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Wainwright, Cards find winning formula in finale

Right-hander sharp, offensive contact improved in victory over Padres
@LangoschMLB
April 7, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- Though not inclined to jump to conclusions eight games into a season, manager Mike Shildt had nevertheless developed a to-do list off what he had seen in his team’s 3-5 start. It led with two items: Throw more strikes and put more balls in play. Sunday reinforced

ST. LOUIS -- Though not inclined to jump to conclusions eight games into a season, manager Mike Shildt had nevertheless developed a to-do list off what he had seen in his team’s 3-5 start. It led with two items: Throw more strikes and put more balls in play.

Sunday reinforced how critical executing both can be.

The Cardinals put enough pressure on the Padres’ defense to find a crack, which it used to turn Adam Wainwright throwback performance into a 4-1 victory over that marked the Cardinals’ first win of the year at Busch Stadium.

“Top to bottom we had great at-bats, and every guy that came out to pitch today did a great job of commanding the strike zone,” Matt Carpenter said. “It was just really good, fundamentally sound baseball.”

Wainwright became the first Cardinals pitcher 37 or older to finish six innings while allowing one run, striking out nine and walking none. The latter was especially notable given that the Cardinals were seeking to rebound from a loss in which their pitchers had combined to walk 10 batters.

In fact, Wainwright, who had issued four free passes in his season debut, became the team’s first starter to make an appearance without allowing at least one walk. The Cardinals entered the day ranked 29th in the Majors with 5.75 walks allowed per nine innings.

“When you walk hitters in the big leagues, they’re going to score a lot of times,” said Wainwright, who delivered the rotation’s second six-inning start of the season. “That was one of the biggest lessons I learned watching ball all year in 2011 when I couldn’t pitch. The thing that I noticed was when pitchers went out and didn’t walk people, they hardly gave up runs. I watched Roy Halladay. I watched [Chris] Carpenter. I watched Cliff Lee and those great pitchers just pound the strike zone and get hitter after hitter after hitter out and not walk anybody. That’s the key to the game.”

In eliminating any free bases, Wainwright was able to work around the four extra-base hits he allowed. He did so on the strength of his curveball and with the aid of just his second nine-strikeout game since April 2017. A key assist from Harrison Bader, who threw out Hunter Renfroe at third to complete an inning-ending double play in the fourth, also helped.

“He was an artist today,” Shildt said of his starter. “He went out there with a typical Wainwright chip on his shoulder where he was in attack mode, aggressive and looking to execute and be on the offensive. Masterful.”

On the other side, an offense that entered the day leading the National League with 89 strikeouts, reaped the reward of simply making contact. The turning point came in the fourth when, with Carpenter on first, Paul Goldschmidt popped a Matt Strahm pitch down the line in left. Renfroe gave chase awkwardly and failed to snare a ball that had a 99 percent catch probability.

Paul DeJong followed with a two-run double past Renfroe to put St. Louis ahead.

“Obviously, we’ve got the long ball, but we can’t rely on that,” Shildt said. “It’s not a sustainable model. Today we had more attitude and went after a hard-nosed win.”

Carpenter and Kolten Wong later ambushed Padres relievers by putting the first pitch in play. Carpenter’s resulted in a sacrifice fly, and Wong’s gutsy two-out bunt scored Yadier Molina from third. Before Sunday, the Cardinals had collectively struck out in 48 percent of their at-bats with a runner in scoring position.

The Cardinals’ offense finished the afternoon with six strikeouts, the fewest they’ve had in a game all season. The pitching staff, which had walked at least five in six consecutive games, issued only two bases on balls, matching a season low.

For a club that had watched seven of its first eight games be decided by two or fewer runs, the difference on Sunday was in those details.

“We have played all these games tight,” DeJong said. “Waino gave us some good innings. The bullpen did its job. We added on late. We finally put that final nail in.”

Up next
Right-hander Miles Mikolas will have a third try at netting his first season win when he takes the mound for St. Louis to kick off a four-game home series against the Dodgers on Monday. This will be Mikolas' first career start against the Dodgers and his first appearance of any kind against them since 2012, which was before Mikolas' three-year stint in Japan. Watch on MLB.TV.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.