With a lineup diluted by scheduled days off and a variety of ailments, the Cardinals turned to starter Adam Wainwright to complete a sweep of the New York Mets.
He left them with more questions than innings.
The Mets reached Wainwright for five runs through five innings, including a three-run homer from Ike Davis, to knock the righty out of the game early and fuel a 6-2 victory Wednesday at Busch Stadium. The only run the Cardinals provided for Wainwright against Mets knuckleballer R. A. Dickey was a solo shot by Wainwright.
"He wasn't as sharp as he wanted to be," manager Mike Matheny said. "His game revolves around establishing his fastball and he didn't have that tight fastball command today."
The loss made the Cardinals vulnerable to falling back to one-half game ahead in the race for the league's second wild card. Los Angeles starts its game tonight trailing by 1 1/2 games.
The afternoon school-day game, which was delayed 10 minutes by rain, drew a crowd of 30,090, the smallest announced paid attendance in Busch Stadium III history. The actual turnstile attendance was around 17,600.
A token for attendance was seeing former first-round pick Shelby Miller strike out four batters during his major-league debut. The 19th overall pick in the 2009 draft pitched two scoreless innings.
"Obviously I was a little nervous," Miller said. "I was trying to stay as calm as possible out there. ... Getting comfortable. Throwing more strikes. Absolutely, I'm happy. It was a moment to remember."
Coming off five wins in five starts through August, Wainwright figured to be a certainty for the Cardinals down the back stretch. He's had two abbreviated outings in consecutive starts and allowed 11 runs in his past 7 2/3 innings. The righty has thrown 173 2/3 innings in 28 starts during his first season back from Tommy John surgery. Questions about fatigue or Wainwright wearing down were quickly rebuked after the loss.
"Fatigue is kind of a tough issue right now because everybody is somewhat fatigued right now," Matheny said. "He feels good right now. ... We listen to how he's feeling. We watch and see how he looks. Velocity is still there. It's just a tough game to execute. You go through these ruts. He's gone through some peaks and valleys this season. I think that's to be expected coming back from surgery."
Wainwright's struggles at the start were juxtaposed with the bullpens resolve at the end. One of the biggest question marks for the Cardinals as they reach the final month of the season is the lefthanded relief. Marc Rzepczynski has struggled in recent outings, and rookie Sam Freeman only just arrived.
Combined, the two lefties got six outs from six batters in the late innings. Freeman struck out the side in the ninth inning.
The Cardinals went with an inventive lineup that did not include David Freese, Matt Holliday, Allen Craig or Yadier Molina. Molina, Freese, and Craig were receiving scheduled days off, some of which was because of Dickey's knuckleball. Holliday left Tuesday's game with back stiffness, but was told leaving the ballpark he likely wouldn't have played today even if he was healthy.
The Cardinals have an off day Thursday before returning for a three-game weekend set against Milwaukee.
Cards prospect Miller makes 4-K debut
The opportunity Shelby Miller was earmarked for entering spring training but had to re-earn with a strong second half at Class AAA finally came Wednesday afternoon against the Mets at Busch Stadium.
The hotshot prospect made his major-league debut.
Miller struck out four in his first two major-league innings, including the final two batters he faced. Miller got Mets slugger Ike Davis fishing for a 93-mph strike for the second out of the second inning. His outing ended with a 95-mph fastball that Lucas Duda took for a called strike three.
Miller allowed one hit and got six outs from seven Mets.
In relief of starter Adam Wainwright, Miller emerged from the bullpen at the beginning of the sixth inning to face the lower part of the Mets' order. Miller retired all three batters he faced. He collected his first major-league popup, groundout, and strikeout in that order. The righty K'd leadoff hitter Mike Baxter with a 93-mph fastball.
Miller got a popup from Andres Torres and a groundout from pitcher R. A. Dickey.
The Cardinals plan to use him as a long reliever, so he'll appear for at least another inning.
Dickey and the Mets lead 5-1 through six innings.
The Cardinals' only run this afternoon has come on a solo home run by starter Wainwright.
Should Cards be concerned about Wainwright?
After an August that lifted expectations and gave off strong indications that Adam Wainwright was emerging from any lingering effects of major elbow surgery, September has brought less encouraging results.
The Cardinals righty was unceremoniously cast from this afternoon's game against the New York Mets after allowing three runs in the top of the fifth inning. All three came on Ike Davis' 26th home run of the season -- shot into the seats beyond right field that gave the Mets a 5-1 lead through 4 1/2 innings.
For the second time in as many starts Wainwright failed to see the sixth inning and allowed at least five runs.
Last week in Washington, the Cardinals' righty allowed six runs on nine hits through 2 2/3 innings. He needed more than 80 pitches to get those eight outs. Wainwright completed five innings this afternoon, but ran into some similar issues. He walked in a batter in the third inning after believing he had Davis K'd on a 2-2 pitch. In the fifth, two singles -- including a bloop shot by Mike Baxter -- were prelude to Davis' shot.
Wainwright won all five of his starts in August. He did not allow more than two runs in any of the five, and he pitched at least 5 2/3 innings in every one.
At the same time the Washington Nationals were publicly broadcasting their intent to shut down ace Stephen Strasburg before the end of the season, the Cardinals seemed set to ride Wainwright into a postseason berth. Strasburg is almost two years removed from Tommy John Surgery. Wainwright is almost 18 months removed from the same procedure.
Wainwright breaks Dickey's shutout with solo homer
Whatever frustration Adam Wainwright had from not getting a call on a 2-2 pitch that he clearly thought ended the top of the third inning, the Cardinals righty channeled into his swing in the bottom of that inning.
Moments after he walked home a run with the bases loaded to put the Mets ahead 2-0, Wainwright cut into that lead.
