By Jeff Jones
Twitter – @jmjones
MILWAUKEE — Paul Goldschmidt leaned forward mid-breath and, for just a couple of seconds, smiled wide and came out with an unrestrained admission.
“I’m getting tired of saying that and you’re probably tired of hearing it.”
Who could blame him? He was absolutely correct. For the eighth time in his post-game interview session, Goldschmidt had told the assembled media of his desire to have a good at bat. Just trying to have a good at bat. Consistent at bats. Try to take good at bats.
Twenty one other hitters stepped to the plate at Miller Park on Friday night during the Cardinals 9-5 victory over the Brewers, and none of them did what Paul Goldschmidt did. In fact, no one had ever done what Paul Goldschmidt did. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he became the first player in major league history to hit at least three home runs in one of his first two games with a new team.
Your thoughts on that achievement, Paul?
“Yesterday you have three strikeouts, today three homers. It’s just weird. That’s baseball.”
Until Friday, though, it wasn’t baseball. That’s the nature of history. Throughout the annals of the game and the volumes of its history, there was no day like Goldschmidt’s, three strikeouts the day before or not.
Cardinals manager Mike Shildt credited catcher Matt Wieters with dubbing Goldschmidt the “comeback player of the day,” following his hitless performance on Thursday afternoon in the season opener. Shildt saw what many others did from early in Goldschmidt’s first at-bat. As he fought Freddy Peralta for ten pitches and blistered foul balls all around the field and stands, he looked like a hitter who would feast on whatever came next.
Or, as Shildt said, “You can see a guy lock in to what’s going on and a guy getting the feel for what the pitches are.”
One foul bomb reached the windows below the retractable roof and above the upper deck seats down the third base line. A Milwaukee-based reporter commented to those in the press box that he’d never seen a ball hit to that part of the park before.
Goldschmidt, characteristically, was non-plussed.
“You want it go fair,” mused the Cardinal first baseman. “I just hit. I just try to hit and not think too much.”
He also doesn’t plan to take any mementos from Friday’s game. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asked if he had a keepsake and Goldschmidt, with a smile, queried, “you got one?”
He would keep one if offered, he allowed, but he said he’d never ask. Even his bat is a no-go; he said he keeps them until they break, and since Friday’s was the same bat which he held for three strikeouts on Thursday, Goldschmidt’s deductions tell him that it must not carry any particular import.
His exceptional night at the plate paired well with a difficult defensive play that, quietly, came at a crucial point of the game. With the Cardinals leading by one and a Milwaukee runner on first in the bottom of the sixth inning, he speared a hard hit ground ball, threw to second for the force out, and stretched toward right field to snag the return throw from shortstop Paul DeJong.
Inning over, lead preserved. In the top of the seventh, his third home run of the night would be the conclusive, dramatic blow. As so often happens, offensive prowess provided confidence for defensive wizardry, which in turn found its way back to the plate.
Or, according to Goldschmidt, “we’re in a tight game there, just trying to get as many outs as we can.”
Paul Goldschmidt came to St. Louis with a reputation as an unassuming superstar. He is, as they say, a baseball man who lives and breathes the game. That much was evident when he stopped at the dugout rail on Thursday afternoon to talk to a gaggle of reporters about the different feel that comes off of different kinds of grass and turf and various ballparks.
It was obvious when he arrived at spring training in a new clubhouse for the first time and fit in so seamlessly with the organization that he took on an immediate leadership role. And it was both obvious and rewarded when he signed the largest contract in Cardinals franchise history as spring drew to a close.
It was obvious in Milwaukee on Friday night. With two strikes, Goldschmidt explained, he always chokes up on the bat. Important, in his estimation, to make contact. Have a good at bat.
“A couple of [pitches] I was like, ‘man, that might have been a ball.’ Probably a good thing I swung.”
Yeah. Probably so.