As if he had a sense of what was coming, Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright paused as he took the field Sunday afternoon and urged the crowd at Busch Stadium to come with him.
It's routine for the starting pitcher to lead the Cardinals onto the field for the start of the game, but as he emerged from the dugout Sunday, Wainwright stopped, right in front of a camera broadcasting his arrival to the scoreboard. He pointed to the booths behind home plate and tried to cue the music, and then he pointed out to the outfield and exhorted the crowd to cheer as the Cardinals took the field.
It was an unusual entrance.
And then he got back to his usual business.
Wainwright struck out nine and gave the Cardinals their second quality start of the season in a 4-1 victory Sunday at Busch Stadium. Wainwright's win, his first of the season, kept the Padres from taking a sweep in the Cardinals' first series of the season at home.
"He brought us out," manager Mike Shildt said. "I thought it was really, really cool. He kicked our fans into gear right from the beginning, which they don't need a lot of kicking. They were great today. I know they were hungry to see us be on the good sign of things."
Wainwright did not walk a batter in six innings and gave the Cardinals their second quality start of the season.
"He went out there with a typical Wainwright chip on his shoulder, where he was in attack mode, aggressive and looking to execute and be on the offensive," Shildt said. "He disrupted their balance and timing. Masterful."
Yadier Molina had three hits, Paul DeJong had two RBIs, Kolten Wong drove home a key run by stealing a single with a bunt, and Jordan Hicks needed to get four outs for the save.
The Cardinals called on Hicks with Manny Machado at the plate in the eighth inning and a runner on first. Machado could tie the game with a swing.
Hicks tested him with a series of pitches that ranged from a sinker at 102 mph to a changeup at 84 mph. He dropped in a slider or two, and he kept Machado off time -- pulling off-speed pitches foul or missing on the elevated fastball. At a full count, Hicks slipped an 86-mph slider past Machado.
The $300-million man took off his batting helmet and tipped it to Hicks.
Hicks walked the first batter he faced of the ninth inning before speeding through the next three batters for his first save of the season.
The Cardinals flipped the game on San Diego in the fourth inning with Paul DeJong's two-run double. An error in left field had allowed Matt Carpenter and Paul Goldschmidt to reach scoring position, and DeJong drilled a pitch from Matt Strahm into the left-center alley for his sixth and seventh RBIs of the season.
The Cardinals widened their lead to two runs with Carpenter's sacrifice fly in the seventh inning after Kolten Wong's single led off the seventh.
In the eighth, Wong dropped a bunt to steal a hit and bring Yadier Molina home to up the Cardinals lead to three runs. For the second time in as many days the Cardinals had a one-run lead going into the final three innings, and this time they added onto it. It was the first time they had done that in more than a week.
That gave the bullpen some welcome slack, but not before they had pitched through the diciest moments of the game.
Thrust into the seventh-inning setup role, John Brebbia walked the first batter he faced and then promptly retired the next four assignments he had, all on balls in the air. When Ian Kinsler tapped him for a single, that pushed the dugout to make its most interesting decision of the game. Manager Mike Shildt went back to lefty Andrew Miller about 24 hours after his struggles cost the Cardinals the game Saturday.
Miller had one batter, one assignment, that's it.
He had to get Eric Hosmer out.
He did -- with some distance. Hosmer tattooed a ball to deep center field fo the second out of the eighth inning. And that brought Hicks into the game for his four-out save, starting with Machado.
Wainwright strikes out 9, curves past Padres through 6
On his way to six innings and the second quality start of the year for the Cardinals, Wainwright's first pitch was a 90-mph sinker, and he hit 91 mph at regular intervals. He teased the Padres with cutters and sinkers, and at one point he threw six consecutive curveballs to finish an at-bat with a strikeout. Wainwright became the second Cardinals pitcher in nine games to complete six innings, and he struck out nine Padres along the way.
"Wainwright was outstanding," Shildt said. "On attack, I loved his pace. Six innings, no walks. That's a recipe for how you pitch, right there."
The Cardinals held a 2-1 lead into the seventh inning as Wainwright yielded to the bullpen.
For the Cardinals' veteran starter, this was the game he had promised after his first start of the season and the game he felt he had at his fingertips all spring training. When last he faced the Padres -- in San Diego, almost a year ago -- Wainwright had to stare down more than an opposing team.
He had to see retirement coming toward him.
His fastball had flatlined, his arm ached, and his pitched had little movement and little success. It was the kind of game that clung to him and followed him into his rehab later in the season. The opposite happened Sunday: The kind of reassuring game that he felt he had once he was healthy, and the kind of game he returned to pitch.
Wainwright struck out two batters around a double in the first inning. In the second he struck out two batters -- one looking at a 91-mph sinker -- and pitched the first of his two perfect innings. In the fourth, he allowed a leadoff double and then got help from Harrison Bader to throw out the runner trying to advance on a fly ball. In the third inning, the Padres took a 1-0 lead with the help of an error and an RBI single from Eric Hosmer.
With Hosmer at first, Manny Machado faced Wainwright and took the righthander to a full count.
On the 3-2 pitch, Wainwright hooked a 78-mph curve.
Wainwright became more and more aggressive with the curve later and later into the game. In sixth inning, he struck out Hosmer on a curveball, got Machado to ground out to the third baseman, and then faced Hunter Renfroe with the bases lefty. Like Machado and several other batters before him, Renfroe took Wainwright to a full count -- and then got the curve.
Wainwright pitched six innings and allowed the one run on five hits. He did not walk a batter -- something that undermined his first start of the season.
The Cardinals answered the Padres' run in the third with two in the fourth. Matt Carpenter drew a leadoff walk, and he reached third when Renfroe failed to catch a fly ball in left field and committed a two-base error. That put Paul Goldschmidt at second as well. Paul DeJong, who squared the balls in his first three at-bats, stung a double off Padres starter Matt Strahm. DeJong's double scored Carpenter and Goldschmidt to set the Cardinals' 2-1 lead.
For the second time in as many games this weekend, the Cardinals took a one-run lead into the final three innings of the game.