Standing ovation and the win: That’s what Nick Greenwood calls a big-league debut

Cardinals reliever Nick Greenwood made the most of his first game in the big leagues.

Chris Lee/AP

ST. LOUIS — When the bullpen gate opened at Busch Stadium on Monday night, the realization came over Cardinals rookie Nick Greenwood. Five years after he was drafted out of Rhode Island, the 26-year-old left-hander finally would be making his big-league debut.

"You can’t prepare yourself for something like that, especially in St. Louis with a packed house. You’re coming in and they’re all standing for you," said Greenwood, admittedly excited. "The gates opened, I ran in and got on the mound and saw Yadi (Molina). But after my first batter, calmed the nerves and went after it and made a couple of pitches."

That first batter was Curtis Granderson, who played the previous four years with the Yankees, the team that Greenwood pulled for while growing up in Farmington, Conn.

"That was a surreal moment realizing I was facing Curtis Granderson," said Greenwood, who promptly walked the Mets’ leadoff hitter.

Greenwood quickly worked himself out of potential trouble when he induced the next hitter, Daniel Murphy, to ground into a routine double play. "After that, the emotions, I put them away and went after them," Greenwood said.

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He got them, too. With his fastball rarely touching 90 mph, Greenwood relied on touch and feel while pitching 3 1/3 innings. He was charged with just one run in relief of Carlos Martinez to earn the decision in the Cardinals’ fourth straight victory, 6-2 over the Mets.

When manager Mike Matheny came to the mound for the pitching change, he did not let Greenwood leave right away.

"I heard the crowd start to do what I figured they would do, and I told him to take a breath and enjoy it," Matheny said about the standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 42,808. "To just make it onto a big-league field is such an accomplishment. Then to go out and be such an impact in the game in a real tough situation, he deserved that and the fans let him know."

Greenwood also deserved props for getting the game to the eighth inning after Martinez, starting for Adam Wainwright, worked the first four. If either had faltered, the Cardinals’ relievers could have been looking at a very long week.

"That kid has been one of those who’s persevered," Matheny said. "He never was one of those guys who was on everybody’s watch list, but he just went out and figured out how to get guys out. He’s always done things right, kept his nose down, kept pitching, kept improving. He’s had a good season in Triple A, which has given him this opportunity."

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As the 13th pitcher on a staff that usually numbers 12, Greenwood isn’t likely to stick in St. Louis for long this time. But when he leaves, he’ll leave with a memory that was a long time in the making.

3 UP

— Jon Jay. With Kolten Wong slumping, the decision to move Jon Jay into the two-hole was not that difficult for Mike Matheny. But Jay made the move pay off big for the Cardinals on Monday night. He reached base and scored in each of his first three plate appearances while lifting his average in June to .371 and his season average to .307.

— Matt Holliday. With a two-strike single to center in St. Louis’ game-breaking, four-run fifth, Holliday picked up an RBI for the third straight game. What was far more notable: It gave Holliday the 1,000th RBI of his 11-year career. He has driven in 463 of those runs with the Cardinals, the most in the NL since being traded on July 23, 2009.

— Fifth inning. With one out, six Cardinals reached base and the first four scored to give the club its first four-run inning since last Sunday in Toronto. Added with two earlier runs, the Cardinals also reached the six-run mark — the trigger for 50-cent drinks at a certain convenience store chain — for the first time since June 3 and the 15th time this season. After 70 games last year, the Cardinals already had scored six runs 27 times.

1 UP, THEN DOWN

— Carlos Martinez. For two innings, Martinez was absolutely dominant. His fastball regularly touched 100 mph and he retired the Mets six up, six down on just 13 pitches. When he came out for the third, however, he lost his efficiency. The right-hander walked the first hitter, Ruben Tejada, who would come around to score, and would need 23 pitches to get through the inning. He followed that with another 23-pitch inning that ended his night after just four innings. Martinez gave up only two hits and an unearned run, but he walked four and left five on base in his final two innings.


2 DOWN

— Yadier Molina. On Sunday, Matheny said he could not remember a player hitting into as much hard luck as has Molina lately. On Monday, Molina ended an 0-for-10 with a third-inning single but, through no fault of his own, was denied an RBI when Allen Craig was thrown out trying to score from second. Now hitting .167 in June, Molina is so hungry for hits that he slid at first base, trying for an infield single with the Cardinals up by five runs.

— Short bench. Calling up Greenwood to bolster the bullpen for Martinez’s start has left Matheny with one less player than he’s used to on his bench, which is why Martinez batted in the fourth even though his pitching night was done. Matheny needed to save his pinch-hitters for later. Matheny said he did not know when the club would make a roster move, but with Greenwood and Martinez not likely to pitch again until Thursday, the club could call up a fresh arm as soon as Tuesday.

You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @StanMcNeal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.