After David “Bud” Norris had frozen slumping Arizona slugger Paul Goldschmidt with a second consecutive fastball for strike three to end the game Saturday, the Cardinals’ righthander pointed skyward.
It was the 20th save of his career but his first in the National League and as a Cardinal. Norris soon would reveal that he was thanking God but there was a “back story,” as he said. Later, he would tell that back story, which honors his late grandfather, Ken Norris.
Norris, according to the grandson, was a player at the University of California and went to spring training with the New York Yankees but before he could try to make the majors, he went off to join the Navy for three years in World War II.
When he came back, his baseball career was over and he didn’t have much to show for it, except maybe a ball autographed “To Ken Norris. Best Wishes, Joe DiMaggio.”
Bud Norris, for whom his grandfather bought his first set of plastic golf clubs, has this ball now. “So I don’t feel I’m the only Norris that was supposed to play in the big leagues,” said Bud Norris. “It’s been passed on to me.
“Granted, I’m the only one from my family, but I take him everywhere I go.” To that end, Norris showed the underside of his game hat with the initials “K.N.”
“He never got to see me play Little League or anything like that,” said Norris. “But I have very fond memories of him as a child. Technically, I’m David and he always called me “Little D” or “Little Bites,” at the dinner table.
Norris, 33, has grown into a 215-pounder as a 6-footer. And he has emerged as a bastion of a Cardinals bullpen that has been revamped with the temporary loss of Luke Gregerson and the sudden, productive inclusion of rookie Jordan Hicks. Soon will come Greg Holland, who will morph into the closer role sometime after he is recalled from the minors in the next couple of days.
“This is building to be one of the best bullpens in the game,” said Norris.
On Saturday, Dominic Leone, whose only misstep so far (a significant one, mind you) was in allowing game-tying and game-losing home runs on consecutive pitches in Milwaukee, fanned two in a stylish sixth inning. Matt Bowman also whiffed two in a perfect seventh and Hicks, who was touched for an unearned run in the eighth, hasn’t allowed an earned run in five games.
The bullpen also encompasses lefthander Tyler Lyons, a bellwether last year and most of this young season; Ryan Sherriff and Sam Tuivaialala, who have had their moments. Gregerson will be back this month and Mike Mayers, whose job may be in jeopardy when Holland arrives, didn’t allow a run all spring nor was he scored on in his only regular-season inning, some 10 days ago.
After warming up in the eighth — he didn’t really have a chance to get cold again — Norris entered in the ninth Saturday. He had 19 saves last year for the Los Angeles Angels, and manager Mike Matheny said, “There’s a lot to be said about ‘been there, done that.’ You look at the 19 saves he had a year ago, and we don’t discount that.”
“I love being a one-inning competitor,” said Norris, who has enjoyed other successes in Busch Stadium as a member of the Houston Astros’ rotation, including scoring his first big-league win here nine years ago when he no-hit the Cardinals for the first five innings.
As these things go, the best hitter on the other team always seems to come to plate with the game on the line and so it was with Goldschmidt, one of the best hitters in the league — except for the last week of last season and the first week of this one.
After going nothing for 17 to end last season, the All-Star first baseman was three for 25 before facing Norris as the tying run in a 5-3 game.
He never got the bat off his shoulder, taking a fastball for a ball, a slider for a strike and then looking at two 94-95 fastballs on the outer portion of the plate. Goldschmidt’s strikeout was Norris’ third of the inning.
“I don’t think he’s been comfortable in this series,” said Norris. “We’re just going to attack.
“I’m going to stick with Yadi (Molina). Yadi’s one of the best in the game, if not the best in the game. Fastballs down and away. I had some good ‘plus’ fastballs.”
The first Cardinal save meant a little something, besides honoring his grandfather. “I don’t have the words, I really don’t,” said Norris. “I get chills thinking about it. “I’ve always had a special place in my heart about being here.
“I’m going to save that ball. I got it authenticated and I’m going to find a special place for that one,” said Norris. “It happened so fast, I don’t remember all of it.”
In seven career at-bats against Norris, Goldschmidt has just one hit with three strikeouts. He is hitting .115 for the season.
“Let’s not jinx it,” said Norris. “It’s cold now. We’ll (try to) keep him that way.”