Going 0-for-3 on Opening Day embarrasses lesser players than Paul Goldschmidt. But not many of them atone for it the way Goldschmidt did Friday night.
There’s nothing like a three-bomb night to make a newly-minted, newly-extended, $130 million Cardinal feel as though he’s right where he belongs after all those years it was sworn he was wedded to Phoenix for life.
The franchise face the Diamondbacks could no longer afford became a Cardinal in a December trade that cost the Cardinals Luke Weaver, Carson Kelly, Andy Young, and a competitive-balance pick. Goldschmidt premiered with three strikeouts and a walk against the defending National League Central champion Brewers. Not exactly the way even the modest Goldschmidt wanted to take his bow.
So naturally he faced Freddy Peralta with one aboard and nobody out in the top of the first, wrestled to a tenth pitch, then drove the down-and-in fastball off the rim of the middle level behind the left field bullpen. Then, after the Cardinals and the Brewers took turns abusing each other’s starting pitchers, Peralta and Joe Flaherty, Goldschmidt opened the top of the sixth against reliever Taylor Williams. This time he only needed eight pitches to send a full-count slider that climbed over the middle of the plate into those middle level seats.
That one broke a four-all tie. And to think Goldschmidt wasn’t even close to finished. Top of the seventh, Matt Carpenter singling home Kolten Wong with two out, and up stepped Goldschmidt again, this time against Jacob Barnes. And into the seats behind the Club Goodwill sign above the left center field fence went the sixth-pitch slider behaving very close to the one Williams threw Goldschmidt.
Guess the man was just a little impatient to make it 8-4.
Maybe the least surprising part of the night was Goldschmidt batting in the top of the eighth and Brewers manager Craig Counsell taking no chances with first base open and a leadoff double from pinch-hitter Tyler O’Neill. Counsell ordered Brewers reliever Chase Anderson to yield the free pass. And Anderson managed to strike out the side around the threat.
Then Jordan Hicks got rid of the Brewers in a hurry in the bottom of the ninth, with two swinging strikeouts and a fly out to center that wasn’t dispatched quite so electrically as the Brewers’ Lorenzo Cain stole a homer from Jose Martinez in the first game of the set. And the Cardinals banked a 9-5 win with a gold gilt edge.
Goldschmidt entering Friday night’s game had 42 percent of his hits go for extra bases lifetime, and he took a lifetime .595 real batting average (total bases, walks, and sacrifices divided by plate appearances) into the game. Friday was the second time in his career he cleared the fences three times in a game. As if that wasn’t enough, Goldschmidt beat out an infield hit with two out in the second but found himself stranded.
Clearly he wasn’t going to let that happen again if he could help it.
“There are times when you’re going to struggle,” said Goldschmidt when it was all over, referring partially to his Opening Day collar. “Sometimes you have success. I can’t really explain it. I pretty much try to do the same thing every day. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t.”
That’s like saying sometimes you make a killing drilling oil and sometimes you take a dry bath. But when it’s come to hitting in Miller Park, Goldschmidt is an oil baron. In 22 games there before this season, Goldschmidt’s slash line is .407/.491/.780. (1.271 OPS.) By about a hundred nautical miles that’s his best performance in any road park in which he’s played 20 games or more.
Don’t ask him to explain it. He can’t. “I’m not sure,” he replied when asked about it. “I just try to have good at-bats. I don’t really have an answer for you. If the at-bats are good, you can have success. But that can change pretty quickly.”
The arguable best first baseman in the National League made the Miller Park audience anything but appreciative of him fattening his percentages at their defending division champs’ expense. They’d probably want to measure him for a noose if told about his career papers in the park before Friday night.
They also had even less appreciation for Goldschmidt’s defense, since he started a nasty double play end the sixth by smothering Yasmani Grandal’s rip up the line, throwing on to second swiftly for an out and then taking the return throw just in time for the side.
Even if defending National League Most Valuable Player Christian Yelich ruined Andrew Miller’s Cardinals debut with a leadoff bomb in the bottom of the eighth. Even if they had the pleasure of former MVP Ryan Braun tying things at three in the third when, after Flaherty faltered enough to let Lorenzo Cain beat out a base hit back to the box and walk Yelich on four straight pitches, the Cardinal starter threw Braun a slider catching too much of the middle of the plate and Braun sent it over the left center field fence.
For the Brewers the loss amounted to making a bad situation worse: earlier Friday they learned relief ace Corey Knebel would be gone for the season, undergoing Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ulnar ligament—after hearing every medical opinion he could solicit tell him better to get the procedure than take the chance of rehabbing without it.
Goldschmidt missed becoming the nineteenth player to hit four out in a game, but it didn’t stop him from entering the history books. He’s the first in the Show ever to hit three bombs in either his first or his second game with a team. And he hit the first two on the night on full counts while not letting the count get quite that far when teeing off the third time.
He’s not normally a great full-count hitter—he took a lifetime .239 batting average on full counts into this season—but he’s made it count when connecting in one, since he also took an .896 OPS on full counts into Friday night’s game.
On Friday night, that was destruction just a little too full for the Brewers, who must be thinking that the NL Central’s road may go through them this year but the others won’t be that easy to leave behind. The new Cardinal made sure they got the message that his new mates don’t plan on being left behind, either.