Heyward's big night highlights clincher

Heyward's big night highlights clincher

PITTSBURGH -- In a season where so much of the focus has been on who went down and who came up to fill a void, it was Jason Heyward, one of the constants from season start to season end, who uncorked Wednesday's champagne celebration with a mighty grand slam that highlighted a dynamic night from the right fielder.

With the second grand slam of his career, Heyward deflated a PNC Park crowd that had hoped to see the Pirates tighten the National League Central race. Instead, the Cards cruised to an 11-1 win that sealed win No. 100, and set off a party for the official NL Central champs.

Amid that rowdy postgame celebration, general manager John Mozeliak noted of Heyward's special night: "Great players do great things. That's what we needed."

After extending what became a two-run first inning with a single, Heyward in the third blasted a 2-1 slider from Bobby LaFromboise that cleared the right-center field fence. It was Heyward's first ever swing off the rookie reliever, and it provided a cushion more than sufficient for starter Tyler Lyons.

Cardinals clinch NL Central

"It's awesome every night to contribute for these guys because we all love it," Heyward, the first-year Cardinal, said afterward. "Anybody can do it any different night. When you're the guy, everybody makes it feel special, because we all know how much we grind to want to be in every spot to come through for your team. It's been a lot of fun. I'm really happy I could come through for this group."

Heyward, who later doubled and walked to cap his offensive night, also shined in the field. He showed why he's likely to capture a third Gold Glove Award this fall with a diving catch to rob Francisco Cervelli in the third, and a leap at the right-field wall to take away a hit from Michael Morse. Heyward had already thrown out a runner at the plate to help the Cardinals to a win in the first game of this series.

"He's been huge," Matt Carpenter said. "The defense that he's played out there has been incredible. He made a couple really good plays tonight and all series long. He's been very consistent. Every night, you know what you're going to get from him. He's been a big part of why we're here."

Heyward, whom the Cardinals will attempt to resign after the season, has greatly impressed the organization since arriving as part of a November deal necessitated by the death of Oscar Taveras. Heyward has started 143 games, ranks first (among qualified players) on the team with a .292 average, second with 159 hits and second with 33 doubles. He tops the team with a 5.6 WAR and all Major League right fielders with 21 defensive runs saved.

That's before his performance on Wednesday is even factored in.

"He's had a wonderful year and he's just gotten better and better in the second half," said owner Bill DeWitt Jr. "That grand slam really set the tone tonight. And some of the catches he's made in the outfield the last couple games have been remarkable. He's really been impressive."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.