ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- When Jedd Gyorko came to the Cardinals this offseason in a trade for Jon Jay, fans knew two things about him: He could play a few positions and he could hit a few home runs. Beyond that, he was a mystery; especially when it came to pronouncing his unusual last name.
After his 30th homer Saturday, one that gave the Cardinals a 4-3 comeback win and kept them in the playoff race for at least 24 more hours, there’s no doubt St. Louis supporters know how to say "Gyorko." They can probably even spell it.
“Honestly I didn’t know what to expect coming into the season. You never know how many at bats you’re going to get or what your role is going to be,” he said after the game. “This game is funny. You can never predict or never know what’s going to happen in a season. The opportunities present themselves, you just have to take advantage of them when you get them.”
Gyorko has had just 397 at bats this season, the fewest in his career. But he’s maximized those 397 opportunities to belt a career-high 30 homers, and slug a career-best .494 while playing all four infield stations during the season.
“Jedd’s been so impressive. Thirty [homers] without even being in there every single day, not a lot of guys go there,” Mike Matheny said. “We talk about he and Moss and how dangerous they can be in big situations, fighting off pitches and just staying alive. We’ve seen that from him a couple times now. We had to have something done. That was right on time.”
Both Gyorko and Moss have carried the team over stretches with their bats, and have combined for 58 homers this year. While Moss (despite an ugly slump in September) has provided steady power all year, Gyorko has gone white-hot tears when the Cardinals needed a pick up.
From July 18th through July 22, with the team in a 1-7 skid, the then-27-year-old ripped off a prolific stretch. Over five games, he hit .526 and shelled five homers to drive in eight runs. His OPS during the outburst hit 1.907. The Cardinals won all five games, including a four-game sweep of the Padres at home. That was the last series they won at Busch until September 10.
Now, with the season on the line, he’s doing it again. Over the last three games, all must-win contests for a team one game behind the Giants in the Wild Card race, Gyorko is 4-for-11 with three homers. His first was to tie Thursday’s game against Cincinnati in the second inning, his second was to open the scoring against Pittsburgh Friday in the third.
The most recent was the eighth inning game-winner Saturday, coming off a 100 MPH fastball after laying off a borderline strike-three pitch that would have ended the frame had he chased it.
“It was a good pitch. When a guy is throwing 101 that’s a pitch you really can’t do anything with,” Gyorko said. “I probably didn’t swing at it because I knew I couldn’t hit it. That’s pretty much what it comes down to.”
“In all honesty the longer he stayed in the at-bat right there the more I thought he might get [pitcher Felipe Rivero],” Brandon Moss said. “That’s saying a lot considering that guy has unbelievable stuff but Jedd was competing with every pitch and he didn’t seem off of anything. The longer he stays in that at-bat the better you feel about it.”
When he finally connected, Busch Stadium went up for sale. Most of the elation was born of relief, as the Cardinals had trailed 3-0 after the first inning and stranded seven runners on base before they finally broke through in the sixth. The tying run came courtesy of Matt Holliday, fresh off a storybook good bye the night before.
Nearly everyone imagined his unbelievable home run would be his final at bat for the Cardinals, but with the game on the line, Matheny turned to his veteran outfielder once again.
“It came down to the middle of the game and just letting him know that he was the guy we’d like to see up there in a big situation. He responded by running to the clubhouse and getting his stuff and getting loose,” the manager said. “Part of the conversation was, ‘Hey, last night was special, but I’m not saying we can’t do a follow-up here.’”
The pinch-hit at bat was made even more tense by the fact the Cardinals had been relying on their bullpen for nearly the entire game. Relievers covered the final 24 outs, allowing just seven hits and a single walk. They struck out 12 and allowed no runs, with the biggest burden falling on Trevor Rosenthal.
“I was going to go as long as they were going to let me,” he said afterward. “I think everybody had that sense of, ‘You know what, let’s do whatever we can to fight tooth and nail.’”
After disappointing season marred by injury and uneven performance, Rosenthal went three scoreless innings Saturday, throwing a career-high 52 pitches while picking up four strikeouts.
So when Holliday muscled a two-strike single into right field to tie the game, it felt like he had given everyone present an oxygen tank.
“You really can’t make that stuff up. I’m not sure he’s seen a live pitch since the last game he played in for us before he got hurt,” Gyorko said. “That’s just unheard of to come in and have quality at bats off pitchers that are that good.”
Seven at bats later, Gyorko completed the comeback, giving the Cardinals their 85th win and putting them one victory away from finally reaching 10 games over .500. Doing so keeps the hope of a tie with the Giants, who held their one game lead after defeating Clayton Kershaw 3-0 at home, alive.