In sync, dynamic duo Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt spur Cardinals’ ‘big Cowboy energy’ | Derrick Goold: Bird Land

PHOENIX — On the list of things Nolan Arenado has eagerly and urgently wanted to experience for the first time in his career, from winning a division crown to playing alongside Albert Pujols and succeeding in sync with Paul Goldschmidt, add one he did not know he was missing.

The fit of that first cowboy hat.

“I’d never worn a cowboy hat,” he admitted Friday.

Teammate Miles Mikolas remedied that before the charter flight Thursday night. The right-hander suggested the team dress with a western flair for the trip to Arizona, and his teammates were all a-boot that. Out came the patterned button downs, jeans, big belt buckles, and bigger belt buckles. Realizing the last-minute nature of his idea, Mikolas rushed to a store in St. Louis and purchased black cowboy hats for Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, and Stetson rookie Arenado.

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The infielder, who played eight years in Colorado without a cowboy hat or a division title, liked it enough to pay Mikolas back. Another life experience checked off. He’s herding them all together.

Arenado had four hits, including three doubles, as the Cardinals outran Arizona, 5-1, and opened a four-game lead in the National League Central. With a head start on that division title, Arenado had his hits at cleanup, one spot ahead of Pujols, and one spot behind Goldschmidt, who homered as one of his three hits. About a year after Arenado mused about what could happen if he and Goldschmidt were both on a hot streak, he no longer has to wonder.

“I feel like it’s been a year and a half in the making,” Arenado said. “Last year, we never really got the right time. Beginning of the year, we didn’t. The last few months, it feels like we’ve been hitting together, obviously good things are happening when we do that.”

Goldschmidt and Arenado combined to drive in or score all five runs for the Cardinals in their fifth consecutive win. Mikolas authored six shutout innings with a 1-0 lead provided by Goldschmidt’s first-inning home run, his 30th homer of the season. Arenado spurred the rally during the Cardinals’ four-run seventh inning with a two-run double, his third double of the game. Arenado’s two RBIs echoed Goldschmidt’s two RBIs. Goldschmidt raced home on a passed ball for the Cardinals’ five-run lead.

On his way to eight innings, Mikolas (10-9) allowed three baserunners before the seventh, and none of them advanced one base farther than a double, walk, or hit batter got him. The only run Mikolas allowed advanced on a flyout and scored on a groundout. No other Diamondback got to third base against him. All hat, no rattle.

“As a team we had a lot of big cowboy energy out there,” Mikolas said. “The goal was to grab the bull by the horns and get out on that dusty trail. … Stampeding down the stretch.”

Mikolas agreed, belt buckles aside, these cowpokes finally have a swagger.

He traced it back to the trade deadline, when the Cardinals acquired two starting pitchers and cleared any questions about who would be traded from the clubhouse. Since, the Cardinals swept the Yankees, won 13 of 16, and have received nine consecutive starts with two or fewer runs allowed from the rotation. Oh, and the stars have aligned in the lineup, too. While Pujols has seized the headlines by thundering his way closer to 700 career home runs, all Arenado and Goldschmidt have done is become the most dynamic duo in the majors.

They’ve already swapped player of the month awards this season, and in the 16 games after the trade deadline they’re harmonizing MVP choruses.

With four hits Friday, Arenado raised his average to .349 this month. Three hits in four at-bats elevated Goldschmidt’s average since the Aug. 2 to .407. Combined after the deadline, the Cardinals’ corner infielders have hit .376 with an .803 slugging percentage, 29 runs scored, and 35 RBIs. They have almost as many home runs (12) as strikeouts (17) in their past 117 at-bats hitting back-to-back in the Cardinals’ lineup.

“I think there’s a heck of a lot of confidence in both of those guys knowing that there’s nowhere to run,” manager Oliver Marmol said. “If you don’t want to pitch to one of them, you’ve got to face the other. And if we’re facing a lefty, you’ve got protection with Albert behind that. I think they all feed off of each other.”

Like Mikolas, Arenado followed the fuse back to the trade deadline.

“Once the deadline was over I think everyone felt like it’s time to get going,” Arenado said. “Just thinking about winning. That’s it. Not worrying if they’re going to trade for someone or not. The (Juan) Soto rumours. Everyone sees it. You can’t help but think about it. It was good to get it all out of the way and just focus on winning ballgames, and that’s all we’re trying to do.”

Filling box scores together starts with the constant conversations Arenado and Goldschmidt have together before games, during games, and after games. Arenado said “just being around him (has) made me a better hitter,” because the third baseman has “copied” what Goldschmidt does to prepare. One of the things Goldschmidt studies on video is the pitcher’s arm slot, and now so does Arenado.

Against Arizona rookie lefty Tommy Henry they swapped views throughout Friday night’s game and discussed what they could expect to see based on what Henry had shown in his fourth major-league appearance.

What Henry and the Diamondbacks saw was Goldschmidt hitting a homer, Goldschmidt taking bases, and Goldschmidt stealing hits. Back in Phoenix for the third time since Arizona traded him to the Cardinals in December 2018, Goldschmidt had footprints in every facet of the game. He started the scoring with a homer. He helped maintain a rally with his baserunning. And he turned Mikolas’ sinker into outs with his glove.

“He’s just playing at another level right now,” Arenado said. “In my eyes, this year, he’s the best player in the game, and I don’t think it’s close. I think we take it for granted because he’s raking all year. Sometimes we’ve got to sit back and appreciate how good he is.”

Even at acting – almost.

In the first inning, Goldschmidt offered at a three-ball pitch from Henry that was just outside the strike zone. Goldschmidt took a stride toward first base as if to accept it, freely. Arizona catcher Carson Kelly, a centerpiece of the package the Cardinals traded to get Goldschmidt, asked for an appeal and got the strike call. Goldschmidt retreated to the box with a full count. He put the next pitch in the left-field seats. Instead of a walk, he took a trot.

“It’s funny how it works out,” Goldschmidt said. “I knew it was a 50-50 call. I was kind of trying to sell it a little bit. He called it a swing. I was upset that I swung. He made a good pitch. Then (I) tried to get ready for that 3-2. Funny how it worked out.”

As he rounded third and headed towards the plate he called home for the first eight years of his career, “MVP! MVP!” chants followed him.

They serenaded him every at-bat afterwards, too.

When he singled in the game’s second run: “MVP! MVP!”

When he scored the fifth run or added a third hit: “MVP! MVP!”

“People are screaming at you that you stink, too,” Goldschmidt said. “Before every at-bat, whatever fans are yelling. You stink. Or we love you.”

Or MVP, a reporter interjected.

“Or that,” Goldschmidt conceded and then pivoted the conversation.

In the decisive seventh-inning rally, Yadier Molina singled to give him 2,151 career hits, one more than Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra. Young outfielders Lars Nootbaar and Dylan Carlson followed with a walk and a bloop single, respectively, to load the bases. The inning, like so many innings do, found Goldschmidt, and he produced a key run with a hard grounder that pinballed away from the pitcher.

That kept the bases loaded for Arenado, who said an hour or so later that it was a chance to “pick him up sometimes.”

That opportunity comes with the spot in the order, a role Arenado has long thrived in. He has the chance to dovetail his best swing with the hitter he says is the best in the game and see what it’s like when they’re at their best. He knows how that looks. He must trust his teammates and their opinion on how the cowboy hat fits.

“Felt pretty good,” Arenado said of his new fashion addition. “I looked okay. They were pumped about it.”

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