Record-setting first inning sends Cardinals to opening-day win over Reds

Thursday’s Game Report: Cardinals 11, Reds 6

By Rob Rains

The way Dylan Carlson played at the end of last year had both him and the Cardinals convinced going into this season that he was ready to build on that success.

It took one pitch into his first at-bat on Thursday to get started toward that goal.

Carlson swung at the first pitch he saw, something he didn’t do very often a year ago, and launched a three-run homer over the right field wall that sent the Cardinals to an 11-6 win over the Reds in Cincinnati.

The blast capped a six-run inning – the largest first inning outburst on opening day in franchise history dating back 121 years. The previous high was a five-run first in the 1982 opener in Houston.

“I’m just going up there looking for pitches I can do damage on,” Carlson said. “Just being ready to hit. In that situation, runners on base, I knew he was going to come after me and try to get ahead so I just went up there looking for something to hit.”

Carlson’s homer followed a double by Paul Goldschmidt – after a video review overturned a home run call on the field – singles by Nolan Arenado and Paul DeJong, Tyler O’Neill getting hit by a pitch and an error off a ball hit by Yadier Molina that produced the first three runs.

At the age of 22, Carlson became the youngest Cardinal to hit a home run on opening day since 21-year-old Eddie Morgan in 1936,

“A lot of great at-bats,” Carlson said of the big inning. “Guys going out there competing. We’ve got a hungry group. That first inning was a great example of what we’re looking to do and how we’re looking to get ahead.

“You could feel the momentum as we started to scratch some runs across. Guys were coming up with some great at-bats, finding ways to get on. Just being to capitalize was awesome.”

It was the kind of offensive attack – even if it doesn’t happen every night – that the Cardinals expect a lot more often than has been the case the last couple of seasons.

“I think we have the potential to do that, but saying that we have to go out and do it,” Goldschmidt said. “We have to prove ourselves. We have talked about it a lot as an offense, just having good at-bats every time we go up there, no matter what the score is, no matter if we score six in the first.

“If we do that the runs will come. …  I think that’s kind of been our mindset, no matter what the score is, no matter what the situation is, have a good at-bat, get a good pitch, hit it hard and let the results be what they may – try to do that every pitch of every game for the whole year. It’s easier said than done, but it’s definitely the mindset.”

It’s an approach that manager Mike Shildt could get used to watching. He saw it starting to build toward the end of spring training.

“They did their due diligence, they worked hard, they were ready and when the barn door came open today they stormed out of it,” Shildt said.

Here is how Thursday’s game broke down:

At the plate: Arenado had two singles in his first two at-bats and was robbed of a third hit by Reds centerfielder Nick Senzel … Goldschmidt’s four hits included a pair of doubles … The Cardinals added to their lead with a four-run fourth that included a two-run homer by Tyler O’Neill, which was the Cardinals last hit until Goldschmidt doubled leading off the ninth … The Cardinals did not strike out until DeJong fanned with one out in the fourth … They were 6-of-12 with runners in scoring position.

On the mound: Despite being handed the big lead, Jack Flaherty could not get through the fifth inning. He left with one out and the bases loaded before Tyler Webb got a sacrifice fly and a foul popup to get out of the inning … The bullpen did not allow a run over the final 4 1/3 innings but part of that was because of a fly ball, double play which ended the sixth while Ryan Helsley was on the mound … The only 1-2-3 inning out of the bullpen came from Giovanny Gallegos in the eighth, and he was awarded the victory.

Key stat: Goldschmidt was only the third player in franchise history to have at least four hits and score at least three runs on opening day. The other two to do that were Albert Pujols in 2010 and Julian Javier in 1962.

Worth noting: Molina made his 17th consecutive opening day start for the Cardinals. The other eight players in Thursday’s lineup have a combined total of 16 opening day starts for the Cardinals. DeJong has the most (four). Since Molina’s first start in 2005, the Cardinals have had at least eight starters at each offensive position and six starting pitchers. The most at any position is 12 in right field … Kwang Hyun Kim, working at the Cardinals complex in Florida, threw 51 pitches in a simulated game against hitters waiting to report to the alternate site camp and according to Shildt, struck out nine of the 11 hitters he faced … John Mozeliak said Harrison Bader will continue his rehab work at the alternate site camp starting this weekend … Before the game the Cardinals announced that they had claimed left-handed pitcher Bernardo Flores Jr. off waivers from the White Sox. The 25-year-old was added to the 40-man roster and assigned to the alternate site camp.

Up next: After Friday’s day off, the Cardinals continue the three-game series on Saturday with Adam Wainwright getting the start. Tyler Mahle is scheduled to start for the Reds.

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains

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For the latest news and features in St. Louis Sports check out STLSportsPage.com. Rob Rains, Editor.