SAN DIEGO — Lars Nootbaar got barreled on the ball in the fifth inning Thursday afternoon at Petco Park. The solo home run did not tie the game. It did not give the Cardinals a lead. But the reaction by his teammates announced that it was a big home run.
“You could feel it in the dugout,” manager Oliver Marmol said.
What Marmol felt was relief. St. Louis’ streak of three straight scoreless losses was over. So it was a 47-inning stretch without an earned run. The Cardinals’ self-professed confidence was backed up with results.
The way it seems to work in baseball is that one big swing brings another. And that second one came from Brendan Donovan, who hit his first Major League grand slam to propel St. Louis to a 5-4 victory over the Padres in the series finale.
When Donovan’s Statcast-projected 418-foot drive on a cutter from reliever Nick Martinez sailed over the right-center-field wall in the seventh inning, relief was no longer on his mind. His thoughts were much more practical.
“Touch every base,” he quipped.
The Cardinals, closing in on the NL Central title, improved to 48-9 in games in which they hit more than one homer. They nearly had three on Thursday — including one from the slugger drawing most eyes these days.
Albert Pujols, two away from the 700-homer milestone for his career, gave the fans a thrill with a 108.6 mph single that rattled into the left-field corner in the second inning. The Statcast-projected 335-foot drive didn’t quite have the height to give Pujols No. 699 and was hit so hard that he was denied another milestone — 1,400 extra-base hits.
Pujols teased with deep flyouts in the sixth and eighth innings, but he will take his pursuit of 700 to Los Angeles, where the Cardinals play a weekend set against the powerhouse Dodgers. Although denied in San Diego, Pujols was among the first to greet Nootbaar after the streak-stopping homer, along with fellow veteran Yadier Molina.
“I think that’s big, when those guys are feeling good,” Nootbaar said. “They’re the leaders of the team. To get that kind of breath, that relief, it’s always good. This team’s dangerous. We all know that. It’s just a matter of time.”
Nootbaar, the No. 9 batters, struck out against Padres starter Joe Musgrove. The right-hander doubled up on fastballs, and Nootbaar yanked the second one a Statcast-projected 386 feet to right-center. The last Cardinals homer before that came in the third inning Saturday, when Molina homered in the first game of a doubleheader against the Reds. That also accounted for the last earned runs before the 47-inning streak.
“We do well when we hit doubles and homers and take our walks, and today we did that,” Marmol said.
Donovan made a winner of starting pitcher Jack Flaherty — six innings, three runs (two earned) on four hits and four walks with nine strikeouts — with a different kind of at-bat. Whereas Nootbaar struck early, Donovan displayed typical patience and strike-zone judgment.
Donovan took three straight balls, then watched a cutter in the heart of the strike zone. With NL MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt on deck, it was a 3-0 take all the way. When Martinez caught too much plate again — on his fourth straight cutter — Donovan was on the attack. All that remained was to touch those bases.
“I was just trying to hit a fly ball, get one across and cut into the lead a little bit,” Donovan said. “It just kind of ran into my barrel a little more than I thought it would. It was one of the bigger swings I’ve had this year, so that was pretty cool for me.”