A noise, not nerves, woke Oliver Marmol up at 7:20 am Thursday, hours before he wrote out his first lineup and made his first walk to home plate to deliver it before his first game as a major-league manager.
The racket was coming from the bedroom window of his St. Louis residence and when he twisted open the blinds, this mystery to explore, he found the culprit tapping, tapping.
Marmol recognized the feathered friend from his jersey.
A cardinal had come calling.
Not one to seek signs that foretell of success or read too much into what was outside his window, Marmol could do both Thursday evening by what he saw inside a box score.
The Cardinals’ opened their 131st season in the National League — Marmol’s first as manager — with a 9-0 romp at Busch Stadium against Pittsburgh. Adam Wainwright claimed his 100th career win at the downtown ballpark with six scoreless innings. Paul Goldschmidt set a club record with four walks on opening day. And Tyler O’Neill’s five RBIs tied a club record for opening day last matched in 1928. The Cardinals scored on sacrifice flies, scored from second on an infield single, and swatted three home runs, one from No. 9 hitter Tommy Edman.
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Everywhere Marmol looked there was the rapping, rapping of a Cardinal hitter.
“That was a perfect demonstration of what they’re capable of doing,” Marmol said.
“We’re an offensive force, and that’s just how we want to be,” said O’Neill, who drove home the Cardinals’ first four runs of the season, three with a homer in the second inning. “We have a lot of depth, one through nine, and everyone is dangerous. There is nowhere to go in this lineup.”
O’Neill had an RBI in three of the Cardinals’ four rallies. After tenderizing Pirates starter JT Brubaker with seven batters in the first inning, the Cardinals pounced with O’Neill’s three-run homer in the second inning. He added a sacrifice fly in between homers from Edman and Nolan Arenado as the Cardinals’ widened their lead on the rudderless Pirates. O’Neill has a home run on three consecutive opening days, prompting a question on whether it was his favorite day on the calendar.
“Yeah,” he said, “it just might be.”
Sounds like a St. Louisan.
For the first time since April 2019, the Cardinals welcomed a full house to opening day and greeted the sellout crowd of 46,256 with the usual parade of players on trucks, showcase of World Series trophies, and the presence of 16 Cardinals Hall of Famers in their redcoats. Three more who will eventually wear those coats took the field. A video tribute before the game, narrated by favorite son Jon Hamm, celebrated Yadier Molina and returning great Albert Pujols — both of whom have said they intend to retire at season’s end. The Cardinals had 50 members of the military present the US flag for No. 50 Wainwright on the mound. Ovations abounded as fans greeted the Cardinals with clapping, clapping.
The club dipped the day in nostalgia, but when the game started it became an affirmation of more recent history. Success never gets old.
Wainwright picked up where he left off.
O’Neill continued his lift off.
“That felt like old school Busch Stadium,” Wainwright said. “Fans are back. That felt like real baseball. The fans showed up and they were rocking.”
Wainwright retired the Pirates in order in the first inning, elevating one of his fastest pitches at nearly 90 mph, to strike out Ke’Bryan Hayes and end the inning. He got nine outs from the first 10 batters he faced, and he struck out five of them. The second inning ended the way so many have during Molina and Wainwright’s 305 starts together as a battery: The batter struck out, and Molina threw a runner out trying to steal. Pittsburgh didn’t even bother to ask the umpires to review the replay.
Wainwright (1-0) extended his scoreless streak to 32 consecutive innings against the Pirates. The Cardinals’ offense didn’t need to do much for Marmol’s first win.
All throughout spring training, Arenado was on his teammates to create “a tougher lineup” because the teams performing at a higher level all had the toughest lineups. The phrase he repeated as a goal for the lineup: “No breathing room.”
“We talked about not being a one-trick pony and selling out for (home runs) and being able to do different things,” Marmol said. “We want to get super-stubborn about not leaving the (strike) zone, and when they come in the zone scaring them back out of it. … ‘No breathing room.’ I think that’s perfectly put. There’s nowhere to go there.”
That won’t stop an opponent from trying.
The Pirates, their shallow pitching thinned further by Brubaker’s three-inning start and Duane Underwood Jr.’s injury after facing one batter, hinted at where opponents are going to target in the Cardinals’ lineup. With MVP candidate Goldschmidt batting second and name-brand bats Arenado and Pujols at cleanup and No. 5, the island the Pirates spied to plunder for outs was clearly O’Neill. Fresh from batting .500 in spring training and sporting a 1,000 OPS in the second half of last season, Goldschmidt walked four times in his first four plate appearances. Pittsburgh skirted around him—and challenged O’Neill. Other teams will do the same.
“I hope so,” Marmol said. “That’d be nice. I hope they try to come after him because that would make for a fun year.”
In the first inning, O’Neill stung a 2-2 slider for an RBI single. In the second inning, he got the same sinker he’d missed earlier in the game and, well, didn’t. He drilled the 0-1 pitch 396 feet into the left-field seats to bring home three runs, including Goldschmidt’s first. In the eighth, Goldschmidt capped his day with a single to reach base in all five plate appearances, and after O’Neill’s sacrifice fly, Goldschmidt scored on Arenado’s homer.
In the clubhouse after the game, Wainwright told Goldschmidt “if he walks four times the rest of the season every single game, then Tyler is going to have 300 RBIs.”
Goldschmidt cautioned about reading too much into the first game, that the emphasis put on results on opening day can be entrapping, entrapping. Still, hours before Marmol made one of the first bold predictions as manager. The lineup that scored the second fewest runs at home in 2021 would be the unexpected strength of the 2022 Cardinals. The offense, he said, isn’t at “the forefront” when fans discuss the Cardinals, but once the team lifted the blinds on opening day the fans would see it.
Maybe it will catch opponents napping, napping.
Until, that is, a Cardinal wakes them up.
“I think our lineup is deeper than we get a lot of credit for,” Arenado said. “We weren’t that great last year. I can see why we haven’t gotten that respect. We have to go out and prove it. This was a good start.”
Photos: St. Louis Cardinals crushed the Pittsburgh Pirates 9-0 for the 2022 home opener