ANAHEIM, Calif. — Edward Mujica’s season-opening save streak ended in dramatic fashion with one powerful swing by Josh Hamilton.
Hamilton greeted the St. Louis Cardinals’ right-hander with a tying two-run homer in the ninth inning and Erick Aybar delivered an RBI single against Mujica five batters later, sending the Cards to a stunning 6-5 loss Thursday night in the rubber game of their first series at Angel Stadium.
Adam Wainwright, the NL pitcher of the month for June, took a 5-3 lead into the ninth before giving up a leadoff single by Albert Pujols. The three-time NL MVP was 1 for 11 in his first series against the team he spent his first 11 big league seasons with before signing a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Angels in December 2011.
“I tried to get it down and away right there,” Wainwright said. “Albert was creeping in on the plate a little bit, and I made a good pitch. It was exactly what I was trying to do and I broke his bat. He’s a great hitter for a reason. It’s hard to keep a man like that hitless for a series. He’s going to get one eventually.”
Manager Mike Matheny then brought in Mujica, and Hamilton drove his second pitch into the center field trees for his 11th home run. Howie Kendrick and Mark Trumbo followed with singles, and Mujica (0-1) retired the next two batters before Aybar poked an opposite-field single to left on a 2-1 pitch.
Mujica acknowledged that he shook off batterymate Yadier Molina on the ill-fated pitches to Hamilton and Aybar.
“I made two big mistakes. I didn’t follow Yadier on a couple of pitches, and that was the ball game,” Mujica said. “He called for a fastball on Hamilton and I threw the changeup. On Aybar, he called for a fastball again and I decided to throw my changeup. I threw a couple good changeups and got two popups so I figured I’d go with my best pitch.”
The homer extended Hamilton’s hitting streak to nine games, and raised his average to .226
“It was just a good feeling to hear that sound come off your bat,” he said. “Most of the time, you know. So I figured it had a good chance when I hit it. It couldn’t happen on a better day for the crowd on the Fourth of July. They got a little more fireworks and a little more bang for their buck than they thought they were going to get.”
Wainwright, the only Cardinals pitcher averaging at least seven innings per start, defended Matheny’s decision to take him out after 104 pitches. His season high is 120, on May 11 in a two-hit shutout against Colorado.
“We’ve always liked that situation. He’s the right guy in that situation,” Wainwright said of Mujica. “He’s been great all year. That’s what happens when you let a leadoff guy on in the last inning. That’s on me, right there. I have to go out and get that guy out.”
Scott Downs (2-2) got the victory with scoreless ninth.
Angels starter Joe Blanton gave up five runs – four earned – and nine hits in 5 2-3 innings. The right-hander remained 0-4 with a 5.17 ERA in his nine starts at Angel Stadium.
Blanton averaged 13 pitches through the first three innings while retiring nine of his first 10 batters. But just three batters into the fourth, the Cardinals pulled ahead 3-2 on a single by Carlos Beltran, a walk to Matt Holliday and Allen Craig’s homer to dead center field on a 1-1 pitch. Craig leads the majors with a .469 average with runners in scoring position.
It was the seventh straight start in which Blanton gave up a home run. He had a career-worst 11-game stretch last season with Philadelphia in which he surrendered 19.
The Angels tied the score 3-all in the bottom of the third with Trumbo’s 19th homer. But the Cardinals got the run back in the fourth on Matt Carpenter’s sacrifice fly, then made it 5-3 in the sixth with a two-out RBI single by Daniel Descalso that chased Blanton – who has given up a major league-worst 135 hits.
The Angels opened the scoring in the third with a two-out, two-run single by Mike Trout, after Wainwright gave up singles to Alberto Callaspo and Aybar, and J.B. Shuck advanced them with a sacrifice bunt. NOTES: St. Louis’ Jon Jay played his 227th consecutive game in center field without an error, breaking Curt Flood’s franchise record for any outfield position. … Holliday was back in the Cardinals’ lineup as the designated hitter, going 0 for 3 with two strikeouts and a walk after missing two games because of a pinched nerve in his neck. … Blanton is 1-12 with seven no-decisions in the last 20 games in which he’s allowed a homer. The only victory was last Saturday at Houston, when he beat the Astros 7-2 despite Brett Wallace’s two-run shot. … RHP Lance Lynn’s next start for the Cardinals will be Sunday at home against the Miami Marlins. He has two chances left to become the sixth pitcher in Cardinals history to post at least 11 wins before the All-Star break in consecutive seasons, and the first since Joaquin Andujar (1984-85). The others were Dizzy Dean, Bob Gibson, Mort Cooper and Gerry Staley.