What was it that former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa used to say when something normally very reliable went stunningly askew? “Even Sinatra had to clear his throat,” would be La Russa’s standard response.
So it went for righthander Adam Wainwright on Friday night at Busch Stadium. Wainwright has earned his reputation as one of the top two or three starters in the National League, but he had nothing for baseball’s best club, the San Francisco Giants.
A two-out, broken-bat, run-scoring single in the first inning by Michael Morse was an omen. When opposing pitcher Madison Bumgarner singled to keep the second inning alive, more doom was at hand. After a run-scoring hit by leadoff man Angel Pagan, Hunter Pence took a bite out of a Wainwright offering and sent it 447 feet to Big Mac Land.
Wainwright (8-3) had dug a five-run hole from which the Cardinals never extricated themselves. The Cardinals’ ace ultimately was knocked out after allowing a season-high seven runs and eight hits in 4 1/3 innings in a 9-4 San Francisco victory before a paid crowd of 43,107.
“Every now and then you’re going to have a bad day,” said Wainwright. “That’s what it comes down to, unfortunately.
“The knee-jerk reaction to this game is that you’ve wasted a lot of good starts with this one game. But that’s exactly what it is. One game. I’ve got to flush this game and move on to the next. I just need not to over-think this.’’
As it played out, Bumgarner didn’t need all that much backing as he raised his record in May to 5-0, striking out 10 and allowing just three hits as he blanked the Cardinals for seven innings. The Cardinals broke through only in the eighth against lefthanded reliever David Huff and righthander Juan Gutierrez when Jon Jay cleared the bases with a three-run double and Allen Craig, driving in a run for the ninth game in his last 10, doubled to score Jay.
The Giants raised their record to 36-19 while the Cardinals lost for the fourth time in five games on this home stand, dropping to just three games over .500 at 29-26.
Wainwright, who entered the game with a major-league best earned run average of 1.63, hadn’t been treated so shabbily since he gave up nine runs in two innings in a 15-8 loss to Cincinnati last Aug. 28.
“Today I felt there were a couple of things going on mechanically,” Wainwright said. “No matter what I tried out do — my normal check points — they just weren’t working. You have a couple of nights a year like that. You try to limit how many of those you have because that was not good. Tonight was just terrible.”
Wainwright’s scoreless streak ended at 20 innings on the first-inning hit by Morse, who had knocked in three runs the night before.
Pagan dusted the third-base line chalk for an opposite-field double and went to third on a fly to right. With the infield in, Wainwright got Pablo Sandoval to tap to first. But Morse blooped his hit into center.
“My first inning was great,” said Wainwright. “The pitch that Pagan hit down the line was a good sinker down and away. And the pitch I threw to Morse was a very good cutter down and away, both pitches exactly where I was trying to throw them. The second inning was a total opposite, a 180 (degree) difference in everything.”
Bumgarner, a .240 hitter, singled with two out in the second, just after No. 8 hitter Brandon Hicks had walked.
“That’s the key to the game,” said Wainwright. “Usually, I put (the walk) behind me but I let that affect my at-bat to Madison and I made a horrible pitch to him.”
Pagan singled off a curveball to right-center, scoring Hicks.
Pence then hammered his seventh homer off a “hanging, slop curveball,” as Wainwright put it and suddenly it was 5-0. “Terrible pitch,” Wainwright said.
The home run was just the fourth permitted by Wainwright in 83 innings and the four runs were the most he had allowed in any inning this year.
“That inning was the game,” said Wainwright, “because if I keep it at 2, or especially at 1, we probably win the game.”
The homer was the 63rd hit by the Giants in 55 games. They had 107 in 162 games last year.
“It’s a very deep lineup,” Wainwright said. “When you can take a guy like (Buster) Posey out of your lineup and still have a very dangerous squad, you know you’ve got a deep lineup.
“Adding Morse was a great pickup for them. You put him right in the middle of Posey and Sandoval and (Brandon) Belt and Hunter Pence. . . that’s Murderers’ Row right there.”
Wainwright, throwing an abnormally high total of 92 pitches as he didn’t have his fastball, had his shortest outing of the season and only the second time he hadn’t lasted at least six innings.
“I know that I’m a good pitcher and I’m frustrated with that start,” said Wainwright, “because that was unnecessary. I didn’t execute anything but I also know that the next start I’ll be a much different pitcher. It was a crazy day. I’m not going to press the panic button on that.”
Manager Mike Matheny said, “He’s been the best pitcher in baseball for the last two months and today was just one of those you’ve got to forget about.”
Kolten Wong, a late-game replacement, was hit on the left wrist by a David Huff pitch in the eighth but stayed in the game and X-rays taken afterward were negative.
“As soon it happened, it scared me,” said Wong. “I couldn’t feel my hand. It was like it went numb.”
First baseman Matt Adams, meanwhile, won’t be playing for at least a couple of weeks as he has gone on the 15-day disabled list with continued tightness in his left calf, which began bothering him Tuesday.
“It’s not where it needs to be,” said Adams, hitting .325.
“The MRI shows that there’s nothing torn. But nobody wants to go on the DL. It’s pretty disappointing.”
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