Like most of his teammates Monday, Matt Adams started slowly at the plate against Pittsburgh Pirates righthander Trevor Williams.
But all that changed with one swing.
With the Cardinals down 6-4 in the eighth, Adams connected for a three-run homer off reliever Edgar Santana that propelled the home team to a a dramatic 8-7 victory on the night veteran righthander Adam Wainwright returned to the mound for the first time since experiencing elbow discomfort on May 13.
With the win, the Cardinals improved to 80-64. They're 3 ½ games behind the Cubs and 2 ½ behind the Brewers in the NL Central and hold the second NL wild-card spot, 2 games up on the Dodgers.
“These are the kind of games you have to win when you're in a pennant race,'' Adams said. “We're a team that brings it every night and it's a fun group to be a part of. Having Waino back was huge and we definitely wanted to pull together for him. Everybody in here would tell you the same thing: we're happy to have him back out on the mound doing his thing.”
And Wainwright, who had one tough frame in a five-inning no-decision, was excited about being back on the mound.
“I need to pitch better _ too many pitches in the middle of the plate,” he said. “Huge win for us. A big swing from Matt Adams.... Guys just never quit on this team and it's very fun to watch. The energy in the dugout was incredible. When I got back out there for the eighth inning, before we had anybody on base, it was electric in the dugout. You could feel something was happening.”
Matt Carpenter, the first Cardinal to reach base against Williams with a leadoff double in a four-run fourth, also helped start the eighth-inning rally with a walk. Jose Martinez followed with a single up the middle that sent Carpenter to third. After pinch-runner Adolis Garcia took second on a wild pitch, Adams did his thing, sending a 2-1 pitch into to the stands in right for his career-best 21st homer of the season.
“Just trying to get a pitch out over the plate, looking to drive something to get the guy home from third with less than two outs,'' Adams said. Santana “threw a slider over the plate that stayed up and I got the barrel to it.
“It felt good.”
A Cardinals draft pick in 2009, Adams worked his way through the system and played in St. Louis from 2012 until being traded to Atlanta in 2016. He was acquired off waivers from the Washington Nationals on Aug. 21. Monday's homer was his first at Busch Stadium since Sept. 27, 2016 and was also the 26th of his career in the eighth inning or later.
“I think I let my emotions get the best of me in those moments, but who cares. Just let the emotions naturally come out and just have fun playing the game,'' he said.
It was the second big day at the plate in less than a week for Adams, who had two homers and drove in four last Wednesday against his former teammates in Washington at Nationals Park. From Aug. 5 through Aug. 28, he had gone 0 for 27 with eight strikeouts.
“I realized my posture was off a little bit, you can run into those kind of things when you're not getting everyday at-bats,” he said. “When an at-bat goes bad and you're not playing regularly, you end up thinking too much, and that's exactly what I was doing. I was able to see some stuff on video and realize that my body was out of whack. I was able to correct it, probably a little quicker than I would've in the past, and it's a good feeling right now.”
In Monday's game, Adams was robbed of a hit in the first inning when his attempt to beat the shift with a line drive toward left field was snared on a diving catch by Pirates third baseman Colin Moran. Adams struck out in the fourth and fifth innings before delivering the night's big blast.
“You have to learn to have a short memory at this level,'' said Adams, who's hitting .246 with 21 homers and 55 RBIs this season. “You carry those at-bats with you and it tends to snowball. That's something I've worked really hard at this year, try to go 1 for 1 and then after that at-bat, start to focus on the next one.”
Cards manager Mike Shildt applauded Adams' approach.
“Clearly, that's one of his strengths, and we expect him to take good at-bats,'' Shildt said. “He's got the power (and) he got better as the game went on tonight and was a difference-maker, clearly. He did it with one swing tonight. It's fun t have him back with us.”
Jose Martinez, who went two for four with hits in both innings the Cardinals scored on Monday, added: “He's Big City, man. He's been great for this organization, a great teammate and a great guy. I know it was tough for him with his old team, but he's been working hard and he's trying to do whatever he can to help this team win, just like everybody else in this clubhouse.”