Adam Wainwright has done many great things for the Cardinals, but dominating the Cubs hasn’t been one of them.
He hasn’t beaten them since the 2010 season. Last season he was 0-1 with a 6.14 earned-run average in four starts against them.
Coming into this game, Wainwright’s career numbers against the Small Bears were mediocre (6-5, 4.46 ERA) given the caliber of competition he faced.
The trouble continued Tuesday night at Busch Stadium. Wainwright retired the first two Cubs batters he faced without incident before the first inning got away from him.
He pounded the low edge of the zone and the corners but didn’t get much help from home plate umpire Bill Welke. His early strike zone handcuffed Wainwright, who dominated the Mets his during his previous outing with a heavy dose of sliders and cutters.
The trouble started when journeyman outfielder Nate Schierholtz poked a two-out opposite field double. Free-swinging Alfonso Soriano pounded a RBI double to the left-center field gap.
Ryan Sweeney crushed a two-run homer over the right field wall. How unlikely was that? In parts of eight big league seasons, Sweeney now has 16 career homers. Sixteen!
Fellow fringe player Cody Ransom jumped on a 3-1 pitch for a solo homer to left and gave the Small Bears an early 4-0 lead.
Pitching coach Derek Lilliquist had to pay Wainwright a visit after the blow. How many fans expected to see that rare first inning event?
Wainwright had allowed just four first-inning runs all season. He matched that total against the likes of Sweeney and Ransom. He didn't even have to face Cubs slugger Anthony Rizzo, who got the night off.
"It's a tough league," manager Mike Matheny said. "One inning can get you. Tonight it did.
"He wasn't in too much trouble after that. He'd love to have that first inning back. He made a couple of mistakes and they jumped all over them."
After that startling opening sequence, Wainwright pulled himself together. He allowed Luis Valbuena to hit a two-out double in the second inning, but managed to strand him in scoring position.
Wainwright zipped through the third, fourth and fifth innings without incident. (It didn’t hurt that Welke gave him a few more borderline strike calls).
He stranded runners at second base in the sixth and seventh innings to depart on a good note.
"He kept us in that game," Matheny said. "He gave us a chance."
Here are some other thoughts on the Cardinals:
• Say, weren't the Cardinals supposed to make the most of these games against the National League's two worst teams? They didn't expect to take three losses in the first five games of this stretch.
• Cardinals third baseman David Freese kept the game moving along at a brisk pace – and not in a good way. He hit into double plays in the second and fifth innings to prevent his team from starting rallies. Matt Holliday chipped in with a GIDP of his own as the Cardinals strayed from their clutch-hitting ways.
• The home team had its hands full against Cubs starter Jeff Samardzjia. He had excellent command and nasty movement. "It's a game where he had everything going," Matheny said.
• Carlos Beltran, on the other hand, continued punishing the baseball. He lashed a 2-0 pitch off the right field pole for his 17th homer of the season. Meanwhile Oscar Taveras suffered a slow offensive start after finally overcoming his ankle sprain at Memphis. Could the Cardinals park the O-Train in Memphis one more year after making a qualifying offer to Beltran? If the current trends hold and Beltran stars in the big games . . .
• Holliday's one-out bloop single started some ninth-inning fun. Allen Craig worked to a full count and hit a sharp single to right field. That forced the Cubs to finally turn to their bullpen and summon closer Kevin Gregg. Yadier Molina ripped an RBI single, fighting back from a 0-2 count. Cardinal Nation got its hopes up. And then . . .
• Freese grounded into his third double play, with pinch-runner Shane Robinson getting called for interference at second base. The call was legit. Matheny noted that Shane would have needed 7-foot arms to reach second base on his "slide".
• Rookie reliever Keith Butler got the eighth-inning call with the Cardinals down by three runs. He worked around a one-out walk to Schierholtz to get through another scoreless inning. With veteran Fernando Salas on the mend from shoulder soreness, Butler is officially on the clock.
• Joe Kelly took the ninth inning, looking to extend his recent resurgence. He worked around a one-out walk to Welington Castillo to bank another scoreless inning. He has allowed just one earned run in his last five appearances (four relief stints, one start) spanning 8 1/3 innings.
• Pitching prospect Rob Kaminsky got a good look at the full house at Busch Stadium before heading down to the Cardinals’ bottom rung farm team in the Gulf Coast League. The lefty is jumping from high school ball to the pro ranks, so his development will take time. Wisely he offered no predictions about his developmental timetable. “I’m not going to try to guess where I’m going to be next year at this time,” he said. “I’m just going to wait and see what happens. Play my best ball and hopefully get called up.”
• Speaking of pitching prospects, Michael Wacha responded to his demotion to Memphis with a middling performance at Round Rock. He allowed three runs on seven hits in five innings. But he also struck out six batters and walked nobody. Meh.
• The Cardinals must believe Ryan Jackson’s future MLB role is as a utility player. That would explain his start in left field for Memphis on Tuesday night while Greg Garcia played shortstop again. Jackson has played second base and third base in addition to shortstop this season.