Andrew Knizner celebrates with Nolan Arenado (Image: AP)
Matthew Liberatore didn’t allow a run in a career-best eight innings, Andrew Knizner and Tommy Edman homered and the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Tampa Bay Rays 5-2 on Thursday night.
St. Louis won two of three in the series with Tampa Bay, the AL wild-card leader.
Liberatore (2-4) was part of a January 2020 trade between Tampa Bay and St. Louis that sent 2023 All-Star outfielder Randy Arozarena to the Rays. In his second start since being called up from Triple-A Memphis, Liberatore gave up two hits and had a career-high seven strikeouts as he bids for a fulltime rotation spot.
“That was a phenomenal outing,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “It was fun to watch. Filled up the zone with everything.”
The Cardinals placed Liberatore on a strength program and it paid off. His fastball average went from 93 mph in his previous start to 95 on Thursday,
“All the strength coaches and all the trainers here have done an outstanding job helping me out,” Liberatore said. “Now it’s about being consistent with it.”
Liberatore retired his final 14 batters, and received a standing ovation from a large group of Cardinals’ fans behind the St. Louis dugout walking off the field after the eighth inning. He picked Wander Franco off second in the fourth after a leadoff single, the last hit the lefty gave up.
The Rays scored twice on two hits, including Franco’s RBI triple, against JoJo Romero in the ninth. Tampa Bay is 4-11 at home since starting the season 34-10 there.
Tampa Bay starter Zack Littell (2-3), recently inserted into the rotation, allowed three runs and seven hits over six innings.
“I thought Littell was really good,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “So impressed and encouraged with what he’s continuing to do.”
The Rays dropped three game behind AL East-leading Baltimore.
Knizner put the Cardinals up 2-0 in fourth with a two-run shot.
Edman had a ninth-inning solo drive.
St. Louis went ahead 3-0 when Nolan Arenado, who was running on the pitch, scored from first base on Alec Burleson’s ground-ball single to center.
“What Nolan did there was awesome,” Marmol said. “I mean, probably one of my favorite plays of the year.”
Cash said everything went right for St. Louis and everything went wrong for the Rays on the play.
“We were just a tick out of position, Arenado got a running head start,” Cash said. “(Center fielder) Jose (Siri) was playing deep. By the time he gets rid of the ball and puts right on home plate, Arenado is coming around. Unfortunate how it unfolded.”
Arozarena singled off Liberatore in the first, stole second and third, but was left stranded after Harold Ramírez was thrown out at first by the left-hander after taking a comebacker off the leg.
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