Dakota Hudson had been waiting for the day he would still be pitching in the seventh inning for the Cardinals. He hadn’t made it past the fifth in his previous four starts.
Nolan Arenado was waiting for the day he would hit something besides the occasional single. In five recent games, he hadn’t even had that, going nothing for 17.
But Hudson, bailed out in the first inning by center fielder Harrison Bader’s diving catch that saved two runs, retired 18 men in a row before the San Diego Padres had two singles in the seventh inning. Hudson finished that seventh inning, allowing just four hits for the game and, more importantly walking only one.
And he finished the seventh ahead because Arenado, the National League Player of the Month for April but certainly not for May, smacked his first homer in two weeks. Arenado’s two-run liner to left in the sixth following a single by Paul Goldschmidt, who almost certainly will be Player of the Month for May, and Arenado’s RBI single in a two-run eighth provided the difference in a 5-2 Cardinals victory Wednesday at Busch Stadium.
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“The first inning looked a little scary,” said Arenado. “But, almost in the blink of an eye, (Hudson) was going seven innings.”
The Cardinals scored their first series sweep at home and wrapped up a nine-game home stand against contenders Toronto, Milwaukee and San Diego with a 6-3 record and they reached the 50-game mark at 29-21, their best mark of the season. “That shows who we are,” said Arenado. “We feel like we’re playing good baseball. But we feel like we can play better.”
The Cardinals have won 59% of their games with the Padres in their histories.
After an eventful, 28-pitch first, Hudson righted himself, setting everybody down before Jake Cronenworth singled to right with one out in the seventh. Austin Nolan looped a single to right with two outs, bringing pitching coach Mike Maddux to the mound.
Trent Grisham was to be Hudson’s final hitter. After Grisham drilled a long foul to right, he took strike three as Hudson notched all three of his strikeouts in the seventh inning.
“He stepped it up and gave us exactly what we needed today,” manager Oliver Marmol said.
Hudson (4-2) said, “Harry (Bader) makes a great play. I go back out there and make some adjustments. I think less is more.”
The 27-year-old right-hander said he had a talk with himself after the first inning. “I said sitting there thinking to myself, ‘I can continue to throw the way I was throwing this past inning and I’ll be out after three. Or I can settle down (and) force some contact. It may not look pretty but I’m going to make it happen,” he said.
When he came off the field after five — and still was in the game, he said, “Wow! It’s been a while.”
Catcher Andrew Knizner, who took foul tips to the left side of his chin — under his mask — and to his forehead, was coherent enough to dissect the Padres’ offensive strategy, which played into Hudson’s hands. “It really engages me when I get hit in the face,” said Knizner. “I’m like Rocky Balboa.”
Of the Padres’ approach, he said, “We played to our strengths — which happens to be somewhat of that team’s weakness. Their whole lineup is first-pitch swingers. (Hudson) executed pitches early. And quick outs. It’s a matter of trusting his own pitches. ‘This is nasty. This is nasty. I can throw that for strikes. Hit it. Put it in play. I dare you.'”
Hudson said, “I felt I was in the zone with everything.” He is 15-3 in his career at Busch Stadium.
Goldschmidt, who already had shoved his on-base streak to 37 games with a walk in the first, drew his second one in the fourth. Again displaying how good a base runner he is, he went from first to third on Arenado’s first of three hits, a single to left. This play set up a sacrifice fly by Juan Yepez, who had two runs batted in.
“It’s not a little play,” said Marmol. “(Goldschmidt) does it often. You watch how he does it — hitting the bag with his right foot, staying in the baseline, not a wide turn, sticks the slide at third.”
Goldschmidt credited Arizona coach Dave McKay, a longtime first-base coach for the Cardinals, Arizona coach Eric Young Sr., and Diamondbacks coordinator minor league coordinator Joel Youngblood.
“Base running was a priority,” said Goldschmidt. “You couldn’t just hit or play defense. If you couldn’t run the bases, they were on you and made sure you did it the right way.”
Yu Darvish nearly was matching Hudson but he couldn’t get Goldschmidt out when he needed to. The Cardinals’ designated hitter reached base for the third consecutive time in the sixth when he singled to left center with one out. That pushed his hitting streak to 23 games.
Arenado then broke the tie with his 11th homer to left off a 94 mph fastball. Arenado, who has 30 homers against San Diego in his career — most among active players — hadn’t homered since May 18 in New York. He hit .196 in May after batting .375 in April.
“It’s June. It’s a new month for him,” Marmol said.
May ended all right for him on Tuesday, with Arenado blooping a hit to end the nothing-for-17. “I said, ‘Oh, man, that was not a good swing,’ related Arenado. “But I got a little lucky.”
The carryover, however, was a solid single later in the game and three more hits on Wednesday.
Marmol — and nearly everyone else — awaits both Arenado and Goldschmidt prospering together. “It’s a matter of time,” said Marmol.
Arenado said, “I hope it happens. I feel the last two years, it hasn’t. Whenever I’m playing well, I feel he’s not swinging it. When he’s swinging it, I’m not. It was cool to hit back-to-back days. I feel we never do that.”
Goldschmidt also said, “I keep waiting for (it) to happen.”
In the last month, Arenado said, “I had been beating myself up a little bit. Yeah, it was a tough month. But we’ve got a lot of season left.”
Goldschmidt hit .404 for the month with 10 homers. “He’s in a zone,” said Arenado. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been in one like that before.”
For the record, in only three of the eight months the two have played together have they both hit over .267. It happened in May and July of last year and in April of this year, when Goldschmidt batted .282 — but with just one homer.