Wacha struggles as 'one misstep' hurts Cards

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NEW YORK -- Chipping away at a five-run deficit vs. the Mets on Saturday night, the Cardinals pushed hard to put runners in scoring position.

On the final play of the game, they might have pushed too hard.

Yadier Molina’s single brought the score within one with two outs in the ninth inning. With pitcher Jack Flaherty pinch-running, Kolten Wong placed a bloop double in shallow right field and Flaherty took off from first. While watching the ball, Flaherty stumbled rounding third base, while Mets second baseman Jeff McNeil made a perfect throw to catcher Wilson Ramos.

Flaherty was tagged out, and the Cardinals lost, 8-7, dropping the third contest of a four-game set at Citi Field.

Box score

“It’s frustrating, I did some uncharacteristic things around the bases there,” said Flaherty, who has been used in pinch-running situations before. “One misstep, and that’s kind of the difference.”

After starter Michael Wacha gave up five runs in the first and another in the second, the Cardinals used aggressive baserunning to try to catch up to the Mets. They had a season-high six stolen bases, marking the first time they swiped that many bags in a nine-inning game since May 21, 1999, when they had seven against the Dodgers.

“That’s how we get back in the game,” manager Mike Shildt said. “You don’t want to give up outs on the bases when you’re down, but you still want to put yourself in a position to score and get back in the game. We clearly did that.”

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Tommy Edman became the 14th different Cardinals player with at least one stolen base this season, which is the most in the Major Leagues. The Cards lead the National League with 49 steals, and they’re 13 shy of tying last year's stolen base total, with 93 games left on the schedule.

“We did a hell of a job fighting back to getting to that point to where we were that close,” Flaherty said. “I’m always ready for a situation like that, and it’s just frustrating. These guys picked us up all day, continued to fight back the whole time. It’s just the endless resilience they continue to show.”

Wacha, making his second start back in the rotation after a two-week stint in the bullpen, had a 32-pitch first inning and gave up four earned runs in that frame. He struggled to command the zone, and his fastball didn’t have much life to it -- similar to what caused him to move to the bullpen last month.

The right-hander averaged 95.1 mph on his fastball the past two years. At the beginning of the season, he dropped to around 92, and on Saturday, his four-seamer averaged 92.8.

But Wacha's changeup went back to normal during his six scoreless innings against the Marlins on Monday, and it largely remained effective Saturday -- except when Mets first baseman Pete Alonso mashed an 85.1 mph change 458 feet into the third deck of Citi Field.

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“Whenever the changeup was down, got some swing and misses, got weak contact, that’s what that pitch is designed to do,” Wacha said. “It’s a cookie whenever it’s up in the zone though.”

But Wacha recovered, making the adjustment to give the Cardinals four innings, in which he allowed six runs and struck out four.

“I was just trying to stay conscious of keeping that ball down in the zone and letting everything play off of that,” Wacha said. “It comes down to release point, comes down to executing that certain pitch. That first inning, I wasn’t really doing that.”

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