Matt Adams was back at Busch Stadium on Friday, but this time “Big City” was suiting up in the visitor’s clubhouse and entering the field through the third-base dugout, playing against the Cardinals instead of with them.
He got a standing ovation from a crowd of nearly 42,000 and went 1-for-4 with an RBI single for the Braves in an 8-5 loss to his former team.
It was Adams’ first game in St. Louis since the Cardinals traded him May 20, a deal the Cardinals made because they had nowhere to play Adams and the Braves needed a fill-in first baseman after Freddie Freeman fracture his wrist.
As popular as Adams was with Cardinals fans, the trade worked out well for him -- he thrived with regular playing time after being used as a bench bat by the Cardinals.
“I found a home over here (with the Braves),” said Adams, 28, who has hit .271 with 15 home runs, 44 RBIs and a robust .534 slugging percentage in 66 games for the Braves. “Good group of guys that love to play the game, and it’s fun to be a part of.”
The trade paid big dividends early for the Braves, who got better-than-hoped-for power numbers and run production from Adams while he filled in for their best hitter. After starting 55 games at first base, Adams moved to a left-field platoon at the beginning of August when Freeman switched back to first base.
Freeman played primarily third base in his first few weeks back from the disabled list to accomodate Adams at first base, but the Braves eventually moved their franchise player back to his regular position.
When asked before Friday’s game about his solid statistics including a career-best home-run ratio with the Braves this season, Adams said, “I don’t really look at that too much. I’m just thankful to be able to go out there and play every day. Thankful to be with another great organization that takes care of their players and puts guys out there on the field that want to be out there and play the game hard.”
In his first game back at Busch, Adams faced Adam Wainwright, the long-ago Braves prospect from Georgia who’s had a distinguished 12-year career with the Cardinals, including four seasons of 19 or more wins. Now 35, Wainwright entered Friday with an 11-5 record and 5.00 ERA, his worst ERA as a starter but the ninth consecutive time he’s had at least 11 wins in nine full seasons as a starter.
“It’s going to be weird,” Adams said before the game. “I talked with Waino sometime in spring about if we ever face each other, and it’s going to happen tonight. He was one of my good friends on that team, so it’s going to be cool to face him, for sure.”
Adams hit .292 with one homer in just 53 plate appearances spread over 31 games for the Cardinals this season prior to the trade. They tried him in left field during spring training and some early-season games but weren’t satisfied with his outfield defense, and the Cardinals were committed to using Matt Carpenter at first base.
Carpenter hit .253 with 15 homers, 55 RBIs and a .386 on-base percentage in 108 games before Friday.
Adams entered the homecoming series one home run shy of matching his career-best 17 homers in 2013, when he hit .284 in 319 plate appearances in his first full season in the majors. Adams also had 16 homers last season while hitting .249 in 327 plate appearances for the Cardinals.
Getting regular playing time with the Braves was all he was looking for, and when manager Brian Snitker promised him that and delivered it, Adams produced in a big way for the Braves. He hit .291 with 14 homers, 36 RBIs and a .609 OBP and .944 OPS in his first 46 games for the Braves through July 16, before Freeman returned to the lineup July 17.
“He was a big get for us,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We couldn’t have done any better than that guy right there when Freddie went down. He was a huge part then, and his willingness to go to the outfield when we decided to put Freddie back at first. (Adams) is out there early today, doing (outfield) drills and things to try and get better. He’s been a big guy in our clubhouse and on this team.”
Adams said, “I feel like whenever I played on a daily basis with the Cardinals I was able to put up some numbers, but we just had a couple of years where we had a lot of the same type of guys on the roster, so it really didn’t work out. But I was always thankful for the opportunities that I got with the Cardinals and will always continue to be thankful for those opportunities moving forward, no matter where I am. But I’m happy with where I’m at now.”
Many predicted the Braves would trade Adams before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline after Freeman returned sooner than expected from the DL. But the Braves were playing well leading up to the deadline, and rather than take a less-than-ideal offer for Adams the Braves decided to keep him and see if they could make a run at a wild-card spot.
They’ve since slipped to 10 games under .500 before Friday, and trading Adams during the offseason – he’s a free agent after the 2018 season – is a distinct possibility. But for now, he’s just focused on trying to help the Braves finish strong.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about (being traded) leading up the trade deadline,” he said. “but Freddie’s a great teammate, a great guy, came back (and let Adams play first base a while longer). Now we’ve got a Gold Glover over there (Freeman at first base), so I’m back out in left field giving that a shot. I’m thankful to be out on the field playing every day.”
“(Playing left field) has still been very new, but Terry Pendleton has done a good job talking to me out there, and I’ve got a good center fielder out there in (Ender) Inciarte, who can go get balls better than anybody I’ve seen. So, just talking to those two guys, it’s really helped me out a lot.”