Three-run fifth backs Lynn's strong outing
Righty recovers from first-inning shot to ankle for win No. 5
ST. LOUIS -- Through the first quarter of the Cardinals' season, success has come mostly in spurts. There's been one productive inning but not a second, a two-game winning streak that the club couldn't extend to three. Positive traction had been all but absent, explaining why the Cardinals had teetered within a game of .500 for 18 straight days coming into their series opener against the Braves.
On Friday, the Cardinals finally strung some of that success together.
A series of fifth-inning hits helped lift the Cardinals to a 5-2 win and rolled the team's winning streak to three. The latter, a normally modest accomplishment, isn't so much so for St. Louis, which had won three consecutive games only once this season.
The winning streak comes, too, after an exasperated Mike Matheny said Tuesday that he was done predicting when his team would to take off.
"I think I've just talked too much about that nonsense," the Cardinals manager said Friday afternoon. "It's just a bunch of hot air. If I was a listener, I'd be tired of hearing it. I'm tired of saying it. We just have to do it."
This seems to be a promising start.
Playing in front of a Busch Stadium sellout crowd of 43,701, both the Cardinals and Braves had early opportunities for an explosive offensive inning. This time it wouldn't be starter Lance Lynn who gave it up.
Lynn, who had allowed a three-run inning in half of his eight starts this season, kept Atlanta's offense from adding to that tally. In the meantime, the Cardinals, unable to extend promising rallies in the second and fourth, broke through against Braves starter Ervin Santana in the fifth.
It gave the Cardinals a succession of five games with four runs scored. That is a first for St. Louis this season.
"I think everybody kind of blew it out of proportion how we haven't been hitting," said Kolten Wong, who went 2-for-4 in his return from Triple-A. "We haven't been at home; we've been on the road for how many days? It's been cold non-stop. Not to make excuses, but we're too good of a team to not hit. It's just a matter of time. "
Featuring a lineup that the Cardinals appear committed to playing for a while, the offense collected 13 hits, including three with someone in scoring position. It's a lineup that included Wong, hitting in the two-hole, and center fielder Peter Bourjos, whose chance to contribute was halted early due to a fourth-inning ejection.
He and Matheny were successively ejected by home-plate umpire Sean Barber for expressing displeasure with the strike zone.
"Once again," Matheny said, "you can't take emotions out of this game."
Lynn's pitch count was already at 72 at the time of those ejections, yet he was able to give the Cardinals another three innings. After getting his first lead of the game, Lynn cruised through the sixth and seventh on 19 pitches.
Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal took that three-run lead and held it in uneventful fashion to help Lynn to his fifth win. It was his first win since April 19.
"He hung tough," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "His pitch count was really, really high going into the fourth and fifth inning, and all of a sudden he went out there and gave his team two more innings for them not to go into their bullpen that early in the game."
Key for Lynn, too, was that he didn't let the game unravel while waiting for his command to resurface. He allowed one run in the second but stranded two. A double play minimized damage in the fourth.
The turning point, he said afterward, was when he retired Evan Gattis to strand two more runners in the fifth.
"It was just one of those things where all of a sudden, everything clicked and I was throwing the ball where I wanted to," Lynn said. "After that, I was ready to go.
He said he felt no ill effects, either, from a line drive that caromed off his left ankle in the second.
"Just a scuff on the shoe," Lynn joked.
Cleanup hitter Allen Craig was in the middle of each of the Cardinals' three run-scoring innings. His leadoff singles in the second and fourth helped the Cardinals answer the Braves' lone runs in the innings. But St. Louis also missed opportunities to score more in both innings.
Despite three consecutive hits to open the second, the Cardinals scored just once. A double play nearly sapped the run-opportunity in the fourth, though Santana aided the Cardinals with a two-out wild pitch.
The Cardinals eventually capitalized in the fifth against Santana, who ended up allowing a season-high five earned runs in a season-low five innings.
"We have a strong lineup," Craig said. "Sometimes we just take a minute to get things rolling. I think tonight was Cardinal baseball."
Singles by Matt Carpenter and Wong set up RBI opportunities for Matt Holliday and Craig. Yadier Molina's sacrifice fly capped the three-run frame. For Craig, the three-hit game was his second this season and coincided with his return to the cleanup spot. He has hit safely in six of his last seven games, going 10-for-27 during that span.
"I see Allen getting so close," Matheny said. "We've said it many times: When our offense is right and everybody is clicking, that's a great spot [batting cleanup] for Allen Craig because he can drive in the runs."
As for the Cardinals, they can also now boast of being two games above .500 for the first time since April 27.
"I think we're trying to put the past behind us and learn from what we've done and get better," Craig said. "Tonight was really good. I think that everybody had that good feeling going that something was going to happen and everybody was going to contribute."