St. LOUIS (Reuters) - The Chicago Cubs came to St. Louis with a highly regarded trio of rookie starters, but it was the Cardinals’ one-two rookie punch that sealed victory in Friday’s opener of their National League Division Series.
Eighth-inning home runs by Tommy Pham and Stephen Piscotty turned a 1-0 lead into a comfortable 4-0 win in the best-of-five series.
“Chicago has got great young guys, and we also got great young guys,” the Cardinals’ seven-times All-Star catcher Yadier Molina said, referring to the Cubs’ Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber.
Pham crushed a pinch-hit home run off Cubs starter Jon Lester and Piscotty lined a two-run shot off reliever Pedro Strop to back a sterling effort by Cards starter John Lackey.
”In the minor leagues we’re kind of groomed to come up here and contribute,“ said 27-year-old Pham, a late bloomer. ”The expectations are high for us.
“For me it’s something I dreamed about as a little kid. Now it’s happening. It’s truly a blessing, kind of surreal.”
Lackey, 36, said he enjoyed watching the new players.
“Those guys can hit,” said Lackey. “It’s kind of been our whole season. We’ve had to have contributions from young guys cause we’ve had some of our veteran guys hurt.”
“For them to get involved in this first game like that, it was fun to see. As you get older as a player, it’s fun to see younger guys experience some things for the first time.”
Piscotty, a 24-year-old outfielder, showed his versatility by playing first base in his first Major League Baseball postseason game.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny heaped praise on his rookies.
“Stephen has been as consistent as any young player you could ever bring into a situation, and was thrown into a position where he hasn’t had much repetition,” Matheny said about Piscotty, who hit .305 with seven homers and 39 RBIs in 233 at-bats.
“He’s got a great baseball IQ, makes incredible adjustments for a young player.”
Pham delivered five home runs in 153 at-bats with the Cards.
“Pham we brought in because we needed a spark. I think tonight kind of shows he has that potential,” the manager said.
St. Louis, with a National League-best 11 World Series titles, have a tradition of success.
Piscotty said Cardinals veterans told the younger players “it was going to feel different” to play postseason ball.
“They just stressed relax, breathe and try to handle the nerves better than the other team,” he said. “And I think everyone on our club did that tonight.”
Editing by Larry Fine/Andrew Both