April 8, 2021: Arenado hits game-winning homer in his home debut at Busch Stadium

After six road games to begin his Cardinals career, Nolan Arenado got to officially introduce himself to Cardinals fans with his first home game at Busch Stadium on April 8, 2021.

He celebrated the occasion with a game-winning home run, becoming just the fifth Cardinal since 1900 to hit a game-winning home run in the eighth inning or later in his home debut.[1]

Just a little more than two months earlier, the Cardinals shocked the baseball world by sending left-handed pitcher Austin Gomber and four minor-league prospects to the Rockies to obtain the eight-time Gold Glove third baseman.

“With the addition of Nolan, we think we went from a good to great team,” Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said.[2]

On the team’s season-opening road trip, Arenado lived up to the hype, hitting .360 with a home run and three RBIs in six games, including four Cardinals wins. In St. Louis’s second game of the season, a 9-6 loss to the Reds, Arenado hit his first home run as a Redbird.

His first blast at Busch was much bigger, pushing ahead the game-winning runs in a 3-1 win.

“Baseball is a magical game and it was magical today,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “The story created itself. What an amazing moment for a guy who loves to play the game. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.”[3]

Entering the game on a three-game win streak, the Cardinals turned to Adam Wainwright for their home opener. Due to COVID-19, it marked the first game at Busch Stadium with fans in attendance since October 2019. The game was Wainwright’s sixth home opener, tying the franchise record set by Bob Gibson.[4]

The 39-year-old veteran right-hander was coming was coming off a 5-3 season during the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign, posting a 3.15 ERA in 10 starts. His first start of 2021, however, had not gone as well, as he allowed six earned runs in 2 2/3 innings in the same 9-6 loss in which Arenado hit his first home run as a Cardinal.

Squaring off against the Brewers’ Corbin Burnes, Wainwright threw five innings, striking out six while allowing just one run in the third. He left the game with six strikeouts.

“The first three innings I felt completely out of sorts,” Wainwright said. “The ball was flat.”[5]

Burnes, who went on to win the National League Cy Young Award that season, was sharp from the start. He left the game after six innings with just one hit allowed and nine strikeouts.

“The ball kept coming out great,” he said.[6]

With Burnes gone by the seventh inning, however, the Cardinals took advantage.

After Brewers reliever Eric Yardley retired the first two batters he faced, Yadier Molina slapped a single to right field and Dylan Carlson followed with a double into the right-field corner. With runners on second and third, Yardley walked Justin Williams to face Tyler O’Neill, who had struck out five times in his last six at-bats.

This time, O’Neill made contact, sending a ground ball up the middle that Brewers second baseman Daniel Robertson fielded on the shortstop side of the bag. Robertson, however, was unable to beat Williams sliding into second and the speedy O’Neill was safe at first to tie the score, 1-1.

The game remained tied until the bottom of the eighth. Austin Dean, pinch-hitting for Cardinals reliever Giovanny Gallegos, drew a one-out walk to bring Arenado to the plate. On the first pitch he saw, a 97-mph fastball, Arenado sent the ball 374 feet for what proved to be the game-winning homer over the left-field wall.

“It was amazing to see the flight of the ball take off,” said Paul DeJong, who had a perfect vantage point from the on-deck circle. “I just put my hand in the air because I knew it was gone. Nolan is cemented in Cardinals fans’ minds with that moment.”[7]

At the urging of the raucous Busch Stadium crowd, Arenado re-emerged from the Cardinals dugout for the first curtain call of his career.

“To get one of those was just an unbelievable feeling,” he said. “I’ve never had that. So pumped up. Hard to put into words how special it was.”[8]

Alex Reyes pitched a scoreless ninth inning for his third save of the young season. Gallegos earned his second win of the season after throwing a scoreless eighth inning.

Arenado went on to hit 34 home runs on the season while batting .255 with 105 RBIs. He was selected to his sixth all-star game and won his ninth career Gold Glove Award. With the addition of Arenado to their lineup, the Cardinals went 90-72 to finish second to the Brewers in the National League Central and qualify for the league wild-card game.

“I don’t know if our fans know this or not, but he is so focused on being a world champion St. Louis Cardinals player that you can’t even believe it,” Wainwright said. “The guy eats, sleeps, drinks, breathes baseball, and he wants to win as bad as anybody I’ve been around. And he wants to win here.”[9]

Enjoy this post? Find similar stories listed by decade or by player.

[1] Derrick Goold, “O’Neill leaves game with injury,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 11, 2021.

[2] Benjamin Hochman, “Deal could lift Redbirds from ‘good to great,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 3, 2021.

[3] Steve Overbey (Associated Press), “New guy steals the show,” Wisconsin State Journal, April 9, 2021.

[4] Steve Overbey (Associated Press), “New guy steals the show,” Wisconsin State Journal, April 9, 2021.

[5] Steve Overbey (Associated Press), “New guy steals the show,” Wisconsin State Journal, April 9, 2021.

[6] Steve Overbey (Associated Press), “New guy steals the show,” Wisconsin State Journal, April 9, 2021.

[7] Derrick Goold, “Arenado’s HR caps victory in home opener,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 9, 2021.

[8] Derrick Goold, “Arenado’s HR caps victory in home opener,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 9, 2021.

[9] Ben Frederickson, “Newest Cards star rises to the occasion,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 9, 2021.