Monday, September 15, 2014
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Rookie Gonzales helps Cardinals win

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[September 15, 2014]  ST. LOUIS -- A year ago, Marco Gonzales could only dream about being where he was on Sunday -- starting a game for the St. Louis Cardinals in the heat of a September pennant race.

He was back at his home in Fort Collins, Colo., after making the first six starts of his professional career in rookie ball and Class A, watching the Cardinals march to the World Series on television.

"It's happened fast," said Gonzales, the Cardinals' first pick in the June amateur draft last year. "It's awesome that it's come true. I'm very grateful for this opportunity for sure."

In need of a starter after deciding to slow down Michael Wacha's return from the disabled list, where he spent more than two months this summer, the Cardinals turned to Gonzales, a 22-year-old rookie, to pitch against his hometown Rockies. He did not let them down.

Making only the fifth start of his career, Gonzales worked 5 2/3 innings, allowing just four hits and one run while striking out nine, and the Cardinals went on to complete a sweep of the three-game series from the Rockies with a 4-1 victory.

The win allowed the Cardinals to maintain a 3 1/2-game lead over the Pirates in the NL Central with two weeks to play in the regular season.

"It was a great challenge and he was able to handle it extremely well," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny.

Gonzales, whose father is a minor-league pitching coach in the Rockies organization, earned his third victory by working around four walks. Colorado's lone run scored in the second when Gonzales issued a leadoff walk followed by an RBI double by left fielder Brandon Barnes.

"The goal is just to go out there and compete," Gonzales said. "My number was called so I gave it my best shot and we came out on top."

Gonzales made his major-league debut against the Rockies, in Denver, on June 25 but since that time, including a stint back in Triple A, he has returned to the majors as a more refined pitcher.

"My first stint I was trying to do a little too much," Gonzales said. "Running around with my head cut off a little bit, but I think I'm back to normal now and just trying to do what I do."

Matheny said Gonzales has been able to develop a better curve ball, which has helped improve his change-up and other pitches.

"He got himself in trouble at times but he was able to work out of it," Matheny said. "It was a terrific outing. We needed that big and he came up big."

The nine strikeouts were the most in a game by a Cardinals' rookie left-hander since Rick Ankiel struck out 11 Pirates on Sept. 13, 2000. They were followed by seven more strikeouts outs by five relievers, matching the team's season high of 16 strikeouts in a game.

It was just a continuation of the offensive woes that have plagued the Rockies, who completed an 0-6 road trip to New York and St. Louis and suffered their 90th loss of the season.

The Rockies scored eight runs combined in the six games, three of which came in one inning.

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"We've talked about it to death," said manager Walt Weiss. "Guys are up there trying to take the right approach but it was a tough road trip. Looking down the road we know we've got to get better away from our place for sure."

The Cardinals scored three times in the third off starter Jordan Lyles (6-3). Left fielder Matt Holliday's one-out double scored outfielder Jon Jay, who had reached on a fielder's choice and gone to second on a wild pickoff throw. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta followed with a two-run homer to put the Cardinals ahead.

The homer was Peralta's 21st of the season, extending his own franchise record for most homers in a season by a Cardinals' shortstop.

"They did their damage," Lyles said. "Good piece of hitting my Holliday and I make a mistake to Peralta, left it over the plate a little more than I wanted to and he hit it a long way."

The Cardinals increased the lead to 4-1 in the eighth when catcher Yadier Molina got his third hit, a double, and later scored on a wild pitch by Rex Brothers.

After Gonzales left the game, relievers Seth Maness, Randy Choate, Carlos Martinez, Pat Neshek and Trevor Rosenthal combined to record the final 10 outs, with Rosenthal earning his league-leading 44th save, three shy of the franchise record, by striking out the side in the ninth.

NOTES: The Cardinals will skip RHP John Lackey's turn in the rotation after he complained of not being able to get loose in his last start, when he was kicked out of the game in the third inning Wednesday night in Cincinnati for arguing balls and strikes. "We're going to need him," said manager Mike Matheny. "We want to get him right." ... RHPs Lance Lynn, Adam Wainwright and Shelby Miller will start the three games against Milwaukee Tuesday through Thursday. ... 1B Justin Morneau was out of Colorado's lineup for a second consecutive day Sunday after hurting his left side in Friday night's game. With a .315 average, Morneau is two points behind leader Josh Harrison of the Pirates in the NL batting race. ... The Rockies return home Monday to open a series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, while the Cardinals have the day off before beginning the series against the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday night.

[ 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

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