A noise, not a nerve, woke Oliver Marmol at 7:20 a.m. Thursday, hours before he wrote down his first lineup and took his first walk to home plate to deliver ahead of his first game as major-league manager.
The noise came from the bedroom window of his St. Louis residence, and as he rolled up the blinds to explore this mystery, he found the culprit knocking, knocking.
Marmol recognized the feathered friend by his jersey.
A cardinal had come to visit.
Not one to look for signs of success or read too much into what was outside his window, Marmol could do both what he saw in a box Thursday night.
The Cardinals opened their 131st season in the National League – Marmol’s first as manager – with a 9-0 win at Busch Stadium over Pittsburgh. Adam Wainwright celebrated his 100th career win at the downtown ballpark with six innings scoreless. Paul Goldschmidt set a club record with four walks on the opening day. And Tyler O’Neill’s five RBIs set a club record for the opening day, last played in 1928. The Cardinals hit with sacrifice flies, scored with an infield single from second place and hit three home runs, one by Tommy Edman, the No. 9 hitman.
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Everywhere Marmol looked there was a knock, a Cardinal hitter.
“It was a perfect demonstration of what they’re capable of,” Marmol said.
“We’re an offensive force, and that’s what we want to be,” said O’Neill, who brought home the Cardinals’ first four heats of the season, three of them with a homer in the second inning. “We have a lot of depth, one through nine, and everyone is dangerous. There is nowhere to go in this lineup.”
O’Neill had an RBI in three of the Cardinals’ four rallies. After tenderizing Pirates starter JT Brubaker in the first inning with seven batters, the Cardinals pounced in the second inning with O’Neill’s three-run homer. He added a sacrificial fly between Edman and Nolan Arenado’s home runs as the Cardinals extended their lead over the rudderless Pirates. O’Neill has hit a home run on three consecutive opening days, raising the question of whether it was his favorite day on the calendar.
“Yes,” he said, “it might be.”
Sounds like a St. Louisan.
For the first time since April 2019, the Cardinals welcomed a full house on opening day and greeted the sell-out crowd of 46,256 with the usual parade of players on trucks, a presentation of World Series trophies, and the presence of 16 Cardinals Hall of Famers in their red coats . Three others, who will eventually wear these coats, took up the field. A pre-game video tribute, narrated by favorite son Jon Hamm, celebrated Yadier Molina and returning great Albert Pujols – both have said they intend to retire at the end of the season. The Cardinals had 50 military members present the US flag for Wainwright No. 50 on the hill. A lavish ovation as fans clapped and clapped to greet the cardinals.
The club dove the day in nostalgia, but once the game started it became a confirmation of recent history. Success never gets old.
Wainwright picked up where he left off.
O’Neill continued his launch.
“It felt like old-school Busch Stadium,” Wainwright said. “The fans are back. That felt like real baseball. The fans came and rocked.”
Wainwright retired the Pirates to raise one of his fastest pitches at nearly 90 mph in the first inning to beat Ke’Bryan Hayes and end the inning. He got nine outs from the first 10 batters he faced and he knocked out five of them. The second inning ended as so many have during Molina and Wainwright’s 305 starts together as battery: The batter batted and Molina threw out a runner as he attempted to steal. Pittsburgh didn’t even bother asking the umpires to review the replay.
Wainwright (1-0) extended his scoreless streak to 32 straight innings against the Pirates. The Cardinals offense didn’t have to do much for Marmol’s first win.
Throughout spring training, Arenado relied on his teammates to create “a tougher lineup” as the teams performing at a higher level all had the toughest lineups. He repeated the phrase as the goal for the lineup: “No respite.”
“We talked about not being a one-trick pony and selling ourselves for (home runs) and being able to do different things,” Marmol said. “We want to be super stubborn about not going out of the (strike) zone and when they get in the zone, scaring them back out. … ‘No room to breathe.’ I think that’s perfectly to the point. There’s nowhere to go.”
That won’t stop an opponent from trying.
The Pirates, whose flat pitching was further thinned by Brubaker’s three-inning start and Duane Underwood Jr.’s one-hitter injury, hinted at where opponents in the Cardinals’ lineup will be headed. With MVP nominee Goldschmidt beating in second and well-known bats Arenado and Pujols in clean-up and 5th, the island the pirates were spying on to loot outs was clearly O’Neill. Fresh off hitting .500 in spring practice and with 1,000 OPS in the second half of last season, Goldschmidt walked four times in his first four plate appearances. Pittsburgh went around him – and challenged O’Neill. Other teams will do the same.
“I hope so,” said Marmol. “That would be nice. I hope they try to follow him because this is going to be a fun year.”
In the first inning, O’Neill stabbed a 2-2 shifter for an RBI single. In the second inning, he hit the same sinker he missed earlier in the game, and well, he didn’t. He drilled the 0-1 pitch 396 feet into the left field seats to bring home three runs, including Goldschmidt’s first. In the eighth round, Goldschmidt capped his day with a single-to-reach base in all five plate appearances, and after O’Neill’s sacrificial fly, Goldschmidt homed at Arenado’s.
In the clubhouse after the game, Wainwright told Goldschmidt, “If he runs four runs in every single game for the rest of the season, then Tyler will have 300 RBIs.”
Goldschmidt cautioned against reading too much into the first game that opening day’s emphasis on results can be alluring and enticing. Still, hours before Marmol made one of the first bold predictions as manager. The lineup that hit the second-shortest runs at home in 2021 would be the unexpected strength of the 2022 Cardinals. The offense, he said, isn’t “the primary focus” when fans discuss the Cardinals, but as soon as the team lifted the blinds on Opening Day, fans would see it.
It might catch opponents napping, napping.
Until a cardinal wakes them up.
“I think our lineup is broader than we’re often given credit for,” said Arenado. “We weren’t that great last year. I can understand why we didn’t get that respect. We have to go out and prove it. That was a good start.”
Photos: The St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates 9-0 at home in 2022