Stadium for this 10-day, three-city trip the Stanley Cup Final was tied at two games a piece. They return to a city that has seen a Stanley Cup champion return home for a movable feast that featured parties, a parade, tears and beer. So, so much beer. St. Louis isn’t the same as when the ballclub left. The Cardinals hope neither are they.
“I think it’s our mindset,” Shildt said. “We always talk about it and we’re always good when we get better as the game goes. It’s really something that we take a lot of pride in and focus on and continue to see in the game. Get better as the game goes.”
What they did in the games they have to translate into weeks.
And then into months.
And then into the season.
They’ve got to get better as the games go.