MILWAUKEE — On a night when the Cardinals turned to their bench for some relief help — and a much-needed injection of offense — future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols stole the show with some unique relief work of his own.
Pujols, he of the 680 career home runs, gave his good friend, Yadier Molina, the night off completely when he volunteered to catch starting pitcher Miles Mikolas in between innings when the starter, Andrew Knizner, was left on base or in the on-deck circle. Pujols, who made it clear when he signed in mid-March that he was willing to do anything to help the Cardinals win, drew laughs in the dugout from Molina, while fellow longtime Cardinal Adam Wainwright was shocked to see Pujols squatting behind the plate.
“I had to give Yadi the night off because he needed some rest,” Pujols explained.
Added a giggling Molina: “He wanted to do it, so I let him.”
Blurted manager Oliver Marmol, “Don’t get hurt — that was my first reaction. He was feeling froggy and went out there several times.”
Knizner, who was making his second start in relief of Molina, had the first three-hit game of his career, singling in two runs in the first inning as the Cardinals raced to a 4-0 lead. St. Louis already made its intentions known that the 27-year-old will play more this season. Their reasoning is twofold: To keep the 39-year-old Molina fresh and to reward Kizner, who already has five RBIs and four hits. In just two weeks, Knizner is already more than halfway to his career-high of nine RBIs set in ’21.
“He’s done a nice job, he really has,” Marmol said. “He’s slowed the game down offensively, he’s got a good game plan and he feels good about his swing. That combination has led to some pretty good at-bats.”
Sosa and Nootbaar were the last two Cardinals to get into a game on Friday because of some hard luck. Nootbaar was scheduled to get a start at DH earlier in the week, but the game was rained out. The same thing happened to Sosa, whose start at second on Wednesday was rained out.
On Friday, Nootbaar patiently worked a first-inning walk against Milwaukee starter Freddy Peralta and came around to score on Knizner’s two-run single. As for Sosa, he had two hits, a run scored, and he playfully snapped off a fly ball to end the seventh inning when the Brewers had bases loaded.
Marmol had high praise for Nootbaar and Sosa for putting in the kind of work that allowed them to be ready for Friday’s performances.
“As far as staying sharp, they both have a good routine defensively, and in the cage to stay ready,” Marmol said. “Sosa does a nice job of staying ready at all three positions and he has a routine that takes him around the horn. Then, a lot of [pitching] machine work [for Sosa and Nootbaar] that is mimicking game speed.”
A day after being limited to five hits and one run by Milwaukee’s Brandon Woodruff, the Cardinals responded with a 14-hit attack. Tommy Edman homered from the left side of the plate for a second straight day — a first in his career — and Nolan Arenado added his league-leading fourth home run in the ninth. The bottom four in the Cardinals order — Bader, Knizner, Sosa and Edman — went 8-for-19 with six RBIs.
Said Edman: “We think we have the best bottom of the order in the league and it showed today with the kind of at-bats we put together.”
Mikolas was in command throughout through his 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball. He struck out seven, with three of them coming against Christian Yelich. He joked the most nervous moments of the night came was when he was throwing to Pujols between innings.
“[Pujols] caught me off guard in the first, but it was a nice big target back there and I can cross that off the bucket list,” Mikolas joked. “I didn’t know it was [on the bucket list], but now I can cross it off. I wanted to keep fastballs in the big part of the plate and the last thing I wanted to do was hurt a legend by spiking something and catching him off guard.”