Young righthander Jake Woodford had to wait his turn as the Cardinals explored other starting pitching options in a year in which only one hurler who opened the season in the rotation, 39-year-old Adam Wainwright, still is in it. Woodford went from bullpen to taxi squad to Memphis and back to St. Louis.
That turn finally came Monday night as Woodford, the 10th pitcher to start for the Cardinals this season, worked out of a first-inning spot and proceeded to set down the Chicago Cubs on six hits and one run for 5 2/3 innings in an 8-3 victory at Busch Stadium before the second-largest home crowd of the season — 38,199. It was Woodford’s first career start at Busch — his other had been before an empty park in Chicago, against the White Sox, last season.
“It was definitely a bigger stage than maybe I was used to,” Woodford said, “but (pitching coach Mike) Maddux just told me to trust my stuff and let the defense work behind me.”
Woodford’s parents had flown in from the Tampa, Florida area with his father seeing his son pitch in the majors for the first time.
With both teams at 46-47, the winner of the game would climb to .500 and the loser would dip two games under it. Woodford had a lot to do with the Cardinals achieving the former and so did some atrocious Cubs defense, which committed three errors that could be charged and another that couldn’t in a four-run St. Louis fourth inning. Chicago had four errors overall.
Dylan Carlson, who had been in a one-for-19 dive, drove in four runs for the Cardinals, with a two-run homer, run-scoring single and a bases-loaded walk.
“I was doing a better job (Monday) of not necessarily missing my pitch (and) being able to handle the pitches I can do some damage with when they’re given to me,” he said.
Paul Goldschmidt, who earlier had extended his hitting streak to 14 games, hit his 16th homer and fourth in five games as the Cardinals reached the .500 mark for the first time since June 20.
Woodford, 24, a 2015 first-round draft pick, fanned four men in succession in the first and second innings, the first two on sliders and the second two on 92 mph fastballs.
The first two were the more important because the Cubs had a man at third base with one out in the first after Willson Contreras doubled and advanced on Anthony Rizzo’s groundout. Javy Baez and Kris Bryant then whiffed.
It was not hard to identify the top of the first as a game-changer.
“I thought that was a big moment, just to set the tone and get out of a little jam there to start the game,” Woodford said.
Manager Mike Shildt said, “‘Woody’ did a tremendous job.”
Woodford struck out a fifth hitter in a scoreless third, highlighted by first baseman Goldschmidt’s sprawling stop on Contreras’ smash. Then, Woodford put down a sacrifice bunt in the Cardinals’ third to advance Harrison Bader, who had singled to left.
Carlson singled up the middle to score Bader and record his first run batted in since June 28.
Then the Cubs’ infield defense self-destructed in the fourth. Yadier Molina’s single to center was the only ball that left the infield during the uprising.
Third baseman Patrick Wisdom threw high to first as he rushed his throw on Tyler O’Neill’s one-out grounder as O’Neill steamed down the line. Molina singled and Tommy Edman walked to fill the bases against Alec Mills.
Consecutive errors by shortstop Baez, one fielding and one throwing, allowed a run to score on each miscue. After Woodford struck out, Carlson’s walk forced in another.
Goldschmidt, taking a mighty swing at a 65 mph curve, sent a roller to Mills’ left. The pitcher couldn’t get it but when first baseman Rizzo fielded the ball, Mills had not continued to cover the bag at first and Rizzo had to hold it. The Cardinals’ lead had grown to 5-0.
The first three Cubs hit safely in the fifth to load the bases but Woodford induced pinch-hitter Ian Happ to ground into a double play, with Goldschmidt making a slick pick at first, and the Cubs netted just one run out of the inning.
Woodford had been 1-1 in relief for the Cardinals this season but had been at Memphis preparing to be a starter lately. He lasted 80 pitches on Monday before T.J. McFarland threw one pitch to end the sixth. Woodford didn’t walk a hitter while fanning six and earned a start at Cincinnati this weekend, Shildt said.
Carlson walloped his eighth homer, a two-run shot, in the sixth off Keegan Thompson after Paul DeJong had been hit by a pitch. Goldschmidt then connected off Thompson to give the Cardinals their fourth set of back-to-back homers this season. Goldschmidt is 23 for 56 (.411) in his 14-game streak.
Former Cardinal Wisdom hit his 14th homer, off lefthander Andrew Miller, in the seventh and Rizzo’s double off John Gant led to a run in the eighth.
The Cardinals have won three games in succession and six of their past nine games and Woodford is the first starter to be a victorious for the Cardinals other than Wainwright and Kwang Hyun Kim since June 29. And it was the Cardinals’ first win since June 20 in which one of the three late-inning relievers — Genesis Cabrera, Giovanny Gallegos or closer Alex Reyes wasn’t needed.
The Cardinals last had been at .500 at 36-36. It isn’t exactly like they’re at .600 but Shildt sees this as a stepping-off point.
“We didn’t like being under (.500), I can tell you that,” Shildt said. “You can’t get over it until you get at it.
“Yeah, it’s good to get back to .500. Now it’s time to get beyond it — on the positive side.”