A night after Cardinals manager Mike Matheny stated the adrift Cardinals needed to play with more confidence and less apprehension, pitcher Lance Lynn responded with the surefire cure for the common collapse.
An overpowering dose of pitching makes everything feel better.
Lynn carried the Cardinals to a 1-0 victory Wednesday against the Chicago White Sox at Busch Stadium with 71⁄3 scoreless innings, a career-high 12 strikeouts and a overwhelming fastball that didn’t have time for any apprehension.
The first-year starter became baseball’s second 10-game winner with help from lefty Marc Rzepczynski and closer Jason Motte. They handled the final five outs for a club in need of relief.
"You needed somebody to take charge and normally you don’t expect it to be a rookie starter," Matheny said. "And that’s exactly what Lynn did. He gets us into the eighth inning by himself and lets the bullpen do what they do. … He took it into his own hands and took care of it."
Outfielder Carlos Beltran provided the evening’s only offense with his 19th home run of the season, in the third inning.
He and Lynn were both uncertainties entering the game. Lynn had been bothered by stiffness in his lower back that seized on him if he sat too long in the dugout between innings. A few minutes before first pitch, Matheny learned that Beltran had caught a virus from his young daughter, one that made his stomach ache no matter what.
Beltran said he was able to play with the ache on Tuesday so why not Wednesday?
It ached when he homered off Jake Peavy. It ached through all three of his hits. And it ached when he landed on it while making a key diving catch in right field, one that Matheny called the finest of the year at Busch.
It obviously ached after that.
He just didn’t care to notice.
"Once I decide to play," Beltran said, "I don’t think about my stomach."
The game hinged on two double plays and Lynn’s power approach to escaping the fifth inning.
In the ninth, Motte allowed two sharply hit singles, one of which was smothered by shortstop Rafael Furcal to keep the tying run from scoring. With one out, the White Sox had runners at the corners, the tying run at third base, and the American League’s leading hitter at the plate. Paul Konerko, who is batting .366, chopped a 3-1 pitch to third base that David Freese spun into the game-ending double play.
The eighth inning ended similarly for the Sox as Matheny offered Rzepczynski redemption in a rematch with slugger Adam Dunn. On Tuesday, the lefty flipped a slider that Dunn deposited in the seats to blow open a 6-1 Sox win. On Wednesday, Dunn entered as a pinch- hitter and Rzepczynski relieved Lynn to face him with the tying run at first.
Dunn didn’t see a slider. The Cardinals’ reliever fed him three sinkers, and Dunn skipped one to second base. Daniel Descalso made a diving snare and before getting to his feet started the inning ending double play.
"Because we believe in them," Matheny said of going back to Rzepczynski 24 hours after a hiccup, "and we need them to believe in themselves."
Lynn has not lacked such confidence. He’s not had reason.
Improving to 10-2 this season, Lynn boosted what began as a fill-in assignment and has rocketed into a surprise bid for an All-Star Game invitation. Lynn struck out at least 11 for the second consecutive game — the first Cardinals’ pitcher to do that since Alan Benes in 1997 — and he rewrote his career best with 12.
None was bigger than the three he had in the fifth inning.
White Sox outfielder Alex Rios opened the inning with a triple to the wall in left-center field. The Cardinals led at the time and the White Sox had scores of possibilities to put a ball in play and tie the game. Lynn only needed one approach to keep the White Sox scoreless.
He fed them a healthy dose of heat.
Lynn dispatched A. J. Pierzynski with a 95-mph fastball for the first out. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez saw three pitches from Lynn, with "saw" being a generous verb. After getting ahead with an off-speed strike, Lynn fired back-to-back 95-mph fastballs to strike out Ramirez. An intentional walk to .197-hitting Orlando Hudson brought Peavy to the plate. He whiffed on a 94-mph fastball.
"You have it when you need it, I guess," Lynn said. "You always leave a little in the tank in case you need it for a certain time."
The Cardinals needed zeroes from Lynn to not only with the game but, again, right a listing club.
They’ve scored seven runs on this home stand. Beltran has provided three of them on home runs, each of them solo. The offense has been meek, the bullpen scattered, and the starters, at times abbreviated, as Matheny’s club has sought traction for weeks. For the third time in 10 games the Cardinals (32-31) avoided slipping beneath .500 for the first time this season.
Before the game, Matheny said the Cardinals needed "our better baseball" to lift them. For one night, Lynn was enough.
"We’re able to get one run and that’s all we needed," Motte said. "If he goes out there and throws eight innings and lets up two runs, that’s a really good start, but we get the loss still. He was able to throw shutout innings when we needed. When you’re going through a bad spell, it all starts with one (win). That may sound stupid. But it all has to start with one."