ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. • There were moments Tuesday during his seven shutout innings that Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright had been abandoned by his fastball, couldn’t find the same snap to his curve, and just had to improvise a pitch on the spot to tame an inning. Several times after the game Wainwright described his urgency to somehow, some way “find ways to get outs.”
Manager Mike Matheny can empathize.
Although he didn’t throw a pitch, he moved quickly through pitchers when the game was in doubt to one way or another way get outs. Lefty Sam Freeman had two pivotal outs in the eighth inning as the bullpen pitched into trouble and out of it to preserve a 1-0 victory against Tampa Bay at Tropicana Field. Wainwright provided most of the zeroes, Matt Holliday delivered the game’s only run on a solo homer, and the bullpen dangled the lead over a ledge before holding tight.
“You’d like to give them more than one run,” Holliday said. “But give Adam the lead and then follow it up with the back end of our bullpen? We feel pretty good about our chances to win.”
The shutout was the Cardinals’ third in a row as they gather momentum in the final days of this seven-game stretch at American League ballparks. The Cardinals’ three consecutive shutouts on the road are a first for the club since 1964.
Combined with two shutouts over the weekend, the Cardinals have gone 27 consecutive innings without allowing a run. Wainwright’s seven shutout innings Tuesday extended the rotation’s scoreless streak to 23 innings with Michael Wacha starting tonight against the Rays. The Rays, sinking toward the bottom of the American League, haven’t scored in 26 innings.
That drought could have ended at 24 without Freeman.
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With Wainwright (9-3), the NL’s first nine-game winner, feeling for pitches and encountering early turbulence on his 92-pitch start, Matheny went to the bullpen for the eighth. Pat Neshek, the Cardinals’ recently installed eighth-inning hurler, allowed both of the runners he faced to reach base. He hit Evan Longoria to put the go-ahead run on first. Matheny went immediately to the lefty Freeman.
Called up to replace injured lefty Kevin Siegrist, Freeman has steadily earned higher-leverage assignments, drawing this one as the answer against lefthanded-hitting James Loney. Freeman struck him out and stayed in to face righthanded-hitting Ben Zobrist. Freeman fell behind 3-0 to Zobrist before getting a lineout.
“I’m taking the guesswork out of things,” Freeman said. “Knowing my pitches and what I want to do with them. Simplifying, simplifying the game. Find ways to get outs as quickly as possible.”
Closer Trevor Rosenthal followed Freeman into the game for the four-out save, but he loaded the bases by grazing Jimmy Sands’ forearm with a pitch. A popup by Matt Joyce ended the inning, ended the threat and effectively ended the Rays’ evening.
The Rays stung several pitches – right at Cardinals fielders.
“We’re just proverbially snake-bit right now,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said.
The Cardinals welcomed Kolten Wong (shoulder) back to the lineup and Yadier Molina back behind the plate after a weekend out of the pads, but they didn’t know until batting practice whether Holliday would be ready. The left fielder missed Sunday’s game when his back seized on him right before the lineups were exchanged. Holliday said the back “loosened” during BP on Tuesday, and he said he was ready to go. He admitted the back “didn’t feel great.”
His timing, however, felt better.
Rays starter Jake Odorizzi, a Highland, Ill., product and former first-round pick, retired the first nine Cardinals he faced and he took a no-hitter into the fifth inning. The Cardinals had only one base hit out of the infield before Holliday’s homer, which came with two outs in the sixth inning. Holliday had Odorizzi measured. He lined one pitch straight back to the second deck behind home plate. He lined the next pitch back in the same direction, only lower. The next pitch he drove to the seats in left-center field for his fourth homer of the season. He had hit one homer every 77 at-bats to that point this season, a rate way off the 22.2 at-bats per homer in his career.
“I like his bat speed. He’s real close to going on a tear,” Matheny said when asked about the two foul balls before the homer. “Every once in a while he’d take a swing that I took a double-take at it (because of a wince). Obviously with the one run that we needed his back was OK on that one. Hopefully he’s all right for carrying us.”
Wainwright has rarely felt all right this season.
His start Tuesday was the seventh time this season that he’s thrown at least seven scoreless innings in a start. No other pitcher in the majors has more than four. But he did it without his best stuff, or even his good stuff. Wainwright has pitched through a sore back, through the flu, and through tendinitis this season. He has been dealing with head cold-like allergies and a clogged noggin for the past month. On Tuesday, he just didn’t have a feel for his pitches.
“My two-seamer was OK. My cutter was OK. My curveball was not very good. My fastball was not great, really,” Wainwright listed. “Command was not as good as it has been. But it wasn’t terrible. You’ve got to find ways to get outs sometimes. … Over the course of a long season you’re going to have days where your stuff is subpar or average. I had subpar to average stuff. Just tried to move it around. Just battle and figure out ways to get outs.”
Wainwright danced around seven hits allowed in seven innings.
In the first inning he stretched from first to complete a double play that freed him from trouble. In the fourth inning, he judiciously used an intentional walk to then leave the bases loaded. At one point he dropped some velocity on his misbehaving cutter to create a slider.
“Don’t know where that came from,” Matheny said.
It came from the same place his quick move to Freeman did.
“Our starting pitching has been extremely good the last few to say the least,” Matheny said. “Adam just comes out and figures out ways to get outs. He’s trying to figure it out each inning. He figured out ways.”