KANSAS CITY -- Matt Holliday took out 16 innings' worth of Cardinals frustration in one swing on Saturday afternoon, destroying a Blake Wood fastball for a rocket-shot home run that sent St. Louis to a 3-0 win against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
Holliday's eighth-inning blast, in which he obliterated a 96-mile-per-hour offering from Wood, provided the Cards' first runs in nearly two full games against the Royals. They were shut out by Jeff Francis on Friday night, and held down by starter Nate Adcock and the Kansas City bullpen for the first seven innings on Saturday.
The great thing about having hitters like Albert Pujols and Holliday, though, is that a 'crooked number' is always potentially right around the corner. Pujols started things off in the eighth with a single, chasing Tim Collins. Holliday greeted Wood by committing an act of violence on a pitch that was fairly low but over the middle of the plate. It was Holliday's sixth homer of the year, and he now has 30 RBIs.
"I left a pitch a little bit too much out over the plate," Wood said, "and he did what he's supposed to do with it."
The runs were plenty for starter Jake Westbrook, who completed his rebound from an early-season slump with eight shutout innings. Westbrook struck out three and walked three, allowing four hits and inducing 11 groundball outs. He also benefited from two pickoffs, one his own doing and one by catcher Yadier Molina.
Since a string of four rough starts to begin the year, Westbrook has a 2.78 ERA over his past six starts. The Cardinals are 5-1 in those games.
"I'm just being more aggressive," Westbrook said. "Attacking the zone and keeping the ball down. That's the way I have to pitch. Early in the year I was getting away from that, not being as focused, and it showed. Right now I'm feeling a lot better about the confidence in my sinker and so I'm just going right after guys."
Westbrook benefited from an outstanding defensive game by the Redbirds. Tyler Greene, playing the still relatively unfamiliar position of second base, had seven assists among the 13 groundball outs Westbrook recorded. Westbrook himself, however, started the most critical play of the game.
With runners on second and third and no one out in the fourth, Westbrook pitched around rookie slugger Eric Hosmer, bringing up Jeff Francoeur to load the bases. Francoeur hit a solid comebacker, but Westbrook stabbed it and started a 1-2-3 double play. Shortstop Ryan Theriot made a slick play on Billy Butler's grounder after that, ending the inning.
"That's kind of what you want," Westbrook said. "Me being a sinkerball guy, that's what I was trying to look for. It just worked out perfectly, coming back to me. I was able to snag it and get two big outs."
It appeared for a while that he might not get any offensive help, however. The Cardinals squandered three early opportunities against Adcock. St. Louis got leadoff doubles in the first and second innings, but could not get the runner home either time. In the first, Jon Jay could not get a bunt down before striking out, and two groundouts sandwiched a two-out Holliday walk as Theriot was stranded.
An inning later, it was more of the same. Molina doubled but did not take third on Allen Craig's deep fly ball to center field. A grounder and a line drive to left, and Adcock was out of the inning. A first-and-second, one-out chance in the third also went by the boards before Adcock settled in for the fourth and fifth. He only lasted five, however, and the Cards came through against the Kansas City bullpen.
Holliday drove in the game-winner for the fifth time this year, matching Lance Berkman's team-leading total.
"He's been doing it all year," manager Tony La Russa said. "He's not just hitting it hard, it's how clutch he's been. Albert gets on base, and he gets a pitch to hit ... They didn't give us much to hit, but we centered a couple, and there's a couple, three runs."
St. Louis improved to 27-20 on the year and snapped a four-game road losing streak. The Cardinals have won five out of six overall and now lead the Reds by 1 1/2 games in the National League Central.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.