Bourjos is just trying to stay ready as at-bats are hard to come by
ST. LOUIS — Peter Bourjos didn’t mean to do it.
The Cardinals’ occasional center fielder, who had entered Tuesday’s game in the top of the sixth inning in a double switch, pounded a home run off James Shields 422 feet into the bleachers behind the visitors’ bullpen in the bottom half of the sixth.
He punctuated the go-ahead blast with a little flip of his bat.
"I didn’t mean to," Bourjos said, smiling. "I was just kind of getting the bat out of there. I usually put my head down. I don’t know what that was."
The outfielder’s second home run of the season, and his first at Busch Stadium, came in a big spot. The Cardinals’ early four-run lead had disappeared and turned into a 6-4 deficit. Then they scored twice in the fifth to tie it up.
Bourjos’ heroics breathed new life into the Birds.
"I was pretty excited," he said, "getting into a ball like that, and especially the time of the game, too."
The blast was downright Pujolsian.
The bat flip? Well, it wasn’t exactly Yasiel Puig.
"No," Bourjos said, "that’s not me."
But you can’t blame the guy for showing a little emotion.
This season hasn’t gone as planned for the outfielder after the Cardinals acquired him in an offseason trade that sent David Freese and Fernando Salas to the Angels in exchange for Bourjos and outfield prospect Randal Grichuk.
Bourjos has struggled to find consistency at the plate — before the homer, he had a .202 batting average with just one hit in his last 17 at-bats — and to find playing time regularly in center field, despite his defensive prowess.
Since Bourjos’ last start, Friday against the Giants, Jon Jay started in center field on Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday. Grichuk, who has hit like crazy at Triple-A Memphis this season but struggled at the major-league level, got the start there Monday.
That means Bourjos must concentrate on staying sharp despite not always getting regular at-bats.
"You can’t really focus on the at-bats you’re not getting," he said. "You have to focus on the at-bats you do get and try to make the most of them. I think I learned that a couple years ago when I was in a similar situation and looking back at that has helped me. … It’s just trying to stay calm and not do too much, not worry about the things I can’t control."
Bourjos has been doing whatever he can to be ready for any opportunity that presents itself.
He said he’s trying to be as calm as he can in the batter’s box. He’s been working in the batting cage and also hitting off a pitching machine to replicate at-bats like a game situation. The machine throws fastballs and sliders and can be set at random to simulate facing live pitching.
"I’ve been trying to do that as much as I can, simulate at-bats because you’re not getting that game action, and try to get that game mentality of getting in there and relaxing and not trying to do too much," he said.
Bourjos’ preparation helped him make an impact Tuesday night.
"What a boost that was," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "Once you fight to get there, tie it up and the opportunity to take it and put it in the bullpen’s hands. It was a great job of staying ready by Peter Bourjos."
It was a highlight for a player who has been unable to make the strong first impression he had hoped for after getting a fresh start with a new team.
"Obviously, that hasn’t happened," Bourjos said. "It’s tough. I think it’s tough whether you’re traded over to a place or you sign there. I think you saw Albert go through that in Anaheim. He put a lot of pressure on himself. Eventually, you just have to relax and be the player that you are and hopefully you’re able to go out there and show what you can do."