Cards’ Martinez delivers glorious game as tribute to late Taveras

ST. LOUIS — Cardinals right-hander Carlos Martinez pounded his chest and looked to the crowd after getting the two biggest strikeouts of a spectacular, emotional outing on Sunday afternoon.

The 23-year-old right-hander wanted to do something special on a day honoring his late best friend, Oscar Taveras. Seven shutout innings — with just one hit — to carry the Cardinals to a 3-1 series-clinching win over the NL-West leading Dodgers certainly fit the bill.

"Maybe one of his best (starts) yet," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "Just from his first pitch and his last one he turned it up a notch. He was just very consistent with everything he had, had great movement, had great poise."

Martinez said through an interpreter that tears came to his eyes when he stopped his warmups to watch a special video tribute to Taveras, the promising young Cardinals outfielder who died with his girlfriend in a drunk driving accident last October at the age of 22. For a brief moment, Martinez said, he felt like he didn’t even want to pitch, but he quickly dedicated himself to winning as a gift for Taveras’ family.

They had front-row seats for a dazzling display that featured eight strikeouts, including two against the heart of the Dodgers’ order after back-to-back one-out walks in the sixth inning made Joc Pederson the only Los Angeles hitter to reach second base against the Cardinals right-hander. Martinez responded by striking out Adrian Gonzalez on a nasty changeup and blowing a 96-mph fastball past Howie Kendrick.

It took just seven pitches in the seventh for Martinez to extend his scoreless streak to 20 1/3 innings, the longest active streak in the National League. Catcher Yadier Molina said he could tell in the bullpen before the game that Martinez wanted this win a little more, but that Martinez didn’t let that emotion get the best of him.

"That tells you how good he is," Molina said. "He’s still young and to control that emotion, it’s pretty impressive."

Matheny worried aloud before the game about how Martinez would handle the experience, as negative body language has accompanied poor outings in the past. But Martinez hasn’t had much to hang his head about with no runs allowed in his past three starts.

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Excitement from his pitchers doesn’t bother Matheny between innings, and often it even appears to make Martinez more focused while boosting his confidence. Jhonny Peralta’s two-run homer in the first inning gave Martinez some breathing room and he retired nine straight Dodgers during one stretch to improve to 5-2.

Molina and Matheny both said a better sinker helped Martinez keep the ball down, as he induced nine groundballs compared to just four outfield putouts. He has held opponents to two runs or less in eight of 10 starts this season, including three that lasted seven innings.

"Today, he probably had more sink than he’s had in a long time, probably one of the best changeups we’ve seen from him maybe ever and mixed in some breaking balls that were very hard to hit as well," Matheny said. "So it was just all around as good of an effort as we’ve seen from Carlos."

Martinez said he’s never felt better with his breaking stuff, and his changeup became even more effective with seven left-handed bats in the Dodgers’ lineup. When Martinez needed to bring the heat, he focused on just finding his spots, and his adrenaline provided the extra velocity to ensure a special performance. 

You can follow Luke Thompson on Twitter at @FS_LukeT or email him at lukegthompson87@gmail.com.

AROUND THE HORN