No longer dreading the big moment, DeJong delivers knockout blow as Cardinals come back to beat Yankees
ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - Given the kind of year Paul DeJong has had, it would have been hard to blame Oliver Marmol if he had wanted to go in another direction.
When the Cardinals’ shortstop saw his spot due up with two runners on in the bottom of the eighth inning of Friday’s game against the Yankees, it was apparent that the outcome of the game could be decided by this moment.
The team with the best record in the American League had held the Cardinals down all night, etching out a 3-2 lead. But in a contest that felt comfortable for New York despite the close score, St. Louis was suddenly threatening—and the Cardinals manager had a decision on his hands.
Rather than turn to a left-handed pinch-hitter like Brendan Donovan to face dominant Yankees right-hander Clay Holmes, Marmol stuck with the veteran player whose year has been so arduous that in his sixth MLB season, he’s spent more time in the minors than he has on the active roster in St. Louis. That’s a lot of trust in a hitter who has done little to earn it with his performance this season.
But DeJong had provided the Cardinals with a few loud swings since returning to the lineup last Saturday in Washington D.C. Plus, he boasted an unlikely history against Holmes coming into Friday’s eighth-inning plate appearance: Lifetime, DeJong was 4-for-6 with a pair of doubles and an OPS of 1.714 against New York’s intimidating set-up man.
Marmol knew the numbers. DeJong made them shine, rifling a go-ahead double the opposite way into the right-field corner to give the Cardinals a 4-3 lead that the home team would not relinquish.
“He sees (Holmes) well,” Marmol said of DeJong. “We had confidence that he could come through—and to his credit, he did.”
DeJong entered the day batting .140 with a .506 OPS on the year. His production was so paltry to begin the season that the Cardinals felt that the drastic decision to demote their everyday shortstop was the only one the team could reasonably make. A forgotten man for nearly two months as he toiled in the minors, DeJong eventually found his stroke and earned the chance to prove his worthiness again at the big-league level.
DeJong started off strong in his second stint with the Cardinals this season, blasting a home run in each of his first two games back with the club last weekend against the National. That came on the heels of three straight games with a home run in Memphis.
The Cards were back to profiting from his power stroke—next would come his chance to deliver in the clutch.
With the tying run on second and the go-ahead run at first with two outs in the eighth inning of a ball game against one of the league’s best teams—one night after your team finally climbed back into a first-place tie in the division standings—Friday presented DeJong with as big of a spot as you could imagine at this point in the calendar.
Differing from how he may have responded to a similar situation back in April, DeJong was ready to relish it.
“Earlier in the year, I might have dreaded an opportunity like that,” DeJong said in front of his locker Friday night. “But now I’m thankful for an opportunity like that after everything that’s happened this year.”
For DeJong to admit that there was a time in his season where he might have cowered at the notion of being presented with an opportunity to come through in the clutch shows the depths of how sincerely his struggles were impacting his mindset previously.
“It’s just the idea of an ‘Oh no, here we go again’ type of feeling when I was struggling versus now, it’s like, you want those opportunities,” DeJong continued. “Happy that I got that chance tonight.”
DeJong’s heroics helped mask an uneven start by Dakota Hudson, who failed to record an out in the fifth and was charged with three earned runs on two walks and seven hits. Andre Pallante also played a role in rescuing the starter, pitching four scoreless innings after allowing only one inherited runner to score.
But it was another late-game rally by the offense that gave meaning to Pallante’s grittiness.
In front of a sellout crowd and the largest of the year at Busch Stadium, DeJong emerged as an unlikely hero. His swing helped the Cardinals secure their fifth consecutive win—while showing there’s not a team in the league that this clubhouse needs to fear.
“You look up and down that lineup, we have a good group that’s starting to string together some quality stuff,” Marmol said. It’s going to be fun to watch.”
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