ST. LOUIS — Thrilled with the results, the St. Louis Cardinals thanked Mike Shildt.
The Cardinals took off the interim tag from Shildt's title and promoted him to full-time manager through 2020, a reward for steering the team back into postseason contention after replacing the fired Mike Matheny.
"Why now? We could have waited but we feel like the time is right," President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak said Tuesday at Busch Stadium. "As we stated from Day One, we would use this time to really see how he handled the job. We just felt like we could not do better. Mike has shown he can do the job. Mike checks a lot of boxes along the way."
"It made sense to do it now. Everything is going well, and more importantly momentum is building behind our players. Having Mike Shildt as manager is a tremendous story. I hope the next chapter is even better," he said.
The story got off to a good start when the Cardinals scored a 5-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates to give Shildt his first win without the interim tag.
"It's great," said Jedd Gyorko about Shildt's promotion. "He deserves it. We're playing really good baseball and he's leading the charge behind that. We're pumped for him. He definitely deserves it.
"Behind closed doors, he's a great guy to play for and he's an even better person."
Jose Martinez belted a two-run homer in the first inning to give the Cardinals the lead and they never looked back.
"I'm actually happy for him," Martinez said about Shildt. "He's a guy who's been working hard his whole career as a manager and a coach and everything. He's really professional in everything he does.
"I'm going to try to keep hitting homers to try and make him happy 100 percent."
Rookie pitcher Jack Flaherty picked up the win to improve to 8-6.
"Everybody in here is excited," Flaherty said. "I think his biggest thing is for everybody to be themselves and he's done the same thing. I'm just happy for him."
In danger of missing the playoffs three straight years for the first time since the late '90s, the Cardinals have gone 26-12 since July 15 — the most wins in the majors during that span. A 19-5 mark in August has put them into the top spot in the NL wild-card standings.
"I have been given a lot of credit for what's happened in the past six weeks," Shildt said. "I appreciate it, but I cannot accept it. The players make the plays and run the bases. They are a special group and I'm glad to be a part of it."
The Cardinals were 47-46 when Matheny was fired a day before the All-Star break. They've cut their deficit in the NL Central from 7 1/2 games to 4 1/2 behind the division-leading Chicago Cubs.
"The team's focused, high-level style of play under Mike is a standard that his teams consistently displayed during his prior years in the minors, and it has continued here at the major league level," Cardinals Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said. "We've won, certainly, but he's got great relationships with the players. We all watch the games and my observation is, I think his game strategy is excellent."
The Cardinals made the move before hosting Pittsburgh. St. Louis has won five of six, all on the road, and have won each of their last nine series overall.
"What a privilege and honor it is to be the field manager of the St. Louis Cardinals," Shildt said. "Mo had a vision for my career far greater than my own and I'm very grateful for that."
The 50-year-old Shildt, who never played in the minors or majors, joined the Cardinals organization in 2004. He spent most of that time managing in the minors and was a member of the major league coaching staff the past two seasons.
Shildt became the 50th manager in franchise history when he was given the job on an interim basis.
St. Louis missed the playoffs the last two years. Matheny reached the postseason in his first four years since following Tony La Russa, who guided the Cardinals to the 2011 World Series championship.
An organization that has longed prided itself on playing the game right — "the Cardinal Way," the team says — St. Louis has done well in all phases since Shildt took over.
"I think there's a different energy here now," general manager Mike Girsch said. "There's a different energy around everything in the clubhouse."
With veterans Yadier Molina and Matt Carpenter provided a steadying presence and an influx of rookies and newcomers, the Cardinals are back in position as October contenders.
Second baseman Kolten Wong has seen the difference, especially since the switch in the dugout.
"Shildt's been really good at letting us play our own game and letting us play the way we want to play. That's the biggest thing," Wong said last week after a sweep at Dodger Stadium. "We have so many different personalities and different guys in this clubhouse. You just have to allow people to be themselves and eventually people are going to mesh together."
Cardinals closer Bud Norris said Shildt is an easy guy to play for.
"Most guys are comfortable with him," Norris said. "He has a relationship with every last person on this team and even around the clubhouse on a personal level, and he can communicate with everybody. The fact that he cares about you personally off the field, and he cares about you on the field is a big part of that. You just feel warm when you're around him."
In his minor league managing career, his teams went 471-432. The North Carolina native managed for eight seasons in the Cardinals farm system where his clubs won league championships in 2010 and 2011 with Johnson City of the rookie Appalachian League and in 2012 with Springfield of the Double-A Texas League.