Baseball / Sports

Cards starting to put pieces together

TORONTO -- One of the pet phrases Cardinals manager Mike Matheny and several of his players have adopted this season is how for the team to do well, to do what is expected of it, each person has to "do his piece" or "just put in their piece."

They have rarely put all those pieces together.

As the team has loitered around .500, Matheny would take the players at his fingertips and rearrange them, set some aside, and rearrange again, waiting for success to emerge. Just as it seemed it would, it didn't, and the pieces scattered again, like some edgeless jigsaw puzzle. But during a rewarding visit to Canada, the Cardinals took shape, fit together and -- in a 5-0 victory Sunday at Rogers Centre -- saw a familiar look return.

In one of the most complete team games of the season, Jaime Garcia pitched seven scoreless innings, the lineup launched two home runs, and the defense backed a second shutout of Toronto in as many days. There were no missing pieces.

"Things done right," Matheny said. "That's a great display of what we're looking for and what we want to be known for, how we want to play. You want to see it come together consistently."

The Blue Jays returned home at the start of the weekend as confident as the Cardinals were confounding. Toronto had swept mighty Detroit and was about to win for the 15th time in 17 games with Friday's victory against the Cardinals. A Jose Reyes bobblehead giveaway brought more than 45,000 to Sunday's game, and the 25th anniversary celebration of the Rogers Centre added spectacle, from World Series highlights to special bases. The fuel behind the Blue Jays' first-place surge was an offense that led the American League runs in and homers.

The Jays had only been shut out once this season entering the interleague weekend.

They were shut out twice during it.

Garcia (2-0) continued what Shelby Miller started with his complete game Saturday and silenced Toronto's power-packed lineup. He did it by keeping the Jays grounded. Garcia coaxed 15 groundouts and relied on Matt Carpenter and Jhonny Peralta, the left side of the infield, for 14 of those groundouts. Carpenter and Peralta helped Garcia with their gloves and backed him with their bats – each had a home run off Jays starter Drew Hutchison (4-4). Carpenter's two-run shot in the second put the Cardinals ahead 4-0. Peralta's solo homer to lead off the third was his 10th of the season, a team high.

Fitting around the pitching and power, the Cardinals executed a hit-and-run in the second inning to produce their first run. Fielders, including center fielder Peter Bourjos, stole hits. The bullpen tossed two swift innings and the Cardinals fled the country with their first series win in two weeks.

"For a team trying to figure themselves out -- and I still believe that's what we're doing in June, well into it – you have to see all of those components come together to let yourself know what the expectations are," Matheny said. "Who are we? Which one are we? The more that we can have days (like this) where we have the whole mix of everything ..."

Players who have been around Garcia at his best -- his healthiest -- remark how it's obvious because the third baseman is the busiest man in the ballpark, fielding more demands than the beer man.

Carpenter was busy Sunday.

The Cardinals' third baseman was involved eight groundouts, nearly stole an infield hit from Reyes, and had an error. Starting in the second inning, Garcia went a stretch of 19 batters and allowed only one ball out of the reach of an infielder. On his 100th pitch, Garcia got a 5-3 groundout. The lefty explained that in recent starts he didn't have a sense for his offspeed pitches, a grip issue he said related to getting hit on the left elbow with a pitch during his rehab assignment. He had a feel for them Sunday, testing the Jays with a variety. In the fifth, when Carpenter's error and an infield single put two on, Garcia struck out Jose Bautista with an offspeed pitch, a slider, to end the inning.

The grounders come from "getting guys to swing at that (sinker) and get them to hit it on the ground," Carpenter said. "It's a tough ball to elevate, especially for a team that wants to try and elevate. It was a good matchup for him and he was able to execute his pitches."

The Cardinals came to Toronto expecting to see the Blue Jays of reputation -- a free-swinging group that has 10 more homers than any other team in baseball. Lance Lynn pitched Friday as if facing a team that could be lured outside the strike zone, and found them taking. That cost him pitches and led to two solo homers in a loss. Late that night, Lynn sought out Miller and Garcia and talked about changing their approach, about learning from what he witnessed.

He was speaking his piece.

Two different pitchers, Miller and Garcia, took similar approaches to zero in on the AL's leading lineup. Miller controlled the bottom of the strike zone with his fastball Saturday and elevated for effect. Garcia worked with movement low in the zone and dared the Jays to find seams in the defense.

"I was able to get them off balance, and keep the ball down," Garcia said.

For the second consecutive game, Tony Cruz started at catcher and contributed offensively. The Cardinals played small ball with a hit-and-run and sacrifice fly for their first run. Cruz doubled home the second run before Carpenter connected on a changeup for a homer that opened up the game. Garcia cruised from there.

The Cardinals' rotation had allowed 27 runs (24 earned) in 25 2/3 innings in its previous turn. Adam Wainwright starts Tuesday with the rotation having allowed only seven runs in its past 35 innings. He has a 16-inning scoreless streak to continue. And the offense is starting to show its muscle more often.

The corner pieces are in place.

It's time to build something.

"It's nice to have a game where everything shows up," Carpenter said. "This was an example of what this team can do, and it's just a matter of doing it more than every couple days. We should do it every day."

(c)2014 St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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