Storming Nolan Gorman blasts tie-breaking homer, launching Cardinals over Dodgers

As opening day approached, manager Oliver Marmol said the player who arguably had the most impressive camp for the Cardinals did so without much fanfare or attention and just excelled all spring, quietly.

Nolan Gorman waited for summer to raise a ruckus.

On the anniversary of his major-league debut, Gorman mashed a tie-breaking, three-run homer in the eighth inning that sent the Cardinals hurtling toward an exhilarating 6-5 victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Busch Stadium. Gorman’s 13th homer of the season upped his team-leading RBIs to 39 and gave him seven go-ahead home runs this season. Only Aaron Judge, the Yankees’ captain, has more.

The second-year slugger comes to plate escorted by Nelly’s hit “Ride Wit Me” as his walk-up music, and with the St. Louis rapper and Cardinals fan in the sellout crowd Saturday night, Gorman followed the tune.

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The Cardinals took an early three-run lead, Miles Mikolas issued a quality start, and all of that came apart in the sixth when a three-run homer off Mikolas tied the game. The evening had been at warp speed, and barely 2 hours old the game found Gorman after the Dodgers intentionally walked Paul Goldschmidt to face him. Gorman launched the third pitch he saw from Victor Gonzalez for only his second career homer off a lefty. In the 10 days since his 23rd birthday, Gorman has five home runs and 15 RBIs.

The game’s pace hit the brakes but its tension amplified in the top of the ninth when the Dodgers got three hits to open the inning. The potential tying run was in scoring position with no outs. LA tightened the scoreboard to a one-run lead with a sacrifice fly, but by then Giovanny Gallegos had rushed into the moment to calm the threat. Gallegos got all three outs in the ninth. He struck out Mookie Betts on a called strike 3 to end the game and secure his fourth save.

College teammate erases Mikolas’ lead

Back in 2009, they were both Sharks putting the bite into a 37-19 season together in college and supplying performances that would land them in the Nova Southeastern Shark Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Mikolas was the clean-shaven local kid on the mound, and J.D. Martinez was another local kid flexing power at the plate.

Both would be drafted in a few months.

Both would play in the majors, and both would have success after reinventing themselves. Both would be selected for the same All-Star Game. And, on Saturday, both college teammates would do something they never had before.

Martinez, a five-time All-Star and longtime DH in the American League, lined out and grounded out in his first two chances against his former Nova Southeastern University teammate. In his third look, Martinez changed the game.

The former MVPs at the top of the Dodgers’ lineup — Betts and Freddie Freeman — opened the sixth inning with consecutive singles. With no outs, Martinez took his third at-bat against Mikolas as the potential tying run. He worked the count full and then got a pitch that allowed him to become the tying run. Martinez drilled a 91.4-mph sinker and sent it 408 feet and into a 3-3 tie. Martinez’s sixth home run of the season were all the runs Mikolas allowed in seven innings. They were all the runs the Dodgers needed to yank a win from him.

“I’d rather a pitcher come off the bench and hit it than him,” Mikolas said after the game. “So, I’ve got to deal with that, you know, at every alumni event for the rest of my life, which is nice.”

Miles flawless into fourth, sidesteps fifth

In only his second start at home in the past month, Mikolas retired the first 10 batters he faced Saturday, and eight of the first 13 Dodgers did not get the ball out of the infield.

Before he set up the rally in the sixth, Freeman marred Mikolas’ perfect start with a double in the fourth inning. Mikolas got groundouts from the next two Dodgers to skip out of the fourth inning with a shutout still going and the Cardinals’ lead, 3-0.

When LA mustered a threat in the fifth, Mikolas sidestepped it.

The back half of the Dodgers’ lineup got hits from two former Cardinals — David Peralta doubled, and Jason Heyward followed with a single. Heyward’s base hit would have been a groundball toward second base had it not first met Mikolas’ cleat and ricocheted to where shortstop Paul DeJong could not retrieve it in time. With one out and one hard hit ball, Mikolas had to deal with two Dodgers on base.

Again, he did not let them leave the reach of an infielder, coaxing a fly ball second baseman Tommy Edman tracked down and a forceout Edman caught.

In his office before the game, manager Oliver Marmol suggested that one of the players most impacted by the World Baseball Classic and participation in it was Mikolas. The veteran right-hander went to Team USA as one of its top starters based on recent performance, and he did not start. His appearances were limited to relief, and even then he had a disjointed schedule and an unsure outing that ended when Team USA run-ruled an opponent. When he returned to the Cardinals he had not pitched as much as he would have in Grapefruit League games.

He had innings to catch up, but they came during the regular season.

Mikolas allowed at least five runs in his first three starts, and he did not pitch into the seventh inning until his sixth start of the season. He dealt with high pitch counts, gobs of foul balls that contributed to high pitch counts, and abbreviated outings due to high pitch counts. But as April turned to May, he’s allowed three or fewer runs in six consecutive starts and he’s authored consecutive quality starts for the first time.

Steals help put lead in motion

The Cardinals pounced on Dodgers starter Noah Syndergaard for three runs the first time through the lineup, and a read the Cardinals believed they had on the right-hander way back in Los Angeles started to play out in St. Louis. Willson Contreras delivered the first run of the game with his two-out single that scored Paul Goldschmidt.

Contreras then stole second before being stranded.

In the second, Syndergaard stung Paul DeJong with a pitch, and — the first chance he got — DeJong stole second. That put him in easy scoring position for Burleson’s RBI double that split the gap. Burleson scored on Lars Nootbaar’s sacrifice fly for a 3-0 lead. The two steals continued the Cardinals’ judicious but wildly successful rate of theft. Their 18 steals so far this month are the second-most in the majors and they’re doing so at a clip better than 85%.

In a first for the Best Podcast in Baseball, digital baseball producer Carter Chapley joins the show to introduce a new format. Chapley takes reader questions from the Monday live chats and asks lead baseball writer Derrick Goold. This week, the questions highlight the Cardinals’ need to sign a pitcher, the Cardinals way and the future of business in baseball.

The Best Podcast in Baseball, sponsored by Closets by Design, is a production of, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Derrick Goold.

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In today’s 10 a.m. “Ten Hochman” video — brought to you by Siteman Cancer Center and Window Nation — Ben Hochman discusses the Cardinals’ two Nolans (Gorman and Arenado), both who could vie for the National League’s Player of the Month honors. Also, a happy birthday shoutout to London Fletcher! And as always, Hochman picks a random St. Louis Cards card from the hat!

Benjamin Hochman

2023-05-21 01:50:00