After their ghastly ninth-inning loss to the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday night, the Cardinals needed a proven stopper, even if the losing streak was just one game. On their team, who better than soon-to-be-40-year-old Adam Wainwright, who was 85-45 in his career after a Cardinals loss, ghastly or otherwise?
Wainwright gave the Cardinals just what they wanted—seven innings of one-run ball Wednesday night at Busch Stadium mas he became their third consecutive starter not to issue an unintentional walk in the first three games of this series.
The Cardinals’ defense, notably center fielder Harrison Bader, third baseman Nolan Arenado and reserve shortstop Edmundo Sosa, saved perhaps five runs, according to manager Mike Shildt, who watched the final half of the game from the batting cage between the dugout and the clubhouse, having been ejected by home plate umpire Jeff Nelson. And, in the 292nd start that Yadier Molina has made with Adam Wainwright, Molina, the only regular without a hit until then, delivered a one-out, run-scoring single off Chicago Cubs All-Star reliever Craig Kimbrel in the 10th inning to reward the Cardinals with a 3-2 victory and once again shove them to the .500 mark.
Shildt was already halfway to the clubhouse anyway. But he said he knew that with Molina hitting, his team soon would be joining him.
“I think the game’s over,” said Shildt. "It’s time to go. Yadi’s up. This is it.”
"It" took 4 hours 9 minutes to complete.
Wainwright said, “Last night was a tough loss. And you’re sitting there, saying, ‘We cannot lose this game. We just can’t.’ I know there are a lot of games left but to lose two games in a row when you had them right on the ropes would have been really painful. The clubhouse is rocking right now.”
Regarding Molina’s winning hit, Wainwright said, “He swung at those first two high heaters, and I’m saying, ‘Yadi, don’t swing at that.’ Then he hit the next high heater down the line.”
A bullpen without Alex Reyes, who was held out after throwing 30 pitches in the loss the night before, allowed the Cubs to tie the game in the ninth. Then, after lefthander T.J. McFarland had pitched out a jam in the top of the 10th with the help of a dazzling double play started by Sosa, Molina bounced his hit over the right-field wall out of the reach of infielder-turned-right fielder Patrick Wisdom. Cubs manager David Ross had moved Wisdom to right from third and had backup catcher Robinson Chirinos playing second as he was out of healthy players.
The game-winner was ruled a single to score Paul Goldschmidt, who had started the inning at second base, according to baseball's extra-inning rules.
Bader, throwing out his fifth multi-hit game in his past seven, doubled for his third hit of the night to score Paul DeJong with the tying run in the seventh and, moments later, came home with the go-ahead run on Dylan Carlson’s double off Cardinals nemesis Kyle Hendricks, who is 12-3 against the Cardinals and 3-0 this season. Shildt had been ejected for protesting a strike three call on Carlson in the latter’s previous at-bat.
Genesis Cabrera moved to the eighth inning and Giovanny Gallegos recorded the final out of the eighth but hit his second batter in two innings in the ninth and the Cubs tied the score on Eric Sogard’s pinch hit double.
Expanding the Cardinals' major league lead, reliever John Gant hit two more batters in the inning before second baseman Tommy Edman threw out Anthony Rizzo from short right field.
With the Cubs starting the 10th with Rizzo on second, Gant allowed a single to Javy Baez, with Rizzo stopping at third. McFarland relieved to throw the double-play ball on which there were five throws and a rundown with first baseman Goldschmidt taking the final throw on the third-base line and tagging out Rizzo after Sosa had joined the rundown.
It started with Sosa gloving Ian Happ’s grounder and stepping on the bag for the forceout at second. Wainwright was impressed with a deke that Sosa had made, as if he then was going to throw to first.
Rizzo belatedly had taken off for home and Sosa turned and fired there.
“It looked like he was just conceding a run to go take the double play,” Wainwright said. “And then he snapped his head around real quick to get the runner in a rundown.”
Shildt said the club actually practices a play like that in spring training but it is trickier with nobody out.
“Anticipation is very important,” Shildt said. “I’m not going to say it’s a lost art, but it’s fading from our game. You’re talking about a high IQ guy.”
Sosa, through a translator, said, “Even before the call went to the bullpen, I was running through scenarios in my head. What can I do if the ball is hit to me?
“Once I grabbed the ball, I kind of glanced at Rizzo and saw that he wasn’t breaking immediately. Then, I went to second base and took the (play) myself. I peeked again and he was a little bit further down the line. It was a point of no return at that point. I had to go home so we could get Rizzo.”
Bader jumped to the top of the left-center-field wall to take away a potential home run from Willson Contreras in the Cubs’ first.
“He’s got tremendous talent. We always knew that,” said Wainwright.
“He’s always been an incredible outfielder but we’ve seen his offense turn the corner. He’s not just hitting fastballs anymore. He’s hitting off-speed pitches.
“He’s covering the whole plate a lot better than he used to. He used to swing at those pitches in the dirt.
“When he’s in the outfield, he’s a total game-changer. He’s one of the best, if not the best, center fielders in all of baseball.
"It’s cool to see him. . . become this total player."
To Wainwright’s assessment that Bader is the complete player now, Bader, nine for his past 14, said, “That’s a nice comment. I feel great.
“But I don’t think of it that way. I’m just focused more on the task at hand right now, which is winning as many games as possible.”
The Cubs took a 1-0 lead in the third when former Cardinals farmhand Rafael Ortega tripled with one out to score Nico Hoerner, who had singled.
In the sixth, Contreras opened with a double and went to third on Rizzo’s groundout to Goldschmidt.
Baez slashed a grounder inside the line at third but Arenado backhanded the low-hopper and made a strong, off-balance throw home where catcher Molina tagged out a sliding Contreras.
Jason Heyward, a .357 career hitter against Wainwright, doubled for the second time, going to the opposite field in left, with one out in the seventh. Arenado came to the fore again, though, diving to stop Hoerner’s grounder to his left and, from one knee, throwing to first for the out.
Shildt, who had taken the Tuesday loss hard as did his team said, “I got asked a lot last night, a lot today, how is your team going to respond? I answered that they would answer in a tough fashion.
“Toughness, heart, perseverance. . . you can capitalizes all of those--for whatever you want to write or broadcast," Shildt said.