CINCINNATI — On Oliver Marmol’s desk on Saturday sat a copy of “Top Dog — The Science of Winning and Losing” by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.
The Cardinals’ manager, who confessed that he’s not necessarily an avid reader, chose to pick up this book because it could offer him some insight on a road trip that is drawing to a close this weekend.
“It discusses a little bit of having a presence to home-field advantage, and then how do you create home-field advantage when you’re at a neutral site, or how do you go into someone else’s place and make it feel like it’s yours,” Marmol said. “Make them feel like it’s yours.”
With a vocal and engaged Cardinals contingent among the 28,598 on Kids’ Opening Day at Great American Ball Park, Marmol’s words were prophetic as St. Louis handed the Reds their 11th straight loss, 5-0, while improving to 9-4.
The Cardinals are 82-79 at GABP. Among visitors with at least 150 games played, their .509 winning percentage is the only winning record there since the park opened in 2003.
Marmol’s road warriors are now 6-3 on the trip and are guaranteed a winning trek before Monday’s return to Busch Stadium to take on Max Scherzer and the Mets.
There was no more symbolic moment of Great American Ball Park turning into Busch Stadium East than in the seventh inning, when pinch-hitter Albert Pujols came to the plate to a standing ovation and “Let’s Go Albert” chants from the Cardinals faithful in attendance.
Forget that he grounded into a 5-4-3 double play and labored down the first-base line, allowing Joey Votto to leap for a high relay throw and come back down on the bag to retire the 42-year-old future Hall of Famer, who also popped out in the ninth inning.
Well before Marmol took his perch in the visitor’s dugout on the third base side, the Cardinals had a way of making GABP feel like their home away from home.
In his impromptu review, Marmol said the book wasn’t really focused on sports. But there were specific takeaways he could apply about creating a positive environment for your team in a hostile situation.
“Yeah, I think there are,” Marmol said. “It doesn’t relate it directly to sports. It’s more of a business, but there’s definitely ways to do that.”
And nothing silences a road crowd better than effective starting pitching. The Cardinals got exactly that from sinkerball specialist Dakota Hudson, who allowed two hits and worked around four walks and a hit batter over 6 2/3 scoreless innings.
“It builds confidence, for sure,” Marmol said. “I think the more we get him out there, the more confident of a guy we’re going to see. Early in spring, I said, ‘By the middle of the season, we’re going to be raving about this guy,’ and I think this was a step in that direction.”
Like Steven Matz the night before, Hudson worked out of his own jams, walking three and hitting a batter in his first four innings. But timely double-play grounders from Tommy Pham in the first and fourth helped immeasurably, as exactly half of his 92 pitches (46) were sinkers.
“I felt good from the start,” Hudson said. “Just a couple of misses, but once I got that first ground ball, I felt like that kind of got things a little bit more confident in what I was doing out there. ‘OK, that’s normal today.’ And then I got rolling from there.”
“He did a nice job,” Marmol said. “A lot of ground ball outs. The double play got him out of a couple of innings there. Fell behind some guys, deep counts, but still some early contact for double play balls that kept his pitch count down.”
Saturday was a milestone for the right-hander. Hudson missed the end of the 2020 season and the majority of ‘21 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. His last big league win before Saturday was over the Cubs at Wrigley Field last Sept. 24.
“It’s big. I feel like it’s the first of many to go down the road,” Hudson said. “But also, I’ve got a great team here, so I’m just putting the ball in play and then letting our defense go to work, which they did.”
Being aggressive and staying on the attack is key, too. Witness Harrison Bader’s career-high three stolen bases Saturday, something no Cardinals player had done since Carlos Beltran in 2012. The Cardinals finished with four against rookie catcher Aramis Garcia.
Add in two hits apiece from Paul Goldschmidt (two RBIs), Dylan Carlson and No. 9 hitter Andrew Knizner and you have the perfect road formula.
“Our players and our staff have the right mindset, regardless if we’re home or away. The preparation has been elite. I’ve been very impressed by it,” Marmol said.