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Sports Column | Les Winkeler: Paul DeJong; Cardinals' direct deposit

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Paul DeJong is the direct deposit of Major League Baseball … you never seem to notice him, but at the end of the week he’s money in the bank.

DeJong isn’t flashy, like a winning lottery ticket, he’s just steady in every phase of the game.

In Monday night’s 6-5 win over Pittsburgh, Paul Goldschmidt gave the Cardinals a 6-2 lead with a 10th inning grand slam. Like most Cardinals fans, I figured “Game over.”

While I was brushing my teeth preparing for bed, Chasen Shreve gave up a pair of base hits. Still nothing to worry about, the Cardinals simply had to get three outs before giving up four runs – something that happens in 99.99 percent of major league innings.

But, before I could rinse the Crest out of my mouth Carlos Martinez came out of the bullpen and Jung Ho Kang sent the first pitch he saw hurtling toward the Monongahela River for a three-run homer.

Later in the inning, with the game very much in the balance, Martinez induced a ground ball to short. It speaks to my level of confidence in DeJong that I breathed a sigh of relief. “At least that’s an out,” I thought.

The ball was hit sharply, and DeJong had to range several steps to his right, but it is a play he makes routinely. By routinely, I mean he fields every ground ball routinely. Like when the ball is hit toward DeJong, you reflexively write 6-3 in your scorebook.

But, this time DeJong bobbled the ball.

“That never happens,” I thought to myself. And, right on cue, the television announcers noted it was just the fourth error of the season by DeJong. Only three shortstops in MLB have fewer errors.

That explains why you never notice him. He’s automatic. It’s like turning the key in the ignition. You just take for granted the engine will roar into life. When the ball is hit to shortstop, you just imagine Mike Shannon saying, “That’s up, over and O-U-T.”

Granted, DeJong isn’t flashy. He is in no way reminiscent of Ozzie Smith. Ozzie was a magician. DeJong is like the magician’s assistant — he knows the act by heart but never takes center stage. And, once DeJong secures the ball, a strong, accurate throw follows.

It’s like watching a machine — not exciting, but mesmerizing in its consistency.

Obviously, some people are noticing DeJong, he earned his first all-star berth this season. But, to be brutally honest, DeJong was a default all-star.

Each major league team has to have one representative. DeJong got off to a great start this season but was in the throes of a lengthy slump at the time of the all-star break. And, the Cardinals' usual all-star suspects, Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter and Marcell Ozuna were injured. DeJong was the only other possibility.

Since the all-star break he is on another offensive tear.

According to baseball-reference.com, an average year for DeJong looks like this — a .261 batting average, 31 home runs and 92 RBIs. I suspect over the long term the home run number might be slightly inflated, but the batting average could be a tad low.

Regardless, given the way he plays shortstop, similar offensive figures will make him noticeable to everyone around the game, and perhaps a perennial, non-default, all-star.

LES WINKELER is sports editor of The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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