Quick hits: Cardinals avoid surprise ending with dramatic win, 7-6, over Dodgers | St. Louis Cardinals

A dizzying swirl of events, some unexpected and some just outright improvised, carried the Cardinals through the Dodgers’ gauntlet to the most dazzling victory of the season.

The Cardinals got home runs from the oldest and youngest players on the roster, three RBIs from a catcher who had not had an RBI in almost a month and a daring escape by a pitcher who has spent his season shuttling back to the minors. And even then LA had one more swing up its sleeve.

Andrew Knizner’s third RBI single of the game gave the Cardinals the cushion needed to withstand Freddie Freeman’s ninth-inning leadoff homer. Giovanny Gallegos piloted out of trouble in the ninth to cement the 7-6 victory Tuesday at Busch Stadium.

It was a win greater than the sum of its parts, but it needed every part — from Albert Pujols’ homer to start the scoring (No. 685 for his career) to Nolan Gorman’s homer to extend the lead. And most of all lefty Packy Naughton’s escape with the bases loaded, no outs and the tying run at third in the seventh inning.

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In their first meeting since eliminating them on the last pitch of the Cardinals’ season in October, the Dodgers arrived riding a seven-game winning streak, fresh off one of the best home stands since the franchise bolted from Brooklyn for the beach. LA went 10-1 at Dodger Stadium to start the month of July with the winningest homestand since 1993. And they reached Busch with 25 comeback victories — more than any other National League team.

They spent the whole game showing how they got that many, answering with two runs in the fifth, loading the bases in the seventh and putting the tying run on base in the ninth.

It took the Cardinals’ sleight of hand with their starter, the recently discovered depth of their lineup, and one brilliant inning from a left-hander reliever to deny the Dodgers.

Packy pulls off an ‘Houdini,’ saves Cardinals

In baseball, when pitchers find themselves in a spot with the bases loaded and no one out, the act required to escape such a jam is considered so unlikely, so illusory that it has a proper nickname: a Houdini.

In magic, the third act, when the trick is revealed, is called “The Prestige.”

Naughton pulled off both to keep the Cardinals ahead in the seventh inning. The rookie left-hander entered the inning with one run already in, a one-run lead to hold and a mess left for him on the bases. Junior Fernandez had allowed two singles and a walk to go with the inning’s earlier catcher’s interference call. The Cardinals led, 6-5, and Naughton had to find a way through three Dodgers without a ball in play that scored a run.

And for his final trick? He had to strike out Cody Bellinger twice.

Naughton got shallow fly balls from pinch-hitter Max Muncy and infielder Hanser Alberto that did not allow Freddie Freeman to score from third. With one out to get, Naughton got ahead on Bellinger and appeared to get a check-swing strikeout as Bellinger locked his wrist, his bat wagging over the plate. The ump sided with Bellinger. Several pitches and one sliding catch attempt by Nolan Arenado later and Naughton would get the strikeout denied. Bellinger missed on a 94.6 mph fastball to end the inning.

Three Dodgers had front-row seats for the Naughton Show and were so riveted they did not budge until it was over.

Starter switcheroo: Cardinals open with Hicks

After kicking around the idea with his coaches for at least a week, manager Oliver Marmol found the opening Tuesday to welcome the Dodgers with more than the St. Louis heat.

He had the furnace blast from Jordan Hicks ready to start.

A few hours before first pitch, the Cardinals rewrote their pitching plans for Thursday, stashing announced starter Matthew Liberatore for middle innings and announcing that Hicks would start. The Dodgers’ lineup, Marmol explained, invited the move by having four right-handed batters in the first five spots, each with success against lefties like Liberatore.

Hicks has revitalized his season with a move back to the bullpen and the chance to tap into one of the best fastballs in the game. He recently threw the fastest pitch recorded this season, at 103.6 mph, and the shift from rotation to relief has led to the expected uptick in power. Marmol’s advice to Hicks getting a start was to treat it like relief. The right-hander even came out of the bullpen to begin the game.

“You’re coming out of the ’pen in the first. Go get ’em,” Marmol said his message was to Hicks. “The conversation is short. Hey, I want you to come out of the ’pen in the first. You’ll face a couple of hitters and be done for the evening.”

While the game unfolded as expected, Hicks’ start did not. He allowed three runners to reach base in the first inning, two by walks. Hicks got a double play to clear a path out of the first inning, and tested Justin Turner with fastballs at 102.4 mph and 103.2 mph before striking him out. Hicks handled 1 2/3 innings and tiptoed around trouble because of that power. He threw more balls (20) than strikes (18), and left a runner on base (via walk) to Johan Oviedo to handle. The right-hander did in his 1 1/3 innings.

Proof of concept as Dodgers pounce

The Cardinals had a clear idea when they wanted to deploy Liberatore in the game so that he could handle what Marmol called “the bulk” of it. When Hicks left ahead of the No. 9 hitter, that wasn’t the spot because the top of the lineup loomed. The preference was to get Liberatore into the game with the middle of the order, so he could pitch to around 15 batters.

One time against LA’s leadoff spots was enough.

As if leaping from Marmol’s scouting report into the box score, the top of the Dodgers’ order met Liberatore with two singles and a home run in the fifth inning. The top three right-handed batters in the Dodgers’ lineup went three-for-three against the rookie lefty. Mookie Betts started the inning with a single and Trea Turner followed with a two-run homer to cut the Cardinals’ lead down to three runs, 6-3. When that middle of the order came around, Liberatore had his escape — with a little help.

Like a quarterback on the roll out, Nolan Arenado went to his right and threw from foul territory to get Trayce Thompson on a groundout. That ended the inning.

Liberatore covered 2 1/3 innings and allowed three runs on four hits.

Bottom-order Cardinals’ encore claims lead

A day after the hitters at the backend of the Cardinals’ lineup contributed most of the offense for a win, they conjured an encore by claiming an early lead against the Dodgers.

No. 8 hitter Corey Dickerson, hoisting that average above .200, doubled and scored twice off Dodgers’ starter Mitch White by the end of the fourth inning. Pujols hit his second home run in three days and first since announcing, officially, he would return to Dodger Stadium next week to compete in the Home Run Derby. A day after getting his first RBI in nearly a month, catcher Knizner had two in his first two at-bats. His RBI single in the second inning scored Dickerson for a 3-0 lead. In the fourth, Knizner widened the lead with an RBI single to again score Dickerson after the latter’s leadoff double.

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