Matt Carpenter gave an ugly half-swing on a Corey Kluber curveball in the first inning to make the count 1-2. Kluber came back with another curveball on the next pitch; Carpenter wasn’t fooled this time.
He sent it off Indians right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall’s glove and over the right field wall to cut the Indians lead to a run. Kluber, one of the best pitchers in the Majors thus far, worked through the rest of the inning unscathed.
Then the second inning rolled around.
Cardinals first baseman Jose Martínez took advantage of a two-out mistake by Kluber, sending a middle-in sinker into the left field bullpen for a three-run homer. The Cardinals now led 6-2, and Indians manager Terry Francona cut Kluber’s start short.
Tuesday’s 11-2 victory was a tale of two Klubers. Cleveland’s ace struck out 18 Cardinals batters in an eight inning, one-hit performance three years ago. Kluber had the shortest outing of his career (1.2 IP) Tuesday, as Carpenter and the Cardinals bats took advantage of mistakes in location.
“To start off how he did against a pitcher like that,” manager Mike Matheny said. “We talk about him setting the tone, but that was pretty unique. He was the spark.”
Carpenter’s day at the plate was his best of 2018, going 5-5 with two home runs, a double, three RBI and five runs scored. He joins Stan Musial and Wally Moon as the only Cardinals to have five hits and five runs in a game — Carpenter is the only one to do so with multiple home runs, though.
“That leaves me kind of speechless,” Carpenter said. “There have been some really good players come through here and you would figure that somebody would put a night together better than that.”
He’s turned what looked to be a lost season into a very respectable one within the last month. Since May 15, Carpenter raised his average from .140 to .259, slugged 12 homers and driven in 22.
Manager Mike Matheny moved Carpenter back into the leadoff spot on May 26, where the third baseman has thrived. He’s hit .351 with nine long-balls and 19 RBI since.
“I’m trying to make up for lost time now,” said Carpenter, “I had quite the hole, for sure, but I never really lost faith in how I felt or what I was doing.”
While some of his recent success can be attributed to comfortability as the leadoff man, his approach at the plate has been the key factor in an early-season resurgence. Carpenter was a pull-happy, power-swinging player for the first month and a half of 2018, giving him little success at the plate.
In his recent tear, he’s got a more opposite-field mindset and hasn’t tried to do too much. This has resulted in a shorter, more compact swing that’s less prone to groundouts and one-dimensional hitting. Carpenter certainly isn’t to blame for an offense that’s struggled as of late.
Lost in Carpenter’s performance Tuesday was starter Carlos Martínez. He locked in after giving up a second run in the first inning, striking out the next three batters. Martínez didn’t allow a run from then on out, striking out eight Indians in six innings pitched for his first win since coming back from a lat injury.
“That first inning, he was still finding that rhythm,” Matheny said. “It’s visible to everybody when he gets it. He’s able to use the good velocity, but then he uses movement. He just found that flow. When he’s like that, he’ll be very successful.”
Jack Flaherty (3-2, 2.50 ERA) squares off against Shane Bieber (2-0, 2.45 ERA) at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday at Busch Stadium as the Cardinals look to sweep the AL Central-leading Indians.