Dakota Hudson was waiting for the day he would pitch the seventh inning again for the Cardinals. He hadn’t moved past fifth in his previous four starts.
Nolan Arenado was waiting for the day he would hit something other than the occasional single. In five recent games, he hadn’t even had that, doing nothing for 17.
But Hudson, bailed out in the first inning by center fielder Harrison Bader’s dive that saved two runs, struck out 18 straight men before the San Diego Padres had two singles in the seventh inning. Hudson finished that seventh inning, giving up only four hits for the game and, more importantly, only one on foot.
And he finished seventh ahead because Arenado, the National League’s Player of the Month for April, but certainly not for May, hit his first homer in two weeks. Arenado’s two-run liner in sixth after a Paul Goldschmidt single, who will almost certainly be Player of the Month for May, and Arenado’s RBI single in a two-run eighth were the difference in a victory 5-2 Cardinals Wednesday at Busch Stadium.
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“The first run looked a bit scary,” Arenado said. “But, almost in the blink of an eye, (Hudson) was down seven innings.”
The Cardinals scored their first sweep of the series 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. “It shows who we are,” Arenado said. “We feel like we’re playing good baseball. But we feel we can play better.
The Cardinals have won 59% of their games with the Padres in their stories.
After a turbulent first 28 pitches, Hudson straightened up, laying everyone down before Jake Cronenworth hit a right with one out in the seventh. Austin Nolan curled a two-out right single, bringing pitching coach Mike Maddux to the mound.
Trent Grisham was to be Hudson’s last batter. After Grisham drilled a long right foul, he took the third strike as Hudson scored all three of his strikeouts in the seventh inning.
“He stepped up and gave us exactly what we needed today,” manager Oliver Marmol said.
Hudson (4-2) said, “Harry (Bader) is having a great game. I’m going back and making some adjustments. I think less is more.”
The 27-year-old right-hander said he had a chat with himself after the first set. “I said sitting there thinking to myself, ‘I can keep pitching like I was pitching the last inning and I’ll be out after three hours. Or I can settle down (and) force a contact. It may not look pretty, but I’ll get there,” he said.
When he walked off the pitch after five years and was still in the game, he said, “Wow! It’s been a long time.”
Wide receiver Andrew Knizner, who took foul spikes on the left side of his chin — under his mask — and on his forehead — was consistent enough to dissect the Padres’ offensive strategy, which played into Hudson’s hands. “It really engages me when I get hit in the face,” Knizner said. “I’m like Rocky Balboa.”
Of the Padres’ approach, he said, “We played to our strengths, which kind of happens to be the weakness of this team. Their entire lineup is made up of first-ball swingers. (Hudson) executed the pitches early. And fast exits. It’s a matter of trusting your own pitches. ‘It’s mean. It’s mean. I can throw that for strikes. Hit it. Put into play. I challenge you.’”
Hudson said, “I felt like I was in the zone with everything.” He is 15-3 in his career at Busch Stadium.
Goldschmidt, who had already pushed his scoring streak to 37 games with a walk in the first, drew his second in the fourth. Again showing what a good base runner he is, he went from first to third on Arenado’s first of three hits, a left single. This play set up a sacrificial fly by Juan Yepez, which drove in two runs.
“It’s not a small game,” Marmol said. “(Goldschmidt) often does. You watch how he does it – hit the bag with his right foot, stay in the baseline, not a wide turn, stick the slide to third.
Goldschmidt credited Arizona coach Dave McKay, a longtime first base coach for the Cardinals, Arizona coach Eric Young Sr. and Diamondbacks minor league coordinator Joel Youngblood.
“Basic running was a priority,” Goldschmidt said. “You couldn’t just hit or play defense. If you couldn’t run the bases, they were on top of you and made sure you did it the right way.
Yu Darvish nearly matched Hudson but he couldn’t get Goldschmidt out when he needed to. The Cardinals designated hitter reached base for the third straight time in the sixth when he hit to left center with one out. That pushed his hitting streak to 23 games.
Arenado then broke the tie with his 11th homer to leave a 94 mph fastball. Arenado, who has 30 home runs 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 hitting .375 in April.
“We are in June. It’s a new month for him,” Marmol said.
May ended well for him on Tuesday, with Arenado hitting a hit to end the nothing for 17. “I said, ‘Oh man, that wasn’t a good swing,’ Arenado recounted, “But I got a little lucky.”
The carry, however, was a solid single later in the game and three more hits on Wednesday.
Marmol – and almost everyone else – expects Arenado and Goldschmidt to thrive together. “It’s a matter of time,” Marmol said.
Arenado said: “I hope that happens. I feel like the last two years it hasn’t. Every time I play well I feel like he’s not swinging it. When he throws it, I’m not. It was cool to hit back-to-back days. I feel like we never do that.”
Goldschmidt also said, “I keep waiting for (this) to happen.”
Last month, Arenado said: “I had struggled a bit. Yes, it was a difficult month. But we have a lot of season left.
Goldschmidt hit .404 for the month with 10 homers. “He’s in a zone,” Arenado said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever done one like this before.”
For the record, in just 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 April of this year when Goldschmidt hit .282, but with only one homer.