The Cardinals' starting pitcher drilled an 0-2 pitch from R. A. Dickey for a solo home run into the seats beyond left field. The first homer of the season for Wainwright was the sixth of his career. It traveled an estimated 400 feet and cleaved the Mets lead in half, to 2-1.
In the top of the third inning, the Mets had two hits and Wainwright had two outs when Ike Davis came to the plate. The lefthanded-hitting first baseman was behind in the count 2-2 when Wainwright delivered a pitch on the edge that he thought was good enough to end the at-bat and the inning. The righty appeared to turned his follow-through into a walk toward the dugout. Home plate umpire Cory Blaser called it a ball, and the next pitch Davis took for a walk to load the bases.
Five pitches later Lucas Duda had also drawn a walk and pushed home Mike Baxter for the Mets' second run of the game.
With Dickey in command, Mets take 1-0 lead
A ball that got to the wall and one that skipped between infielders allowed the New York Mets to take a 1-0 lead in the top half of the second inning this afternoon at Busch Stadium.
Justin Turner hit a line drive to right field that got by Carlos Beltran and rolled to the wall. Turner was able to reach second because Beltran couldn't cut the ball off.
Turner then scored on Josh Thole's skipper up the middle.
Thole, a native of Breese, Ill., is getting his first start of this series. His base hit produce his 20th RBI of the season. The lefthanded-hitting Thole has seen his playing time shift recently because of the addition of righthanded-hittting Kelly Shoppach.
The game was delayed 10 minutes by rain.
Mets starter R. A. Dickey whipped through the first inning with the multiple knuckleballs he's able to throw. Mixing speeds -- from 64 mph to in the 80s mph -- Dickey retired the first three batters he faced. He struck out Carlos Beltran to go with two groundouts. Of Dickey's 14 pitches in the first inning, 13 were strikes.
Dickey's knuckleball a factor; game nearing delay
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said the flighty, unusual nature of R. A. Dickey's power knuckleball did play into his decision to sit a few of his finer hitters for this afternoon's game at Busch Stadium. Dickey has followed the unexpected flight of his knuckleball to a legit Cy Young Award-contending season. He is 17-4 with a 2.63 ERA and 190 strikeouts. He entered this series as the only starter in the National League to rank in the top three in all three of those categories.
"There's a thought in the game that (a knuckleball( can really foul up something if you've got it going," Matheny said. "Quite a few guys haven't had success against him."
Some more notes from the pre-game interviews:
-- There will be a delay of some type. The tarp is now on the field and a few belts of rain have rolled through. No announcement has been made, but it's clear that that field will not be ready for the scheduled 12:45 p.m. local time start.
UPDATE: And, of course, we're set for a 12:55 p.m. first pitch, weather permitting, according to a team official.
-- David Freese is one of those players Matheny doesn't want unsettled by the knuckle. Freese is 0-for-6 against Dickey.
-- As mentioned in today's paper, Matheny did not expect to use Lance Berkman at first base in the near future, if at all the rest of the season. That changed during the conversations he had with Berkman during and after Tuesday's game.
"I wasn't thinking about a start," Matheny said. "I wanted to get him some at-bats, pinch hit-wise. He told me he'd do whatever. He's excited to get in there."
Berkman is pressed into duty by Matheny's plan to get Allen Craig, David Freese, and Matt Holliday a day off. That presses Matt Carpenter into duty at third base and leaves first base open.
-- Matt Holliday (back) was scheduled for a day off today anyway. He said he expects to be in the lineup Friday.
"I'm fine," he told reporters. "Could have played."
-- Matheny said that Daniel Descalso has taken over as the starter at shortstop on most days since Rafael Furcal is mending from a tear in his elbow. Pete Kozma is the backup shortstop, mainly because he has more experience than Ryan Jackson, the Class AAA starter all season, Matheny said.
With some hobbled, Berkman starts
The chance to sweep the New York Mets this afternoon with starter Adam Wainwright on the mound was complicated apparently by the players that manager Mike Matheny has available to him.
Several absences means one significant presence.
Lance Berkman will make his first start since coming back from the disabled list Saturday. It will be the switch-hitting veteran's first start since Aug. 2. He struck out in his first plate appearance since coming back from the DL.
Berkman has twice been taken off the active roster this season because of knee surgery, and as recently as Tuesday the Cardinals expressed concern about his mobility around the base.
Manager Mike Matheny had designated a runner in each game over the weekend to take Berkman's spot should he reach base -- because the Cardinals aren't sure how his right knee will react to running the bases too aggressively.
Berkman said Monday that he feels comfortable enough with his knee to play first base.
Matt Holliday, who left Tuesday's game after experiencing tightness in his lower back, is not in the lineup, as expected. David Freese is also not in the lineup. The reason was not available at the time of posting this blog.
Catcher Yadier Molina also gets a break; Tony Cruz will catch Wainwright.
Carlos Beltran missed the previous two games with a sore left knee. He left the ballpark Tuesday night hoping to be available today. Playing the field was among his chief concerns with the soreness in his knee. He'll be back in the lineup, batting third.
1. Jon Jay, CF
2. Skip Schumaker, 2B
3. Carlos Beltran, RF
4. Lance Berkman, 1B
5. Matt Carpenter, 3B
6. Shane Robinson, LF
7. Daniel Descalso, SS
8. Tony Cruz, C
9. Adam Wainwright, P
1. Baxter RF
2. Tejada SS
3. Murphy 2B
4. Davis 1B
5. Duda LF
6. Turner 3B
7. Thole C
8. Torres CF
9. Dickey P
More throughout the afternoon here at Busch Stadium, where the tarp is on the field and it's raining lightly; there is no information about a delay.