(BaseballStL) -- Friday night, the Cardinals took their fourth game from the Dodgers this season, moving to 37-18. But six outs in, it sure didn't seem like that's where things were headed.
Through two innings Carlos Martinez was a bit of a mess. He got through the first without damage, but appeared to be having trouble locating his pitches. He was throwing them for strikes, but they weren't the precise instruments he had wielded during his previous 20.1 scoreless innings.
In the second, he walked the leadoff man then gave up a single to a player making his MLB debut. Another single followed, and it looked as if the Dodgers would knock Martinez out in the first half of the game.
A gift arrived in the form of pitcher Brett Anderson, who struck out in a four-fastball at bat. But Martinez could not wriggle away, and ended up walking Joc Pederson with the bases loaded for the first Los Angeles run. It was an ugly scene, and faces were no doubt turning away from television sets back in St. Louis.
But that was it.
Jimmy Rollins grounded into an inning-ending double play, and the looming specter of a blowout inning disappeared in a puff of smoke.
From that point on, Martinez was a different pitcher. He eviscerated the Blue Crew, retiring 15 of the next 16 hitters, nine by strikeout. He blew past his previous career high to fan 11 Dodgers, and never gave up another hit.
Legendary broadcaster Vin Scully opened each home half inning marveling at the Dominican hurler's “transformation,” noting Los Angeles seemed staggered by the about-face.
Martinez was pouring in 97 miles per hour to open one at bat, then dropping to 84 mph the next. Curveballs bent in for called thirds, fastballs darted away from bat heads like they had guidance chips and the strike zone became the Bermuda Triangle; a mystical space in which Martinez's pitches seemingly blinked in and out of existence.
The 23-year-old barely labored, throwing no more than 14 pitches in four of the five final innings. He tossed 17 in the sixth thanks to a leadoff walk, but then struck out the side on 11 pitches. The only run plated by the Dodgers all day turned out to be Martinez's gift in the second inning.
After 100 pitches worth of work, he was pulled for a pinch hitter in the eighth. The offense finally broke out of its cage, rewarding their starter with the go-ahead runs just as he finished his day, securing him the win.
It was demonstration of composure Martinez did not have a year ago. To evade disaster so deftly was one victory, but to take that second chance and capitalize so thoroughly is the perfect convalescence of elite talent and rigid discipline.
He moves to 6-2 on the season, with an ERA of 2.94. The Cardinals have 37 wins, six more than any National League team and three ahead of the Houston Astros.
The winning inning
The Cardinals had two hits before the eighth inning, belonging to Kolten Wong and Yadier Molina.
Molina drew a leadoff walk in the eighth, and Mike Matheny pinch ran with Pete Kozma. Jason Heyward drew an infield single, and Tony Cruz executed a perfect sacrifice bunt to move the runners. Wong hit a groundball to first, but Adrian Gonzalez was unable to make a play anywhere and Kozma scored from third. Matt Carpenter followed with a sacrifice fly to right, scoring Heyward and giving the Cardinals the go-ahead run.
There was some thought that Gonzalez could have gotten Wong at first, but he opted to hang onto the ball, perhaps giving the Cardinals an extra out.
Randy Choate and Kevin Siegrist combined for a scoreless inning, and Trevor Rosenthal took down the Dodgers in order in the ninth.
Wong finished 2-for-4 with an RBI on the day.