February 3, 2023

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'Couldn't write it any better': Liberatore debuts with Gorman there

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PITTSBURGH — With Nolan Gorman walking through the Pittsburgh airport and Matthew Liberatore set to fly there a day later, the No. 2 and No. 3 Cardinals prospects, respectively, and former boyhood baseball teammates shared a FaceTime call with not much verbal communication between them about their upcoming MLB debuts.

“Not a lot of words. A lot of, kind of, blank stares and giggles almost, if you will,” recalled Liberatore of a call that came just hours before the two of them made their Major League debuts Friday and Saturday. “It was more disbelief that it happened the way it did. You really couldn’t write it any better, so it’s pretty special to us.”

Fast forward to Saturday and the 6-foot-4, left-handed Liberatore was on the mound, and Gorman was eventually pressed into duty at second base, on a night he had originally planned to sit back and watch his former youth-ball and Triple-A and current St. Louis teammate make his MLB debut. Again, there wasn’t much communication between the two other than the knowing nods they gave each other throughout the game while playing before 24,644 fans at PNC Park.

“It was just encouragement, ‘Hey, you’ve got this,’ and normal small talk,” Liberatore said of his interactions with Gorman during the Cardinals’ 5-4 win over the Pirates. “I’m not a huge talker when I’m pitching besides with my catcher and the pitching coach, but Nolan knows when and where he needs to be.”

Liberatore and Gorman, natives of Arizona, have been friends since they were 5 years old and teammates several times through the years. One night after Gorman singled in his first MLB at-bat and played flawlessly in the field, Liberatore experienced several highs and lows across his 4 2/3 innings in which he allowed four earned runs. On one hand, he struck out Michael Chavis to finish his first MLB inning in order, and he fanned two others throughout the night.

On the other, he was unable to get the final out of the fifth inning that might have secured his first MLB victory.

“Command wasn’t great, but my nerves were all right,” Liberatore said of an outing in which he allowed seven hits and two walks and got an unfortunate bounce on a ball that led to an inside-the-park home run for Bryan Reynolds. “I felt pretty comfortable out there, and at the end of the day, it’s the same game.”

Paul Goldschmidt had four hits and two RBIs and extended his hitting streak to 14 games and his on-base streak to 28 games. Goldschmidt touched up Pittsburgh starter José Quintana for two doubles and he is now 14-for-27 (.519) against left-handed pitching.

“I wasn’t sure what my numbers were but I was just trying to have some good at-bats, get some hits and find some holes,” said Goldschmidt, who leads all of MLB in hits and average since April 22. “I didn’t crush any of those balls, but I found some holes.”

It’s been the same game for years for Gorman and Liberatore, who had their respective fathers, Brian Gorman and Anthony Liberatore, as their coaches for several years while playing youth ball and travel baseball in Arizona and Florida. Now a second baseman instead of the third baseman he came up as, Gorman slugged his first extra-base hit Saturday with a double down the right-field line. With Quintana pitching, the left-handed Gorman didn’t start the game and was excited about potentially watching his buddy pitch at the MLB level for the first time.

“It’ll be good to sit back and watch him work,” Gorman said before the game.

That plan changed in the bottom of the third when center fielder Dylan Carlson was pulled because of a tight left hamstring. With Harrison Bader scratched because of dizziness, Tommy Edman shifted to center field, and Gorman entered at second base. Liberatore said it was comforting to look back and see his close friend behind him again.

Even though he didn’t get the individual victory, Liberatore said the highlights for him were the Cardinals winning, pitching to likely future Hall of Famer Yadier Molina and pulling off the unlikely event of making his MLB debut a day after Gorman had done so.

“If you gave me a script and said this is what your life is going to look like 10 years from now 10 years ago, I would have said, ‘You’re crazy!’” Liberatore said. “This is the most unbelievable thing that’s happened for us so far.”

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