No complaints from Cards’ 7-0 victory in finale vs. Pirates
ST. LOUIS — Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright is so dominant right now that he’s taken to toying with his pitches during games.
You want a slow curve? How about 69 mph. A slow cutter? Typically a pitch he throws around 88 mph, he threw a few in the low 80s. Wainwright even used his changeup as more than a show pitch against the Pirates on Sunday afternoon at Busch Stadium, and got three outs with it.
"I was having fun tinkering with speeds out there," he said. "The best way to know if things are going to work is to try them at game speed. I’d hate to go out there and be tinkering around and give up some runs but I felt confident it was going to work."
Wainwright gave up only three hits and worked eight more scoreless innings — extending his scoreless streak to 25, one off his career best — in the Cardinals’ 7-0 victory over the Pirates.
With the win, he became only the fourth Cardinals pitcher to win five times in March/April — the first since Darryl Kile in 2000 — while lowering his ERA to 1.20 and his batting average allowed to .157.
He made NL MVP Andrew McCutchen look silly waving at two curveballs in a key at-bat in the third, then struck him out with a 92-mph fastball in the sixth. About the only thing Wainwright did not do was convince manager Mike Matheny to let him pitch the ninth and go for his second shutout. He had thrown only 99 pitches.
"I didn’t throw a fit, but I made him work to shake my hand," said Wainwright, then showing how he tried to keep his right hand away from Matheny in the dugout.
Matheny said the knee that Wainwright hyperextended in his previous start played a part in the decision, though Wainwright showed no effects of it. The right-hander said he pitched with a brace as a precautionary measure after he told the training staff he would not wear one if it affected his pitching.
Clearly, it didn’t.
Wainwright retired the Pirates in order five times and ran into trouble only once, which he took care of by striking out McCutchen.
He has not allowed a run since the Cubs doubled off him three times in the sixth ining of a 7-4 Cardinals win on April 12. Since then, Wainwright has thrown a two-hitter at the Nationals, worked seven innings against the Mets in 79 pitches before leaving with a tweaked knee and shut down the Pirates on three singles.
No surprise that he says he’s off to the best start of an already-outstanding career.
"I’m getting results, but I’m really having more fun pitching now than I’ve ever had," he said. "I’m doing things differently, sinking it both sides and cutting it to both sides, curving it at different speeds. I’m just having fun enjoying baseball in a different light. I’m finding new ways to do things, but at the same time, staying in my strengths. It’s a pretty cool place I’m at."
Again — you think?
— Jhonny Peralta. With a 427-foot blast into the left-field seats in the third inning, Peralta ended the Cardinals’ home-run drought at 366 at-bats, their longest such skid since 1997. In the next inning, he ended another homer-less drought — this one a mere once-around-the-order eight at-bats — when he hit his team-leading sixth homer. Peralta has accounted for 38.5 percent of the team’s 16 homers and he also has set the franchise record for homers in March/April by a shortstop.
— Matt Holliday. A sacrifice fly in the first gave Holliday an RBI in all three games of the series, a feat made more impressive when you consider the Cardinals scored only one run in each of the first two games. Holliday has been hot at home all season. He has reached base in all nine games at Busch Stadium and a 1-for-3 Sunday actually lowered his home batting average to .367. He has as many RBIs at home (7) as on the road, even though he’s played half as many games at home.
— The sacrifice bunt. Jon Jay has been one of the Cardinals’ hotter hitters lately, but that didn’t stop Matheny from having Jay sacrifice in the first inning after Matt Carpenter doubled. The play worked, too, just like it’s supposed to. With Carpenter moved over to third, he scored easily on Holliday’s fly to left. There’s no way of knowing what would have happened if Jay hadn’t bunted, but the way the St. Louis offense has been struggling and the way Wainwright has been pitching, Matheny went for the early lead. Getting it set the tone for the game.
Sorry, nothing down about this one. Not from the Cardinals’ side, anyway. For the Pirates, three strikeouts by McCutchen would qualify as a downer but so would their entire offensive showing. Let’s just chalk that up to good pitching.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.