DENVER -- OK, Cardinals Nation, it's time to relax and exhale. Matt Adams is alive and well and driving balls out of ballparks, again.
No, Adams hasn't gotten caught up in the beat-the-shift mentality, suddenly willing settle for weak singles to left field. Yes, he still feels he is a power source for the middle of the St. Louis Cardinals' lineup.
Don't believe it? Look no further than the Cardinals' 8-0 victory against the Colorado Rockies on Monday night at Coors Field.
Adams popped out on the first pitch he was thrown in the first inning. He singled home two runs with a single to right in the third. And then Adams finished off his career-best six-RBI night with an opposite-field home run off Rockies right-hander Jhoulys Chacin to put the Cards up 5-0 in the fifth, and he unloaded a three-run shot to right field off lefty Franklin Morales in the seventh for the game's final three runs.
That's five home runs, 14 RBIs and 13 hits in 38 at-bats in the 11 games since Adams returned from that calf strain. That's a lot more encouraging for St. Louis fans than the three home runs and 17 RBIs he had in his first 195 at-bats, even if he still hit .325.
"All of a sudden we told him it's OK to hit home runs," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, tongue firmly planted in cheek. "Early on, we were telling them just wait for singles."
It might have seemed that way. The Cards have, after all, hit only 44 home runs in their first 77 games this season. That's 29th in baseball, just one more than the Royals, who have played only 76 games.
"The home runs are going to be there," said Matheny. "Holliday, Adams, they are guys who have power."
Thankfully for Adams, the power is starting to come and the redundancy of questions focusing on his high average and low slugging percentage at disappearing.
"The question I tended to get the most is if I was trying to beat the shift [with three infielders on the right side], and the power questions were second," Adams said. "It wasn't either. I don't think anybody is freaking out about the low number of home runs now."
Home runs, after all, are not a conscious act. They are a bonus.
"We try to go up and get on base for the next guy," Adams said. "The home runs come in time."
Not that it bothers Adams. He is having too much fun. He's living his dream. He's playing in the big leagues.
It's what Adams dreamed about growing up in Philipsburg, Pa., and it was what he was determined to do if he was ever given the slightest opportunity. And it's safe to say he got the slightest opportunity.
In high school, Adams thought he was going to get a chance to play baseball at the University of Pittsburgh, "but things fell through." So it was off to Slippery Rock State, best known to sports fans because its football scores were shown on the Prudential Saturday Scoreboard, and the team was frequently featured in the early days of the Bottom 10.
Adams' high school coach, Doug Sankey, had played at Slippery Rock for coach Jeff Messer and convinced him to give Craig a chance.
"I just wanted to go someplace where I knew I was going to get a chance to play, not sit on the bench and watch," said Adams.
Play he did. Adams set school records with a career .473 batting average and a .754 slugging percentage, and he was the 2009 NCAA Division II Player of the Year.
Impressed? Scouts evidently weren't. Adams wasn't selected until the 23rd round of that 2009 Draft by the Cardinals -- the 699th player taken.
"I had heard I would go higher, and when I kept sinking, I was disappointed. But after the Draft was over, I was thankful to get a chance to continue my career," Adams said. "Once I got drafted, I knew it wasn't what round I was selected in, but how I played that would matter."
Now look at him.
Adams is the everyday first baseman for the two-time-defending National League champion St. Louis Cardinals, the third product of Slipper Rocky to get to the big leagues, the first since right-hander Bob Shawkey compiled a 195-150 record in a 15-year career that ended in 1927. Doc Marshall was the original Slippery Rock big leaguer, a backup catcher and outfielder, who hit .210 with two home runs over a six-season career that ended in 1909.
And in at least one ranking, Adams is the fifth most famous Slippery Rock alum, just ahead of Arena Football League Hall of Fame quarterback Greg Hopkins and former Canadian Football League receiver D.J. Flick.
Who's ahead of Adams on the list?
No. 1 is Robert J. Stevens, the CEO of Lockheed Martin. No. 2 is C. Vivian Stringer, the only coach to take three schools to the women's NCAA finals and the second-winningest coach in the history of women's basketball behind Pat Summitt. Rock musician Donnie Iris is third. Mathematician Joseph Gallian is fourth.
Then comes Adams.
"I don't know Vivian Stringer, but I know who she is," Adams said of the current coach of Rutgers, who previously coached at Iowa and Cheyney State.
With the way Adams is fitting into things in St. Louis, plenty of people are going to know who he is, too.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less