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Wacha, Mejia help Cards to series win vs. Nats

MLB.com

ST. LOUIS -- Celebrating his 26th birthday with his crispest start of the season, Michael Wacha pitched the Cardinals to a 2-1 victory over the Nationals that Matt Bowman preserved with a critical strikeout at Busch Stadium on Saturday. Alex Mejia, with the first two hits of his Major League career, provided all the offensive support in the club's fourth straight win.

Wacha, who -- as recently as a week ago -- was in jeopardy of losing his rotation spot, pitched as though he belongs right where he is. Holding the Nationals to four hits, Wacha struck out a season-high nine over a 94-pitch, six-inning outing. The Nationals weren't able to advance a runner to third against him.

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ST. LOUIS -- Celebrating his 26th birthday with his crispest start of the season, Michael Wacha pitched the Cardinals to a 2-1 victory over the Nationals that Matt Bowman preserved with a critical strikeout at Busch Stadium on Saturday. Alex Mejia, with the first two hits of his Major League career, provided all the offensive support in the club's fourth straight win.

Wacha, who -- as recently as a week ago -- was in jeopardy of losing his rotation spot, pitched as though he belongs right where he is. Holding the Nationals to four hits, Wacha struck out a season-high nine over a 94-pitch, six-inning outing. The Nationals weren't able to advance a runner to third against him.

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"I felt like I was able to command the baseball the way I wanted to tonight," Wacha said. "I've been feeling good, it's just good to get some results. I'm just trying to go out there and make pitches and get strikes and attack them."

Video: WSH@STL: Mejia hits first homer, gets curtain call

Washington starter Gio Gonzalez was just as stingy, as he limited the Cardinals to two hits over seven innings. But he was clipped for a two-out run, driven in by Mejia, in the second inning. Gonzalez followed by retiring 16 of the final 17 batters he faced while matching his season high with nine strikeouts.

"I think it was just mixing the pitches, attacking the strike zone, being more consistent," Gonzalez said about his performance. "There were times I was behind the strike zone, again that's credit to my catcher [Matt Wieters], he called a good game. … Obviously, the defense kept me in the game as long as possible. They made great plays that [if the balls] get through change the whole game."

Video: WSH@STL: Gonzalez strikes out DeJong to end the 7th

Mejia padded the lead by blasting a first-pitch home run to open the eighth. The insurance proved to be necessary, too. Trevor Rosenthal, who was being given another look as a closer, allowed Washington's first run and loaded the bases with a two-out walk. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny then turned to Bowman, who notched his first career save by freezing Adrian Sanchez on a full-count fastball in Sanchez's first Major League at-bat.

"He went to a deep count against me, battled pretty well," Bowman said. "It's been a while since I've been able to shake [Yadier Molina's] hand at the end of the game, so that was nice."

Video: WSH@STL: Bowman K's Sanchez to seal Cardinals' win

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Timely first: After Paul DeJong extended the second inning by drawing his second walk in 104 plate appearances, Mejia smacked a single up the middle to drive home Luke Voit, who had earlier beaten out a potential inning-ending double play. Mejia, who was making his second career start, had been hitless in his first three Major League at-bats.

"It was 3-2, and I knew I had the pitcher behind me, so I was just sitting on that fastball, didn't want to let it get in on me," Mejia said. "[I] kept it simple and just stayed through the middle and luckily it worked out."

Video: WSH@STL: Mejia records first MLB hit with RBI single

Escape act: Though Lyons was warm in the 'pen, Matheny stuck with Wacha after Washington put two runners on base with two outs in the sixth. Facing cleanup hitter Ryan Zimmerman for the third time in the game, Wacha induced a forceout to complete his six-inning outing. Zimmerman, who entered the game 3-for-9 against Wacha, was hitting .314 with runners in scoring position this season.

"I thought that was some of his best stuff we've seen all season, just timed up real well," Matheny said of Wacha. "We saw the ball coming out real free and easy. It didn't look like he was trying to generate the velocity and just trusted his arm angle. He had a great game plan and was able to follow through. He's in a real good place."

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
In addition to Bowman earning his first save and Mejia tallying his first hits, several other Cardinals reached notable numbers on Saturday: With a fourth-inning single, Molina extended his hitting streak to 16 games, tying a career high. Wacha tied Steve Carlton as the second-fastest Cardinals pitcher to reach 500 strikeouts by getting there in his 106th game. And Matheny earned managerial win No. 500, making him the second-quickest manager in franchise history to reach that mark. Matheny did so in his 890th game.

Video: WSH@STL: Wacha records his 500th career strikeout

QUOTABLE
"Man, that was a heck of an at-bat. ... The kid's first at-bat, he wasn't intimidated, he was fighting off pitches. You hate to have an at-bat like that and then it's settled on apparently a bad call. You know, the kid's trying to make a living, too. He tries to make his mark in the big leagues. He was our last man, but we knew that he was going to battle in that at-bat. It just wasn't fair to him." -- Nationals manager Dusty Baker, on Sanchez's at-bat.

INJURY UPDATE 
Nationals catcher Jose Lobaton was hit around his wrist/forearm by a foul tip in the eighth inning. After taking a moment to recover, he remained in the game and even put together a solid at-bat in the ninth to walk and load the bases. Following the game, an X-ray was done on his arm and it was wrapped in ice, but there appears to be no real damage.

"It got really big right away, it was bruised," Lobaton said. "It feels good. It doesn't feel that bad. I was able to swing. And we did the X-rays and everything's good. I'll be good."

WHAT'S NEXT
Nationals: A native of Chesterfield, Mo., and a University of Missouri alum, Max Scherzer will be starting in his hometown on Sunday night at 8:05 p.m. ET, looking for his 10th win of the season. In three career starts in St. Louis, he has posted a 2.00 ERA (four earned runs, 18 innings pitched).

Cardinals: Carlos Martinez will try to go toe-to-toe with the defending National League Cy Young Award winner in Sunday's 7:05 p.m. CT series finale. The Nationals are the only NL team that Martinez has not beaten in his career, but he'll enter the start with the league's fourth-lowest ERA (2.88).

Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast.

Alaina Getzenberg is a reporter for MLB.com based in St. Louis and covered the Nationals on Saturday.