ST. LOUIS - The sold out crowd at Busch Stadium was treated to a parade of Hall of Famers prior to the first pitch and then a hit parade in the first three innings. Led by rookies Jeremy Hazelbaker and Aledmys Diaz, the Cardinal offense manhandled the Brewers for nine runs over the first nine outs, producing 11 hits, eight of them for extra bases, as St. Louis cruised to an eventual 10-1 win.
Hazelbaker terrorized the Milwaukee pitching staff, going 4-for-4 with a triple, a double and a pair of singles. The one time he was held off the base paths was in the second inning, when he settled for an RBI on a sacrifice fly. The left fielder gave credit to the rambunctious reception he received as he made his first appearance in St. Louis.
“It was a crazy experience, an amazing experience. It definitely lit a fire under me,” said Hazelbaker, whose parents and friends were also in the stands to witness his four-hit day. “It clearly lit a fire under everyone else. It showed through our lineup and pitching. It's a lot of fun. That's the best way to put it. It's a lot of fun.”
What makes Monday’s performance more incredible is that at this time last year, Hazelbaker thought his baseball career might be over when he was released by the Dodgers.
“That cracked my mind quite a bit,” the 28-year-old said. “I was thinking about that for awhile. Luckily the Cardinals gave me a chance and I hit the ground running. Going through the journey I’ve been on - the ups and the downs - definitely makes this more sweet.”
Hazelbaker’s Springfield teammate also left an impression on the Busch Stadium crowd. From the eighth spot in the order, Aledmys Diaz racked up two doubles, scoring on both, and knocked in his sixth RBI in 11 at-bats. Not to be outdone by his bat, Diaz was smooth as butter defensively, evidenced in the eighth when he took a hit away on a ball hit deep in the hole.
“It was amazing, the first opening day for me. The fans are amazing,” said the Cardinal shortstop. “Every game I play I feel more comfortable there and as the season goes on I think I'm going to feel much better.”
Combined, Hazelbaker and Diaz went 7-for-9 in their St. Louis debut and Hazelbaker has recorded hits in six straight games. Their performance on an emotionally heightened day impressed their manager.
“You take two guys who’ve never played on this field before and throw them into that kind of environment and have them produce like they did, it’s something I’m sure they’ll never forget,” Mike Matheny said. “Just watching how they’re responding, eyes wide open and looking around, I think pinching themselves sometimes. But they get in the box, they get on the field, and they just compete. That’s why it’s been fun to watch.”
St. Louis tagged Milwaukee for 19 total hits, a franchise record for their home opener. Additionally, Monday was the third consecutive game the Redbirds scored 10 or more runs, the first time the club has done so since May of 1980. After struggling in their series against the Pirates, the offense appears to be finding its rhythm by taking advantage of teams expected to finish near the bottom of the NL.
“We started off a little slow but I feel like we're all seeing the ball well,” Randal Grichuk said. “Guys are having good games and guys are feeding off because of it. We know what we're capable of. We started a little slow but obviously it's a long season. You know we never give up. We never have in the past.”
They will get two more games against the Brewers before hosting the Reds.