Live by the dinger, die by the dinger.
That was the Cardinals' mantra Monday night, and because they hit enough of them, the outcome on this occasion resembled the first half of the adage, and made for a good night at Busch Stadium.
St. Louis knocked three home runs to account for all of their scoring in a 5-2 win over the Padres Monday. Manager Mike Matheny said afterward he isn't preferential to any one mode of run production over another: as long as they score, he's happy.
“I don't care how we get ‘em,” he said. “We get an opportunity to move guys around, we get an opportunity to drive guys in, go station to station, if it’s there for us, we’ve got to take it. If they’re giving us free bases, lay the bunt down. We’re not going to be ashamed to have those runs, but no, I love the fact that the guys are all capable of walking up there at any point and putting the ball in the seats.
“I don’t think the fans mind, either. Lots of souvenirs.”
It’s not as though the Cardinals have been overly reliant on home runs over the course of the season: they rank around the middle of the pack in MLB for their percentage of total runs that have come via home run. But when the deep balls are flying, the team’s official stance appears to be to let ‘em rip.
It's a viewpoint that probably applies to Marcell Ozuna more than any other Cardinal. After all, that's the reason John Mozeliak brought him here to begin with: to hit bombs.
He had a sluggish start to 2018 for that category—after hitting 37 home runs with Miami last season, Ozuna had only three at the beginning of June. In fact, the surprising lack of homers and the frequency of his infield hits this season prompted Jose Martinez to give him a new nickname: Ichiro.
“Everybody was talking about it,” Ozuna said of the nickname, though he didn’t seem to mind the occasional infield hit if it helped him find a hot streak. “I was feeling like, when I get my hits, I’ll get my average going up, and when the home runs come, come.”
And come, they have, with another one Monday that cleared the visiting bullpen in left field. More than doubling his season home run total in the last 11 days, Ozuna appears to be turning a corner.
All joking aside, Martinez understands what a dangerous proposition that is for the opposition.
“It makes it really, really interesting when Ozuna starts putting together some at-bats,” Martinez said. “It’s gonna make us better. Not even (just) me, not even (just) Yadi, everybody. It’s coming, so be careful.”
Speaking of Martinez, he never really needed to turn a corner: he hasn’t gone to bed any night this season with an average lower than .278, and he’s currently back leading the team at .327.
The recent power surge has been a nice bonus, too.
In extending his hitting streak to nine games Monday, Martinez collected three hits, including one of the Cardinals’ three homers. During the streak, Martinez has now walloped five home runs and three doubles, and boasts a slugging percentage of 1.129.
Even through such a torrid stretch of baseball, don't expect to hear anything different from Martinez on his approach. It doesn't change.
“Hit the ball, man,” Martinez said. “When you hit the ball and everything’s more fun, for sure. Everybody’s gonna say, ‘oh yeah he’s perfect right now.’ I mean, in the stretches where I’ve hit the ball hard, they’re catching it, whatever, so you never know. You have to ride with it and enjoy the moment.
“You know what baseball is, the ups and downs. You have to show up every day with the same routine.”
There's something striking about the consistency of his simplicity. Never too high, never too low. In talking with Martinez throughout his Cardinal career, it's been impossible not to notice: he just doesn’t let much get to him.
As it turns out, that's a lesson he learned before ever reaching the big leagues—one forged over a decade of grinding his way through minor league baseball.
“I think there have definitely been ups and downs in the minor leagues and everything, I learned a lot because of that,” Martinez shared. “Baseball can get you, but actually, baseball can give you a lot. So I think I show up every day just trying to help the team win. Ups and downs. When I go 0-for-4, I go home and I feel happy, because I’m going to give my 150 percent every day. And that’s what matters.”
Jedd Gyorko added his fifth home run of the season in the eighth to give the Cardinals some insurance, further displaying Matheny’s contention that the team’s power potential is not confined to a select few.
“We know a couple other guys are going to be major contributors to that, also,” Matheny said in reference to the production from Martinez and Ozuna, the middle of the order. “It’s just adding depth down through our lineup. It’s taking pressure off anybody, no matter where they are in the lineup, to be the guy that has to do it every single day.”