Breakthrough blasts from Nolan Gorman, Paul Goldschmidt charge Cardinals to walk-off win

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Breakthrough blasts from Nolan Gorman, Paul Goldschmidt charge Cardinals to walk-off win

ST. LOUIS — Walk-off home runs tend to elicit exhilarating and electrifying reactions from those who hit them. That was no exception for Nolan Gorman on Monday night.

Gorman saw one pitch — an 84 mph slider in the heart of the zone — from Arizona Diamondbacks reliever Kyle Nelson. He turned on it and promptly barreled it high and far over the right-field bullpen. The echo of the ball off the bat was loud, but the eruption from the Busch Stadium crowd was louder. Gorman knew he had won the game off contact, and as he followed the flight of the ball out of the batter’s box, he turned to his dugout, spiked his bat and let out a roar of his own.

It was the type of swing Gorman needed. It was also the type of win the St. Louis Cardinals needed.

Fresh off the bench and amid a brutal slump to start the season, Gorman’s two-run blast in the bottom of the ninth inning snapped a four-game losing streak for St. Louis, charging it instead to a 5-3 win over Arizona. It was Gorman’s first career walk-off home run, his first hit since April 14 and the Cardinals’ first home run since April 12.

Forgive Gorman, then, for not remembering much as he circled the bases before being mobbed at home plate by his teammates.

“I don’t know what I did,” Gorman said, laughing. “That was all excitement.”

The prior week had been agonizing for the Cardinals, who had trudged through unable to generate any type of consistent offense. Entering play Monday, the Cardinals hadn’t homered in eight games and had a team OPS below .650. Gorman (.169 average, 38 percent strikeout rate) and Paul Goldschmidt (.179 average, .507 OPS) had struggled mightily to start the year — so much so that manager Oli Marmol opted to sit Gorman ahead of Monday’s game and had previously moved Goldschmidt down to fifth in the order, the lowest he’s ever batted as a Cardinal.

It was suiting, then, that both players broke out with key home runs to win the game.

Gorman’s home run will receive the grandeur, but Goldschmidt’s tying solo shot in the seventh inning was equally important. Battling through one of the worst slumps of his career, Goldschmidt hadn’t recorded an extra-base hit since Opening Day. But as he led off the bottom of the seventh, he unloaded on a center-cut 92 mph fastball and sent it 432 feet to right-center, injecting new life into the Cardinals dugout and his own swing.

That paved the way for Gorman, who entered the game as a defensive replacement in the top of the eighth. Throughout his early major-league career, Gorman has been something of a streaky hitter, but his profile as a power hitter allows for that — at least to some extent. However, his April struggles had taken a turn, with his OBP sitting at .229 and his slugging at just .325.

But Gorman kept a level head and relied on his routine, even when the results were far from showing.

“(I was) scuffling, but at the same time, I’m not the type to throw my stuff and quit,” Gorman said. “I’ve been putting good work in the cage; it just hadn’t translated yet.”

That type of consistency is what the Cardinals had been preaching, even with so many key players struggling to produce. From Marmol’s perspective, Gorman’s patience and trust in his approach are some of his most valuable traits.

“What (Gorman) has gone through is not easy,” Marmol said. “For his age, his level of experience, for him to handle some scrutiny and what he’s gone through over the last several weeks, his personality and how he shows up every day has not changed one bit. You wouldn’t be able to tell if he’s posting a .900 OPS or whatever he’s got right now. That’s a great trait. A great way to be described in this game is consistent.”

The same can be said of Goldschmidt, who has spoken at length multiple times over the past two weeks about his poor start. After Lars Nootbaar put the Cardinals on the board with a two-run single in the sixth, the team could feel the momentum starting to churn. When Goldschmidt connected on his solo shot the following inning, the dugout exploded and bombarded him with cheers.

“The energy has been good every day, but I think (tonight) was definitely good — maybe even great,” Goldschmidt said. “Especially because of how (the game) started out. It wasn’t looking great, but the talk there was like, ‘Keep going; let’s score some runs,’ or, ‘Let’s hold ’em right here.’ Hearing that kind of just gives you — I don’t know if it’s motivation or confidence, but it’s good vibes in the dugout.”

Good vibes indeed. After an uninspiring week of play, the Cardinals came to life in the later innings and were fueled by the players who needed to get going the most.

“I think today was probably the biggest win of the season,” Nootbaar said. “In baseball, that’s all it takes sometimes. There’s one good swing, and you feel it — boom — you roll with that. Hoping that’s what happens to (Goldschmidt) and (Gorman).”

You can say that again. After strong contributions from the starting rotation, bullpen and overall defense to open the season, the Cardinals are eager to get their bats on track. Monday night showed precisely why.

(Photo of Nolan Gorman: Joe Puetz / Getty Images)