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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Wainwright dominates Brewers

Righty picks ups second victory with strong outing, homer

ST. LOUIS -- With his mentor looking on, Adam Wainwright turned in a performance worthy of Chris Carpenter. Except for one thing -- Carpenter never could hit like this.

Wainwright rolled through 7 2/3 innings for his second win of the season on Wednesday night, allowing two runs on five hits in a 5-4 Cardinals win over the Brewers. He struck out six and walked two. The right-hander also bolstered himself with a solo home run, the third long ball of his career, as well as a single.

Wainwright has stepped in as the Cardinals' ace pro tempore while Carpenter recuperates from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery. With Carpenter visiting his teammates over their current homestand, Wainwright pitched efficiently, effectively and aggressively -- much like Carpenter.

"The main goal of every game for me is to go as long as I can," Wainwright said. "[If] you're doing that, you give your bullpen some time off. And especially early in the season, the bullpen really needs to stay fresh. ... If I can go as deep as I can, usually I'm going to have a quality outing and keep the team in the game. That's the main goal."

Albert Pujols' two-run double got the Cardinals on the board in the first. Pujols took a chance, swinging at a 3-0 pitch after starter Carlos Villanueva had walked the previous batter. But he connected, drilling a double into the left-field corner for a St. Louis lead.

"He threw that pitch, and I reacted," Pujols said. "I don't like to swing 3-0 too many times, especially early in the game like that when a guy is pretty wild. The last thing you want to do is hit a ground-ball double play and kill the rally. I got lucky that I pulled the ball down the line."

With Pujols on second, Rick Ankiel worked a 17-pitch plate appearance against Villanueva, drawing a walk as part of an interminable first for the righty. But Pujols ran into an out when he tried to advance on a ball that got away from Jason Kendall, and the Cardinals added no more runs in the first.

However, Wainwright stretched the lead when he went deep in the second. He swung at the frame's first pitch and drilled the ball 385 feet to left field. For his big league career, Wainwright is a .329 hitter with a .500 slugging percentage.

"I take pride in my hitting, because I believe it can really swing the result of a game," Wainwright said. "If the pitcher is up there swinging the bat, keeping his team in the game and putting a quality at-bat on the pitcher and getting base hits, there's always a better chance for you to score runs.

"But pitching is what I'm here to do. I would have never made it out of rookie ball as a hitter."

On the mound, Wainwright was perfect through 3 2/3 innings before allowing three straight singles and a run. The second run against the right-hander was unearned, as Rickie Weeks walked, moved to third on a single and an error and scored on an infield grounder.

Skip Schumaker hit his first home run of the year, also a solo shot, in the fifth inning. For an hour or so, Wainwright had actually tied Schumaker with three career home runs. It's definitely to the outfielder's benefit that he picked up No. 4 in the fifth inning, or else it would have been a long year.

"I'm sure he would have let me know after the game that we were tied," Schumaker said. "He has a fun time with that always, telling me how much better a hitter he is. He can hit. He's an incredible hitting pitcher. But I'm glad I got one ahead of him, because I don't want to hear it every day."

Wainwright faded a bit in the eighth and handed a dangerous situation to his bullpen. Randy Flores struck out Prince Fielder with two men on in a three-run game, preserving the lead for Jason Isringhausen. The Cardinals closer allowed a pair of RBI doubles in the ninth, but he was helped greatly by a Pujols stop of a sizzling Jason Kendall liner.

"That's my job as a first baseman -- try to make a play every time I can," Pujols said. "[I like to] have an idea what the hitter will try to do at the plate and try to read it. That's what I did. Jason Kendall tries to stay inside the ball every time, and I wanted to make sure I was on my toes."

At 11-4, the Cardinals remain tied with Arizona for the best record in baseball. They lead the Cubs by 1 1/2 games in the National League Central. The Brewers fell into third place, 2 1/2 games back.

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