Naile makes memorable debut as Wainwright, Yepez carry Cards past Fish

St. Louis Cardinals' Adam Wainwright smiles in the dugout during the third inning of a baseball...
St. Louis Cardinals' Adam Wainwright smiles in the dugout during the third inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)(Jeff Roberson | AP)
Published: Jun. 28, 2022 at 1:54 AM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - Standing at his locker, still basking in the glow of his whirlwind MLB debut, James Naile hadn’t yet checked his phone as he recounted the day with a slew of reporters.

The 29-year-old rookie pitcher was about to realize just how far behind he had fallen on keeping up with his text inbox. And if you’re still waiting for Naile’s reply to your congratulatory message, just be patient.

After pitching a scoreless eighth inning of a 9-0 victory for the Cardinals—his childhood team—on Monday night, the guy’s got a lot to get to.

The final tally: 257 unread messages.

“I believe he came off the mound and told the umpire, ‘That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life,’ so there you have it,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said.

Naile later confirmed his manager’s account of that particular moment.

“Yeah, I stand by that,” Naile said with a smile that you couldn’t wipe from his face if you tried. “It was just so much fun. There’s so much that goes into getting called up, the logistics of it all… The fun part’s being out on the field with everybody and competing. That was special.”

Growing up as a St. Louis Cardinals fan in Charleston, MO (Population: 5,478), Naile had a poster of Adam Wainwright on his bedroom wall. Monday, he followed the veteran Cardinals pitcher into the game at Busch Stadium, handling the eighth inning after the 40-year-old Wainwright tossed seven shutout frames to earn his sixth win of the season.

“It was awesome watching his family in the stands going crazy,” Wainwright said. “Strike one, I think he won the World Series out there.”

Naile’s supporters who traveled from the Missouri Bootheel to be there in the stadium on Monday certainly reacted as though he had. Then again, that was true before Naile ever stepped onto the mound to throw a pitch.

With an estimated 200 friends and family members scattered throughout the stadium, particularly in the bleachers surrounding the St. Louis bullpen, it would have been impossible for Naile to miss the roar of the crowd when he began jogging toward the mound in the top of the eighth.

The pitcher who had seen “a lot of games, a lot of big moments” in this building as a fan growing up was on his way to the Busch Stadium mound, ready to make his own moment playing for the team he had long cheered. Naile faced three batters in his lone inning of work Monday, allowing a base hit before erasing it on a 5-4-3 double play bookended by Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt to end the inning.

After all those many years grinding away in the minors waiting for an opportunity like the one he enjoyed Monday, the former 20th-round selection of the Oakland Athletics in the 2015 MLB Draft couldn’t have scripted a more perfect circumstance for his big-league debut.

“I keep saying the word surreal. Maybe that’s a little bit cliché, but it’s somewhat true,” Naile said. “This is my life’s work kinda coming to fruition, here. To be in St. Louis, in Busch, birds on the bat. It just doesn’t get any better.”

Yepez logs first multi-homer game

The Cardinals broke out offensively Monday to support the strong efforts of Wainwright, Naile and Jake Woodford on the mound. Paul Goldschmidt turned in another splendid performance in a season full of them, going 4-for-4 and finishing a triple shy of the cycle. His MLB-best OPS rose to a preposterous 1.071.

The first-inning home run that Goldschmidt cranked off of the neon french fry sign in Big Mac Land would have been the obvious exclamation point of the night for the Cardinals—that is, if Juan Yepez didn’t drill the same exact piece of signage for a three-run blast in the bottom of the fourth.

Of course, the constant line of communication between Yepez and teammate Albert Pujols doesn’t hurt.

“I gotta give credit to Albert,” Yepez said in discussing his sixth-inning home run, his second of the night. “He said, ‘Hey, what’s your plan?’ He told me, just stay left-center and wait for that cutter and you’ll hit it out.’ And then he did, and then I hit it out—so, credit to him.”

Yepez shared that starter Andre Pallante is usually the guy to relay info to him regarding Pujols’ excitable reactions when Yepez does something productive in a game. Plenty of jokes have been made about the nature of Yepez’s attachment to the hip of the future Hall of Famer this season, but another Cardinals veteran sees the bond as a decidedly positive one.

“I called him Albert-cito yesterday—Little Albert,” Wainwright said. “Because they’re always stuck together. And somebody goes, ‘What do you think about this, Yepez hanging out with Albert?’ And I go, ‘What are you talking about, it’s amazing.’ That’s the greatest thing that could ever happen to Juan Yepez, hanging out with Albert Pujols every day. Asking him questions. Getting to sponge off of one of the best hitters of all-time. It doesn’t get any better than that.”